France’s Syrian Initiative

Friday Lunch Club flagged this French language Le Point article over the weekend on France’s diplomatic contacts with Syria. After some initial reservations, Condoleezza Rice has apparently now warmed up to the idea, saying she’s convinced that France will deliver “the right message” to Syria. Now Hurriyet reports that Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to arrange a side meeting between himself, Bashar Assad and Ehud Olmert at the upcoming Union for the Mediterranean conference (to which Syria was conspicuously invited), in order to add French support to Turkish-brokered peace talks between Israel and Syria. (That last clause figures highly on the list of sentences I thought I’d never find myself writing.)

There has been some debate ever since he started moving closer to the American line in the Middle East whether Sarkozy was doing so to align with the U.S. or gain leverage to influence the American line towards engagement. What seems to be taking shape is a little bit of both. The problem to date with America’s attempts to isolate Syria is that it had us playing the bad cop role, with no one playing the good cop. That’s the job Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have signed up for. The question is whether he has any wiggle room left if Syria decides not to play along.

Update: The Hurriyet article has now been updated to remove Sarkozy from the Paris meeting between Olmert and Assad, which was apparently suggested by Olmert. It also makes mention of Assad’s belief in the necessity of American mediation, something he considers impossible before the next presidential administration takes charge in Washington. Maybe it’s time to stop referring to America’s declining influence, as opposed to the Bush administration’s successful effort to write itself out of the Middle East peace process.