Sarkozy and Obama

Nikolas Gvosdev wonders out loud whether Nicolas Sarkozy is hoping to play trans-Atlantic interlocutor between America and Russia. I’ve argued before that a good deal of Sarkozy’s conciliatory posture towards the U.S. — which has gotten him accused here in France of an Atlanticist alignment with Washington — was in fact a gambit designed to make Paris the fulcrum upon which American-EU relations pivot.

Sarkozy has been very careful to balance his gestures towards Washington with demands for concessions (NATO vs. EU defense, for instance), and has also not been reluctant to oppose American positions (on NATO expansion, for instance) when it was both in his interest and he had sufficient support to come out on top.

But I think Gvosdev is onto something, and it goes beyond the Washington-Paris-Moscow conduit. His suggestion brings to mind the possibility that France’s recent insistence upon engaging Syria has been in anticipation of an end to America’s isolation of Damascus. (It’s interesting to note that the Syrian ambassador to the U.S. suggested that a McCain administration would have supported engaging Damascus as well.) Certainly the progress Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have made in restoring French-Syrian relations will put them in good position to help smooth the way for Washington.

But on the back end (because when it comes to quid and quo, Sarkozy’s a pro), my hunch is that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure that Obama’s willingness to engage Iran directly does not undermine the enormous efforts that have gone into maintaining a very firm and consistent EU3 negotiating position on Tehran’s nuclear program, perhaps even pushing for an American presence at jumpstarted P5+1 talks with Iran before any bilateral channels are opened up between Washington and Tehran.