Laurent Fabius' Visit to Syria's Neighbors |
Al Hayat - 16 August, 2012
Author: Randa Takieddine
The visit by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which begins today, reflects movement by Paris during the middle of the summer vacation to tell the French domestic opposition that French diplomacy is active in searching for a solution to the Syria crisis. Certainly, the international community – from influential Arab countries to three permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, France and Great Britain) – is in a conundrum vis-à-vis the Syrian situation, and the support of China and Russia for the Syrian regime, which continues to oppress its people. France, under President Francois Hollande, is concerned with a solution for this impasse in the Security Council, which it chairs this month. In the Security Council, France is represented by the skilled Gerard Araud, who gave a speech on the Syria crisis and the brutality of the regime’s repression. The address was as important as the remarks by the foreign minister of then-President Jacques Chirac, Dominique du Villepin, who spoke in New York and announced France's rejection of taking part in the war on Iraq. Hollande is being criticized in France by right-wing politicians in the opposition, such as the secretary-general of the Gaullist party, Jean-Francois Cope, and the former prime minister, Francois Fillon, that he is not moving on the Syria situation. Fillon advised Hollande to go to Moscow to convince President Vladimir Putin to change his stance, even though Fillon himself received Putin and tried to do the same thing, to no avail. Former Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who has declined to intervene in the domestic debate, has repeatedly declared that it is not possible to change the Russian stance, which is working to block Bashar Assad's exit from power. The debate underway in France is pointless and the joint statement issued by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the head of the Syrian National Council, Abdel-Basset Seyda, did not do a good job of criticizing the lack of movement by French diplomacy because Sarkozy, and despite having the distinguished Foreign Minister Juppe, was unable to achieve progress on Syria and convince the Russians. It would have been better for Sarkozy to adopt the policy of his predecessor, Chirac, who kept his opinion to himself when Sarkozy received Assad with fanfare, during Bastille Day celebrations.
The French debate is certainly pointless and will not solve the Syrian problem. Paris today is searching for an alternative Syrian government in exile, in the manner of Libya's National Transitional Council, which should be chosen by the opposition and recognized by the Arab League, so that Assad's legitimacy truly ends. Also, the international community should work with this alternative government while awaiting Assad's exit from the scene. The task is a difficult one, but it is possible. Fabius will sound out the Turkish leadership on what can be done to exit the impasse; he will also check on the humanitarian conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and offer assistance, which France has begun to send to Jordan. He will urge Syria's neighbors, and particularly Leabnon, to help the refugees.
Fabius' visit to Lebanon comes amid a very important event, namely the detention of former minister Michel Samaha, on charges of transporting explosives to be planted in areas of North Lebanon, at Assad's request. Samaha is not only the Syrian regime's man in Lebanon, but he also has a long history of coordinating and cooperating with French intelligence, through his friendships during the Socialist and Gaullist eras, and under Sarkozy's presidency. At the time, he continued to visit the Elysee Palace and later the Interior Ministry, to the degree that diplomats at the palace and abroad were upset by his many appearances and his meddling in the work of this or that ambassador, especially if they were more loyal to the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon. Samaha had a network of French journalists whom he used to serve the Syrian regime and its image in France, and in Lebanon as well. He negotiated with the editors of popular French magazines to put photos of Assad and his wife Asmaa on their covers during the couple's visits to the country. He would organize Assad's visits with French leaders to the degree that he aroused the jealousy of Assad's adviser Bouthaina Shaaban and the Syrian Embassy in Paris, which played no role in preparing the visits. Certainly, Fabius' visit to Lebanon will be an opportunity to hear what the authorities have to say, particularly President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in terms of what Samaha has been accused of, and the catastrophes that the Syrian regime seeks to spread in Lebanon. Paris has around 900 UNIFIL troops in the south, and they are exposed to great danger in these circumstances. France is determined to see that they are safe, during these dangerous conditions. Fabius' visit to the region is more than a fact-finding mission. France is searching for a solution to support the Syrian opposition on the ground and abroad. However, as long as a no-fly zone is not on the table (and this is a type of military intervention), the impasse over Assad's exit from power will remain. But things might change in a few weeks, because the Syrian regime continues to fall apart and resident of cities who supported the regime at the beginning are now saying that Assad should go, so that their tribulations end – his remaining in power is too costly for everyone.