Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat – Official French sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that French President Nicolas Sarkozy sought to play a leading role in dealing with the situation in Syria – along the lines of the role played by Paris with regards to the violence in Libya – “from the beginning.”
The official French source, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, also stressed that Paris has played a “proactive” role in isolating and sanctioning the Libyan regime, both within the EU and the UN. The French source said that Paris had played a prominent role in diplomatically isolating the Libyan regime, securing sanctions against it, pushing the ICC to issue arrest warrants against the Libyan leadership, and securing the UN Security Council resolution that authorized “all necessary measures” be taken to protect civilians in Libya, including the use of military force.
As for why President Sarkozy was so keen to play a leading role in dealing with the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown against the protestors, the source told Asharq Al-Awsat that there were two major reasons for this: Firstly, this would give a new direction to French diplomacy and signal an end to France’s indecision in dealing with the Arab Spring in Tunisia and later Egypt, with France’s new diplomatic direction now focusing primarily on human rights issues and democracy. Secondly, this would allow Paris to abandon the prevailing French diplomatic principle of linking internal stability to regional stability, and comprehensively protecting the existing [regional] regimes, particularly those friendly to France.
The official French source described Paris’s position towards the recent developments in Syria and the Bashar al-Assad regime’s brutal suppression of the Syrian demonstrators as being one of “gradual intensification.” The source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that during the early days of the crisis, there were two “schools of thought” in Paris: the first “school of thought” believed that the Syrian regime should be granted more time to implement the reforms that needed to be implemented and therefore France should avoid pressuring or isolating the Syrian regime. However the second “school of thought” was of the opinion that after the Syrian regime had chosen to implement a policy of wide-spread suppression it had lost its legitimacy and so there was even greater need to pressure the al-Assad regime to put an end to the violence. Indeed the French official source stressed that this second “school of thought” believed that the Syrian regime had resorted to inciting sectarian fears, panicking the minorities [in Syria], as well as the Sunni community, in an attempt to convince the Syrian people that their interests would be best served by supporting the regime.
The official French source stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that this state of affairs has changed today, and that it is difficult to find even one French official “betting” on the sustainability of the Syrian regime. Indeed the sources stressed that the “prevailing conviction” in Paris is that the Syrian regime “has condemned itself” and that “al-Assad may be able to buy some time, but he will not be able to remain [in power].”
Other informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Syrian regime will not be able to survive if it continues to use violence against the protestors who have “broken through the fear barrier.” However the same sources also acknowledged that the Bashar al-Assad regime will not last even if it implements the reforms demanded by the Syrian people; including implementing the political parties law, granting political and media freedoms, as well as granting freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly, and abolishing the Baathist party’s political supremacy, placing Syria on the road to genuine democracy.
As for the intensification in France’s position on Syria, Paris began by condemning the violence being carried out by the Syrian regime against the protestors, and then later moved to work within the framework of the UN, drafting a statement, – in addition to a draft resolution – condemning the Syrian government’s crackdown on the protestors. Following this, the EU and the US imposed numerous sanctions on Syria. The EU – primarily pushed by Paris – has imposed three sets of sanctions on Syria to date, including sanctioning senior Syrian officials including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself. The EU imposed a travel ban on the Syrian President, banning him from travelling to any of the EU’s 27 member-state, in addition to freezing his assets. In addition to this, the EU has placed an arms embargo on Syria, and deprived Damascus of European aid. The EU has also sanctioned 4 major Syrian companies that are pillars of the Syrian economy. Senior French and EU officials are also investigating imposing further sanctions on the Syrian regime, perhaps targeting the Syrian oil sector, along the lines of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran.
As for the UN Security Council, the draft-resolution sanctioning Damascus was halted by opposition from within the UN Security Council, most prominently from Russia. However Paris has not lost hope of convincing those who oppose sanctioning Syria and passing this resolution. French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppe is set to discuss this issue with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during his visit to Moscow tomorrow.
What is noticeable in the French position [towards Syria] is its step-by-step advancement, from condemning the Syrian regime’s use of violence to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe’s statement that the al-Assad regime has “lost his legitimacy” to rule Syria. According to the official French source, Juppe’s statement means that “al-Assad must go.”
The official French source also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the issue of “what happens after the collapse of the regime” is now being discussed. The official source revealed that Paris is consulting a number of countries about the situation in Syria, particularly Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, in addition to other western and Arab countries. The official source also indicated that this issue will be discussed during President Sarkozy’s forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, which is scheduled to take place in early July.
The French position towards Damascus has moved from one extreme to the other. President Sarkozy was instrumental in bringing Syria – and President Bashar al-Assad – out of the diplomatic wilderness, developing “strategic” relations with Damascus, as well as French – Syrian economic cooperation, in addition to pushing Syria to implement internal reform and move towards peace in the Middle East. However today, Paris has completely reversed its position, strongly condemning and sanctioning the Syrian regime for its brutal crackdown against the protestors and its intransigence in carrying out reform. Indeed, today Paris has taken one of the most hard-line international positions against the Bashar al-Assad regime, to the point that one French diplomat informed Asharq Al-Awsat that many believe that Paris is “encouraging the [Syrian] opposition” to continue its operations.