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Cablegate: Your December 16-18 Visit to France

DE RUEHFR #4685/01 3451512
O 111512Z DEC 07

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 004685




E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/10/2017

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Classified By: Ambassador Craig R. Stapleton, for reasons 1.5 (b) and (


1. (C) That the first international follow-on to Annapolis
is taking place in Paris reflects the new confidence and
greater cooperation that characterize our relationship with
France seven months into the Presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.
France's support for our efforts to achieve peace in the
Middle East contrasts sharply with its previous preferred
role as a side-line critic. It is just one example of the
broader re-positioning of France vis-a-vis the U.S. which we
have been quick to recognize and take advantage of.
Sarkozy's desire to maximize France's influence by working
with the U.S. to address common challenges is the
international component of a larger ambition for his
five-year Presidency: to renew France though deep reform at
home and resumption of its leadership in Europe. With an
exceptionally long political honeymoon behind him, Sarkozy is
now pressing ahead with his domestic reform agenda. He has
met with predictable opposition (most dramatically in the
form of transport strikes), and some questioning among
political allies of his strategy of undertaking sequential,
calibrated reform rather than a Thatcherite big bang at the
outset of his term. Despite the difficulty of the challenge,
including an unsettled international economic context, and
little budgetary room for maneuver, Sarkozy remains
determined to see his program through. Given his dominant
political position, that remains a realistic prospect. An
activist on the international scene, with an opportunistic
eye for grabbing attention and credit, Sarkozy will remain a
challenging partner despite his desire to improve the
bilateral relationship. He has concentrated responsibility
for foreign affairs in the Presidency to an unprecedented
degree, while Foreign Minister Kouchner has focused on
selected policy issues. This message also addresses the
specifics of France's Middle East policies. While under
Sarkozy the French are more supportive, our collaboration
(and intra-GOF coordination) on Lebanon has of late not been
as close as it should be, as Sarkozy's team in the Elysee has
focused single-mindedly on electing a President while
squeezing the democratically-elected majority and weakening
its ability to deal with post-election challenges. End

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2. (C) Madame Secretary, The seven months since Nicolas
Sarkozy became President of France -- and the six months
since your last visit -- has been a remarkable period in
three respects. First, our relationship with France has
undergone a significant qualitative change. Sarkozy has set
in place a new paradigm for French foreign policy, one more
favorable to our interests. Scrapping Chirac's worldview,
which equated French leadership with containing U.S.
hegemony, Sarkozy has articulated the need for France to work
closely with the U.S. -- in order to address common
challenges, but also as the surest way to increase France's
global influence. France's increased involvement in and
commitment to Afghanistan, the beginning of a French interest
in Iraq, and France's consideration of a full return to NATO,
are the most symbolically powerful examples of France's
policy reorientation. Second, we have ratcheted up our
cooperation with France across our foreign policy agenda,
particularly on Middle East issues, but also on Kosovo,
Burma, Sudan/Darfur and elsewhere. In Lebanon, Sarkozy's
more activist foreign policy has already put the new
cooperative relationship to the test. Third, over the past
seven months, Sarkozy has begun to implement the ambitious
platform of domestic reform he had promised as a candidate.


3. (C) Before addressing the Middle East issues that will
be the focus of your visit here, a word on the domestic
context. Sarkozy enjoyed an exceptionally long political
honeymoon, one which extended well into the Fall. His
election -- representing the victory of a new-generation
leader, one with unmatched communication skills and a
detailed and ambitious program for renewing France -- led to
a season of national elan and optimism. The return to normal

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in the political life of the country over the past two months
was predictable, as Sarkozy's efforts to implement difficult
domestic changes have run into opposition from those -- such
as rail workers -- who stand to lose, and many others who
fear change of any kind. Sarkozy has disappointed some in
his own camp for not immediately embarking on radical,
deep-rooted, pervasive reform, taking advantage of his
electoral mandate. Instead, Sarkozy has decided to carefully
pick his battles, gaining momentum from each piecemeal
victory. All in all, Sarkozy remains in a politically
powerful position, operating as the hands-on leader of a
largely unchecked executive branch, unencumbered for now by a
political opposition worthy of the name. He is determined to
make his mark during his five year term (which he insists may
be his single term of office), but has demonstrated greater
caution than might have been expected, mindful of the
international economic and financial environment, and severe
budgetary constraints at home.


4. (C) Sarkozy's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was
the prize catch in Sarkozy's opportunistic effort to appoint
figures of the center and center-left to his government,
thereby increasing its legitimacy and political heft (and
depleting that of the opposition) as he waged the domestic
reform battle. While rumors circulate of a cabinet
re-shuffle early in the new year or following municipal
elections in March, Kouchner's position appears secure for
now. (Defense Minister Morin and Interior Minister
Alliot-Marie are among those thought most imperiled.) He
enjoys a personal chemistry with the President based on
Sarkozy's long-time admiration of Kouchner's personal and
political courage and humanitarian accomplishments. Kouchner
remains very popular -- consistently scoring at or near the
top of the polls measuring the popularity of France's
political leaders. But even his star quality (that he alone
in the government can claim) has not kept him from being
eclipsed by his hyper-active and media-savvy president.
Surely more of a concern to Kouchner, Sarkozy has
concentrated foreign policy decision-making and
implementation to an unprecedented degree in the Elysee, with
Secretary-General Claude Gueant and Diplomatic Advisor

Jean-David Levitte accruing as much if not more influence
than Kouchner. Kouchner has largely focused on the issues
with which he has the greatest experience and level of
comfort -- Lebanon, Kosovo, and Darfur among them. While he
has of late curbed his penchant for off-the-cuff,
undiplomatic public comments, the thin-skinned Kouchner has
shown irritation over the involvement of Elysee officials in
the delicate negotiations over Lebanon's presidential
elections, and he may be uncomfortable with Sarkozy's
increasing willingness to downgrade human rights
considerations in his dealings foreign leaders, as
demonstrated by the way he has kept his distance from the
ongoing five-day visit to Paris of Mu'ammar Qadhafi.

