Last Updated: Wed Aug 15, 2012 11:00 am (KSA) 08:00 am (GMT)

Laurent Fabius’ visit to Syria’s neighbors

Randa Takieddine

The visit of the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which begins today, during the summer holiday, is a French move to show the internal French opposition that their diplomacy is working and looking for solutions to the crisis in Syria.

There is no doubt now that the international community, (the prominent Arab countries and the three permanent Security Council members: the United States, France and Britain), are now facing a dilemma regarding the Syrian situation and the Russian and Chinese stances, which is backing the regime that carries on repression and criminality towards its own people.

France, led by Holland, is concerned by the search for a solution and a way out of this impasse in the Security Council that it presides during this month by the professional and skilled Ambassador, Gerard Araud, who delivered a speech regarding the Syrian crisis and the regime’s brutal repression, which content was as important as what was stated in the speech of Jacques Chirac’s Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin in New York, in which he announced France's refusal to participate in the Iraq war.

President Holland is now exposed to criticism from French rightist opposition; the Secretary General of the right-wing Gaullist Jean-Francois Copé and from the former Prime Minister Francois Fillon that he is not active regarding the Syrian issue. Fillon has advised him to go to Moscow to persuade President Putin to change his position, knowing that Fillon in person, met with Putin and tried to persuade him but his efforts were in vain.

Former foreign minister Alain Juppé, who refused to intervene in this internal debate, has repeatedly expressed his frustration for being unable to change the Russian position that is delaying Bashar al-Assad’s toppling from power. The ongoing debate in France is hopeless and the joint statement issued by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the head of the Syrian National Council Abel Basset Sida did not succeed in criticizing the rigidity of the French diplomacy, while Sarkozy, despite the distinction of his Foreign Minister Juppe, was unable to make progress with the Syrian case and convince the Russians. It was better for Sarkozy to adopt the approach of his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who remained silent and refused to give his opinion when Sarkozy welcomed Bashar al-Assad during the French Revolution celebration day.

There is no doubt that the internal French debate is useless and will not solve the Syrian problem. Paris is looking today for an alternative Syrian government in exile, as was done for the Libya’s National Transitional Council. It should be selected by the opposition and recognized by the Arab League so the legitimacy of Assad would actually fall, and the international community would work with this transitional government while waiting for al-Assad to be out of the picture. The task is difficult yet possible. Fabius will check the Turkish leadership’s readiness regarding what can be done to end this deadlock. He will also inspect the humanitarian conditions of the refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and will provide the aid that France has started to send to Jordan. He will urge Syria’s neighbors, especially Lebanon, to help the refugees.

Fabius's visit to Lebanon comes amid a very important concern: the detention of former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha for the transfer of explosives and the will to place them in areas in northern Lebanon at the request of Bashar al-Assad. Samaha is not only the Syrian regime’s right-hand man in Lebanon, but he also has past cooperation and coordination history with the French intelligence through his friendships through the two socialist and rightist reigns under the presidency of Sarkozy, where he was constantly in the Elysée Palace and later on, the Ministry of Interior to the extent that French accredited diplomats in the palace and abroad were distraught by his numerous visits and interventions in many ambassadors’ work, especially if they were more loyal to the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon. Samaha has a French media network that he hired to serve the Syrian regime and its image in France and Lebanon. He used to negotiate renowned French Magazines editors to publish photos of Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma on the cover during their visit to France. He organized Bashar al-Assad’s visits to French leaders to the point where he had aroused the jealousy and resentment of al-Assad’s adviser Bouthaina Shaaban and the Syrian Embassy in France, which did not have any role in organizing the visits.

Fabius’ visit to Lebanon will definitely be an opportunity to listen to what the authorities and especially the President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have to say regarding the charges against Samaha and what disturbances the Syrian regime is hoping to spread in Lebanon. Paris has about 900 members who are exposed to high risks in these circumstances, working as part of the “UNIFIL” in the south, and France worries about their safety in such severe situations.

Fabius’ visit to the region is more than an investigative one. France is looking for a solution to support the Syrian opposition in Syria and abroad, but as long as the establishment of no-fly zone is not forced (and that is a type of military intervention), the dilemma of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad from power remains, but things may change in a matter of weeks because the Syrian regime is in decline and the residents of the cities that were supporting the regime at first, are now saying that he should resign so their plight will come to an end. Assad’s stay in power has become costly.

The writer is a columnist at al-Hayat, where this article was published on August, 15 2012

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