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Cablegate: French Foreign Minister's July 5 Visit To

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 004659

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/30/2015
TAGS: PREL PINR FR
SUBJECT: FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER'S JULY 5 VISIT TO
WASHINGTON: THE EDUCATION OF PHILIPPE DOUSTE-BLAZY


Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Alex Wolff for
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

-------------------
No Honeymoon Period
-------------------

1. (C) Upon his appointment as foreign minister June
2, much of the French press and many political pundits
(fed by, among others, disdainful career diplomats at
the MFA) wrote off Philippe Douste-Blazy as a
dilettante. His lack of foreign policy experience, it
was said, and penchant for currying favor with his
superiors would mean his tenure at the Quai d'Orsay
would be spent taking orders from President Chirac,
Prime Minister de Villepin, and even his junior
Minister for European Affairs (and Chirac protge)
Catherine Colonna. As word has filtered down that
Douste-Blazy is a "quick study" and is working hard at
mastering the issues, his press has improved somewhat.
But for most of the French political class, he remains
untested in this job and hampered by the image as an
ambitious politician chosen for his loyalty to Chirac
to replace a capable and appreciated predecessor.
Against this backdrop, his meeting with the Secretary
July 5 is extremely important to Douste-Blazy since it
allows him to portray himself as a serious player on
French foreign policy in the eyes of others. He
knows that a successful visit to Washington can do much
to improve his treasured public image, and thus will be
torn between conveying effectively prepared points on a
range of subjects and pleasing us in order to
demonstrate he can work well with Washington.

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2. (C) Douste-Blazy has already had some successful
performances in his new job. He certainly counts among
these his brief conversation with the Secretary June 23
on the margins of the G-8 foreign ministers meeting in
London, where the joint press statement calling for
Syrian compliance with UNSCR 1559 was judged "worthy of
a seasoned veteran of the Quai" by one of the Parisian
dailies. Within the last week, he participated in a
trilateral meeting with his German and Polish
counterparts in an effort to establish rapport with the
much more experienced Joshka Fischer, and enlist the
support of Adam Rotfeld for France's defense of the
Common Agricultural Policy. In this context,
Washington is only the second bilateral visit
following a mandatory first-bow to Berlin.

----------------
Too Soon to Tell
----------------

3. (C) Despite his strict loyalty to Chirac, Douste-
Blazy's course in his political career -- from Mayor of
Lourdes in a centrist, pro-Europe party, to supporter
of failed center-right presidential candidate Edouard
Balladur (against Chirac), to today's Chirac-boosting,
anti-Sarkozy Gaullist -- suggests that he shifts
loyalties to reap the maximum political benefit for
himself. He is universally described as ambitious,
with sights set on a future prime ministership. The
foreign affairs ministry, many believe, is a way
station in Douste-Blazy's quest for higher office. He
certainly does not come to the office as the
proponent of a particular approach, or with a special
focus, such as Barnier's on Europe.

----------------------------
Our Opportunity to Influence
----------------------------

4. (C) His visit to Washington provides an important
opportunity to hear directly from us about our goals
for U.S.-Europe and U.S.-France cooperation. Douste-
Blazy does not necessarily bring to the job the
conventional view among some of France's foreign policy
elite that France and Europe need to define themselves
in distinction from the U.S. Many will want to
inculcate him quickly to this view and portray U.S.
policies in simplistic caricatures. By inviting him to
Washington early in his tenure, we have the opportunity
to educate him about our views and the reasons for
them. In this regard, it is important that he hear the
importance we attach to NATO, not because we are wary
of the EU, but because it is the only institution that
is truly transatlantic where Europe and North America
sit together around the same table to discuss, debate,
and formulate common approaches. Douste-Blazy has
already bought into the French mantra that the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict is the root of all problems and
that the U.S. is prepared to give PM Sharon a free hand
to everyone's detriment. The more he understands about
our approach, the less likely he'll be to parrot
established talking points on general Middle East
matters. Coming directly from us, these messages will
carry the weight of conviction that they would lack if
filtered through some of the career diplomats at the
MFA.
----------
The Issues
----------

