Cablegate: Weekly Media Wrap-Up Putin in Munich and the Middle East;

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Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.


1. (SBU) Although Putin's excoriation of alleged U.S. unilateralism
at Wehrkunde and in the Middle East might have been expected to fall
on fertile soil in French media, French editorialists generally
compared his calculated outbursts unfavorably with Secretary of
Defense Gates's measured response. French media reported positively
on U.S. willingness to compromise to ensure an agreement on nuclear
weapons with North Korea. Skepticism persists, however, about the
"truth" of U.S. intelligence information about Iran's nuclear
program and its alleged support for anti-American activities in
Iraq. President Chirac's Franco-African conference provided an
opportunity for pundits to take a hard look at the state of France's
"special relationship" with Africa. A survey of French media
identified radio and print as more relied upon and trusted than TV
news. End Summary.


2. (SBU) Following Russian President Vladimir Putin's charges
against the U.S. during the security meeting in Munich, the February
12 edition of right-of-center Le Figaro featured on its front page:
"Vladimir Putin's indictment against the U.S." The daily
characterized the remarks as "Putin's variations on an old Cold War
melody," adding, "More than one participant in the meeting wondered
if the second Cold War were being declared in Munich... The tone
between Russia and the U.S. is getting harsher... and the Russian
president did not mince words in stigmatizing the U.S. and NATO..."
For left-wing Liberation on February 12, "Putin is the anti-American
spokesman." February 13's left-of-center Le Monde highlighted
"recollections of the days of the Cold War..." Laurent Zecchini
wrote: "A cold wind...blew on Munich Saturday and Sunday... For his
first visit to this international meeting, the Russian president
decided to launch a verbal attack on the U.S., guilty, to his way of
thinking, of a unilateralist handling of world affairs. The
sometimes vindictive tone used took the audience by surprise... But
the American Defense Secretary Robert Gates opted not to add fuel to
the fire merely pointing to the fact that 'some Russian policies
seem to work against international stability...' The new American
Defense Secretary took pains to show that he is less provocative
than his predecessor."

3. (SBU) An inside story in the February 12 right-of-center Le
Figaro entitled "The Kremlin defies Washington in the Gulf" related:
"Putin's diplomatic trip yesterday to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and
Jordan looked like a challenge waged against the U.S. in a region
that it traditionally considers its own." The daily's Moscow
correspondent Fabrice Node-Langlois went on to say that "The Middle
East is the first area where Russian diplomacy is reaffirming itself
since 2003. The Kremlin has been making it a point to stand apart
from Washington on all of the major regional issues." The editorial
by Jean-Christophe Ploquin in Catholic La Croix on February 12
underscored that Putin "is trying to strengthen Russian influence in
a region that carries an American stamp... Russia feels oppressed
by the advance of NATO... and Washington's decision to set up two
bases in the Czech Republic and in Poland is seen by Moscow as a
provocation... Russia is back on the front of the stage thanks to
its oil supply... now the question remains how it intends to use its
new margin for maneuver." Economic right-of-center daily Les Echos
noted on February 13 that the "Kremlin is taking very seriously the
possibility that George W. Bush could strike Iran before the end of
his term in office... which would have repercussions throughout the
Middle East. Putin therefore tried to impress on King Abdullah the
need to 'calm' Washington down."


4. (SBU) On February 13, right-of-center Le Figaro's Beijing
correspondent Jean-Jacques Mevel wrote that "The talks are
progressing." "The Bush Administration," Mevel noted, "is already
in a tug-of-war with another rising nuclear power, Iran, and it has
been burned in the past by the slew of broken agreements with North
Korea between 1994 and 2005... A compromise, if it is possible,
would force the North Korean regime to either offer more or ask for
less." Also on February 13, Washington-based correspondent for
privately-run Europe 1 radio, Francois Clemenceau, reported on the
attempts to reach an agreement, commenting on "Christopher Hill's
cautiousness... with regard to Kim Jong Il whose favorite trick is

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to change his mind." On February 14, right-of-center Le Figaro
called the agreement "fragile" and noted that "Washington has
discovered the virtues of compromise." The editorial by Pierre
Rousselin entitled "Bush's pragmatism" opined that "Considering how
North Korea has behaved in the past, this is by no means a done
deal... The U.S. can nonetheless praise itself for this diplomatic
breakthrough... This is what George W. Bush has been able to
achieve by mixing his usual tough stance with an uncommon diplomatic
overture... Only one year ago, Washington would never have agreed
to anything but a total dismantling of the North Korean nuclear
installations... Today, after the defeat of the Mid-term elections,
George W. Bush is determined to devote himself to Iraq and Iran and
therefore needs to appease the tension with North Korea and score
points in the area of non-proliferation. The agreement in Beijing
is the sign that when it has to, the White House is capable of
exhibiting the pragmatism necessary."

