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A high-ranking French source tells Asharq al-Awsat: ”We are ready to open up to Syria, but the road passes through Lebanon.”&#34 | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Paris-An official high-ranking French source told Asharq al-Awsat: &#34France is ready to resume political dialogue with the Syrian leadership. It is even ready to help President Bashar al-Assad and intervene in his favour.&#34

The source added: &#34But this stand is conditional on France making sure that Syria has decided to be positive in Lebanon through actions, not only statements and declaration of intentions.&#34

In a statement to Asharq al-Awsat yesterday, the source said: &#34Paris decides its stand toward Damascus depending on the Lebanese issue alone. It does not link this stand to regional issues, whether in Iraq or Palestine.&#34

This suggests that Paris” stand is different from that of Washington, with which it worked hand in hand to push the Syrian authorities to withdraw their forces and intelligence services from Lebanon under Resolution 1559. Then they worked to set up an inquiry commission to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

The source pointed out: &#34Paris needs some time to test the current Syrian role in Lebanon. Several issues are a cause of concern to us.&#34

The source added: &#34Paris” main question can be answered by many events and stands. They are the parliamentary elections, formation of a new Lebanese government, and Syria’s stand on allowing the emergence of a new Lebanese national consensus on Lebanon”s independence and sovereignty, and the direction in which Lebanese organizations will move.&#34

These organizations include Hezbollah, parties that revolve in the orbit of Damascus, and non-Lebanese organizations, that is to say, pro-Syrian Palestinian groups.

According to the French source, Paris has information indicating that Syria kept behind in Lebanon important intelligence and non-intelligence bodies that allow it to influence the situation in Lebanon.

The source said that Paris received messages through traditional diplomatic channels and other parties indicating that Syria has a desire to open a new chapter with France. He added that France &#34does not object&#34 to responding to these messages.

The French source said: &#34If Paris reaches a conclusion that Damascus is playing the new game and accepts its rules, it will be ready to give Syria a helping hand on more than one level.&#34

The source added: &#34Paris will not be embarrassed to resume the dual

assistance, which it began to extend to Syria regarding administrative and economic reform. Also, it will encourage the EU to resume high-level diplomatic contacts with Damascus.&#34

Paris was behind Europe”s diplomatic boycott of Syria in recent months.

The source noted: Damascus suffers &#34isolation&#34 in its relations with the West.

Also, the EU postponed the signing of the European-Syrian partnership agreement that was initialled in Brussels in December last year. The agreement is awaiting a final signature before being ratified by European parliaments.

The source added: On the other hand, Paris can intervene with the US

Administration in Damascus” favour to urge it &#34not to intervene&#34, that is to say, refrain from making political changes in Syria from abroad.

The source said: &#34Paris believes that US President George Bush respects what French President Jacques Chirac thinks and says about the Lebanese and Syrian issues and listens to him.&#34

The source added: &#34Accordingly, we can persuade Bush not to heed the view held by extremists in his administration that toppling the Syrian regime will solve at once many problems, which the United States suffers in the region.

We can also convince him not to squeeze the Syrian authorities in the corner, because this move will prompt Syria to refrain from cooperation.&#34

After a meeting with the French president in Brussels in February, Bush said that Chirac is &#34more experienced&#34 in these two issues than him.

The French source summed up Paris” stand as follows: &#34We are ready to cooperate with, and help Syria. Nevertheless, restoration of confidence needs time and actions. The way to do this will depend on how Damascus deals with the Lebanese issue in the coming months.&#34

The source added: &#34we are aware of the fact that Damascus took important steps in Lebanon, but we need guarantees for the future. Our main goal that has not changed is to see Lebanon restore its health, sovereignty, independence, and democracy and achieve new national consensus.&#34

Turning to the Lebanese issue, the French source said that Paris can be “patient&#34 on the question of disarming Hezbollah and the Lebanese state taking control over all its territories, including the (Palestinian refugee) camps. But the ultimate goal is to ensure that the state imposes its prestige everywhere in the country, the source noted.

The French source said: &#34For our part, we are ready to help rebuild the Lebanese army and assist the Lebanese legitimate authorities to restore their prestige all over Lebanon.&#34