Middle East

5. (S) Under Sarkozy, France's Middle East policies have
become more supportive of and congruent with U.S. interests,
but we are concerned that in the past few weeks our
collaboration (and intra-GOF coordination) on Lebanon has not
been what it should be, as Sarkozy's Presidency team has
focused single-mindedly on electing a President in such a way
that squeezes the democratically-elected majority and weakens
its ability to deal with post-election challenges.

--Arab/Israeli peace: The French remain major supporters of
our efforts focused on supporting the Israeli/Palestinian
negotiations. Their eagerness to make Annapolis a success
and to host the Paris conference on assistance to the
Palestinians underscored this. Sarkozy and Kouchner both
want France to be a key player in what they hope will be a
strong and successful push in 2008 to the creation of a
Palestinian state. In many ways, France aspires to be a
favored additional partner to the Quartet. Syrian
participation at Annapolis has also sparked hopeful
commentary in the French media that a larger dynamic -- in
which France can participate -- is underway that inter alia
would foster an unraveling of the Syrian/Iranian relationship
and halt Iranian inroads through support of Hizballah in
Lebanon. Sarkozy and Kouchner will listen attentively to any

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vision you may outline of how you expect the negotiations to
unfold and whether there is a reasonable expectation of them
broadening to include Syria.

--Lebanon: Even as the French have become a positive force
behind our efforts on behalf of Arab-Israeli peace, the close
collaboration with the GOF under former President Chirac,
with his single-minded focus on supporting Saad Hariri and
isolating Syria, has suffered. This is partly due to the
extremely fluid situation in Lebanon. But it also results
from the tug of war between Kouchner and the Elysee over who
is in charge of the issue, one that developed after it became
clear the deadline for electing a new president would pass
without a new candidate chosen. There is abundant evidence
that the Syrians, possibly with help from the Amir of Qatar
(a friend of Sarkozy and President Bashar al-Asad), lured the
Elysee into leading a process with far different objectives
than the one Kouchner began last summer. Whereas Kouchner
was focused on helping the Lebanese get out of their
political deadlock, Levitte and the Elysee have sought a
resolution of the presidential crisis that would satisfy
larger geopolitical aims involving Syria. It is also clear
to us that the Elysee, given Sarkozy,s obsession with
achieving results, is focused on electing a president so that
it can be considered another French diplomatic triumph. The
unfortunate net result continues to be the impression that
French pressure for a deal falls exclusively on the March 14
majority and not where it belongs -- on the March 8
opposition that is acting in close coordination with Syria
intent on wringing key concessions from the democratically
elected majority. Even if the presidential crisis is
resolved by December 17, we would recommend that you discuss
with Kouchner and Sarkozy how we can more effectively work
together as we address the multitude of difficult challenges
facing Lebanon, of which the Presidential election is only
the first.

--Iran: The public release of the recent NIE on Iranian
nuclear capabilities was a shock to all but the highest
levels of the GOF, which was briefed on its conclusions.
Although the French have publicly backed our view that Iran
continues to pose a serious threat and further international
sanctions are warranted (a line echoed in most of the French
press), the GOF anticipates a major "communication problem"
with its EU partners, the Iranians, China, and Russia. There
is further the delicate diplomacy France is undertaking with
different elements in the Iranian regime in order to maintain
a viable channel that bypasses President Ahmadinejad (who
appeared to complain about this in a recent letter to
Sarkozy). In geostrategic terms, the French see Iran as the
primary threat to the Middle East and worry about inroads it
has made in Lebanon and Iraq. As noted above, there is also
some thinking, at least among analysts outside the GOF, that
Annapolis and the NIE betoken a significant shift of U.S.
strategy in the Bush Administration's last year that involves
new U.S. thinking about Iran. Sarkozy and Kouchner would
welcome anything you could share with respect to how we
regard Iran in a post-Annapolis Middle East.

--Iraq: French follow-up to Kouchner's visit to Baghdad last
August and Iraqi President Talabani's subsequent visit to
Paris has been slow. Concern about the security situation,
despite what the French acknowledge to be marginal
improvements in some areas of Iraq, lack of coordination at
the working level among French ministries, and the failure so
far to achieve a breakthrough on national reconciliation have
slowed or prevented follow-on French engagement. Kouchner,
however, did ask SecDef Gates for a list of specific areas in
which we thought France could be helpful. We should use that
opening to engage the French in a more active dialogue
between representatives of our respective interagencies. We
recommend that you use the opportunity to inquire about
Kouchner's current thinking about French assistance to Iraq
and let him know we would like to send an interagency team to
Paris early in the New Year to begin these discussions. We
would further recommend that you ask Kouchner about his
efforts to rally EU support for and to promote meaningful
engagement with the Iraqi government. You might also praise
his personal commitment to Iraq's success, as demonstrated in
part by his participation in the recent Istanbul summit. We
understand Kouchner may next visit Iraq in February when
France is expected to open an embassy office in Irbil.

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