5. (SBU) The front page and unsigned editorial in left-of-center Le
Monde, dated February 14, discussed the provisional agreement and
the editorial argued that "The five major 'powers' worry that states
that have been stigmatized as 'rogue' by the Americans will acquire
nuclear weapons. For years they have been trying to dissuade North
Korea and Iran by alternating between the carrot and the stick and
with uneven success... Diplomatic pressure and sanctions appear to
have won over the last Stalinist regime on the planet. But with
Teheran the tug-of-war continues... The Europeans have been
negotiating with Iran for almost four years and have gotten
nowhere... Urged on by the Americans, will Europe agree to toughen
economic and financial sanctions, thereby running the risk of
breaking the common front with Russia? It has little other choice
if it wants to avoid a nuclear Iran -- which is the party line --
and American strikes on Iranian sites with the ensuing
consequences... The North Korean precedent brings with it
ambivalent lessons... Iran is aspiring to be recognized as a
regional power -- something the Americans are not prepared to
grant... And if tension has lessened in the Korean peninsula, the
stakes are rising dangerously in the Middle East."

6. (SBU) In Catholic La Croix on February 14, the editorial by
Jean-Christophe Ploquin was entitled, "Now it's Iran's turn."
Ploquin remarked that "The hermit kingdom may be on the verge of
emerging from its isolation... And if this actually comes about,
several lessons will be able to be drawn to be used with regard to
Iran... First of all that it is never too late for negotiation...
Second, that the U.S. can play the card of multilateral negotiations
and China can play the facilitator. The Bush Administration has
proven that it can take the lead in a complex diplomatic game and it
is easy to see Condoleezza Rice's influence in this agreement. Can
this mechanism for negotiations work with Iran? There is still
time... If international solidarity holds and if Washington sends
the right signals, the Iranian regime will have to choose between
two scenarios. Pursuing its nuclear program will isolate it and
maybe expose it to air strikes. Renouncing it would put it back in
a position to establish a privileged relationship with the U.S."

7. (SBU) On February 16, right-of-center Le Figaro reported that the
pressure is mounting: "The U.S. and North Korea are preparing
cross-visits of their two chief negotiators in the not too distant
future... Christopher Hill's visit to Pyongyang would be
unprecedented since 2002 when President Bush included North Korea in
the 'Axis of Evil...' The visits could be a prelude to
normalization of relations... and for the U.S. it would effectively
end the 'regime change' strategy that has been the leitmotif of the
Administration for the last five years... The EU has also said that
it is considering sending a diplomatic troika including Javier


8. (SBU) The February 14 edition of left-of-center Le Monde devoted
two pages to "France-Africa: The End of the Chirac Years." An
op-ed by Serge Michailof, professor at Sciences Po, charged that
with regard to Africa, France is "stingy." On February 15,
right-of-center Le Figaro's senior Africa correspondent discussed
the "six issues that poison the Franco-African relationship." The
article listed the peace treaty with Algeria, the Borrel affair in
Djibouti, the Rwandan genocide, the Brazzaville Beach
disappearances, the Falcone affair in Angola and the attack on the
Licorne forces in the Ivory Coast as reflecting the decline of
French influence in Africa over the course of Chirac's presidency.
Left-wing Liberation ran a two-page, full-color spread on "Chirac
the African -- how they see him," with largely negative commentary
running the gamut from "A suffocating love for the continent," to
"Twelve catastrophic years." Left-wing Liberation also carried a

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piece on new diplomatic and judicial developments in the case of
Borrel's murder in Djibouti. Catholic La Croix, for its part,
devoted its front page to "Chirac, a certain idea about Africa,"
describing Chirac's policy as somewhere between the heritage of
Franco-Africa and a push for development assistance. La Croix's
series of articles included a discussion of China's growing role in

9. (SBU) In the February 16 right-of-center Le Figaro, the front
page noted "Europe's role" in Africa, which according to the daily
is "taking France's place" on the continent. Most outlets called
this summit "Chirac's last goodbye to Africa." The editorial in
economic right-of-center Le Echos by Francoise Crouigneau mentioned
the "Political and emotional bond between Chirac and Africa..." She
noted that in terms of economic aid, the influence of France was
dwindling faced with the "growing interest of Washington and Beijing
for Africa."


10. (SBU) Catholic daily La Croix on February 14 published a survey
of the French public's views on the media. This year's survey (an
annual exercise for the past twenty years) showed that the French
public is avid for information but that it trusts the media only
half-heartedly, despite a slight increase in radio audience and
press readership as compared to last year (from 54 percent to 57
percent for radio and from 48 percent to 51 percent for the written
press). Sixty percent of those asked say they question the
editorial independence of journalists with regard to political and
financial considerations. As for television, 51 percent of the
French public stated that it was skeptical regarding objectivity.
The study also noted that young people and professionals rely on
radio and written press for information.

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