5. (C) Iran: The French don't know yet what to make
of the Iranian presidential elections and their effect
on Tehran's policies. Political Director Stanislas de
Laboulaye, who is the lead French negotiator within the
EU-3 framework and who will accompany Douste-Blazy to
Washington, told the DCM that the EU-3 is in a
difficult discussion about how to handle the Iran
dossier at this time. The French believe it possible,
if not likely, that there may be a crisis with Iran
looming soon. Laboulaye said he personally saw merit
in proposing a generous package to the Iranians before
the new government takes office in order to ensure that
all responsibility for a breakdown in negotiations over
Tehran's nuclear program falls squarely on the Iranians
in the eyes of the international community. He
acknowledge an equally valid argument (presumably being
advocated by the UK) that now was not the time to show
any flexibility or generosity since no one knew what
the new government's intentions are. (We reinforced
the latter argument, adding that anything less would be
irresponsible at this point.) Laboulaye said the EU-3
focused in its meeting with Iranian lead negotiator
Moussavian this week on the need to avoid a breakdown
in the negotiations and on the costs for Iran of
any resumption of nuclear enrichment-related
activities. Laboulaye is likely to take the lead on
this topic, but it will be useful nonetheless for
Douste-Blazy to hear authoritatively our position.

(C) Syria/Lebanon: The Elysee retains the lead on this
issue, and our cooperation continues to be excellent
despite a different analysis of Syrian political
dynamics that lead the French to a less forceful policy
toward the Bashar al-Asad regime. We should continue
the discussion that begain with him on the margins of
the London G-8 meeting and provide him our assessment
of the implications of the June 29 attack across the
Blue Line by Hizballah forces. We should continue to
keep France committed to early implementation of UNSCR
1559's mandate for disarming Hizballah by underscoring
that neither Hizballah, its sponsors, nor the U.S. see
this issue as divorced somehow from wider concerns in
the region.

(C) Iraq: The MFA spokesman's reaction June 29 to
President Bush's speech on Iraq unhelpfully reprised
some of the more contentious arguments the French
leadership were in the habit of using before the visits
to Europe this winter and spring of the Secretary and
the President. In telling the press that Iraqis should
have "a perspective, a clear horizon of full
sovereignty, including in the military and security
realm," the MFA spokesman appeared to be reverting
to French language on Iraq's imperfect sovereignty that
pre-dated the January 30 elections. Douste-Blazy
should be reminded of the mutually agreed commitment of
our governments to put our differences over Iraq behind
us, and be encouraged to carry through with French
promises for gendarmes training and material assistance
to Iraq.

(C) Bilateral Relations: It might be useful to end the
meeting with a brief tutorial (perhaps in a one-on-one)
for Douste-Blazy of how to best manage our bilateral
relationship. As former Foreign Minister Barnier
understood, we have to manage our differences in a
spirit of candor and cooperation, not competition or
search for advantage. Displaying our differences in
the press or resorting to surprise can only aggravate
matters. If we get Douste-Blazy's buy-in on this
point, he'll have a personal stake in serving as a
constructive force in our relationship and tempering
the temptations of his masters to score public points.
Early tests of this would include urging Douste-Blazy
to look carefully at our climate change initiatives in
connection with the G-8 Summit. We continue to receive
considerable bad press in Europe, and particularly in
France, that disregards what we are saying and doing.
Douste-Blazy could help modulate France's official
public line on U.S. climate policy. More directly, we
should lay down a marker on Iraq. The French have told
us our differences were in the past and that they
share the desire for a stable and viable Iraqi state.
The MFA's official reaction to the President's speech
is a step backward that we did not appreciate. We
would expect a more positive approach in keeping with
the recently improved tone in the relationship. We
will look to Douste-Blazy to assert himself on this.

STAPLETON

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