Yesterday’s NYT coverage of the failure to produce an Iranian agreement in Geneva featured a photograph of Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister. Who is Fabius? I communicated with David Bromwich about the minister’s role, and he explained:
Fabius was at the front of Western ministers pressing for NATO to repeat its Libya performance in Syria, after the Aleppo gas attack and the Damascus five months later–both times claiming certainty, from special sources, that Assad had ordered the attack; both times out ahead of US policy and embarrassing the US by calling the “red line” bluff; and both times urging what Netanyahu was more quietly indicating as his wish.
Now he’s doing the same with the Iran negotiations: an accord almost achieved, but Fabius steps in and says no. Without this obstruction, it seems possible a preliminary agreement would have been announced. The words Fabius and France appear very prominently in the Times coverage today of the stalled discussions.
His name figured largely also in American and British (as well as French) newspaper coverage of the gas attacks and the recommended response; fast off the mark and almost calling the tune for Kerry. Meanwhile, in late August, Fabius made a visit to Israel which received major coverage there. He spoke alongside Netanyahu, saying France would be Israel’s safety net in dealings with hostile Arab governments. He did not dissociate himself from Netanyahu’s unsupported assertion that Iran was behind the gas attacks.
“Assad’s regime isn’t acting alone,” Netanyahu told journalists after a meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “Iran, and Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, are there on the ground playing an active role assisting Syria. In fact, Assad’s regime has become a full Iranian client and Syria has become Iran’s testing ground.”
That August meeting in Israel was significant for a couple of other reasons. Netanyahu had “snubbed” Fabius, with major emphasis, by saying no to repeated requests for the meeting; then, reluctantly, agreed to see him after all, at the instance of a French businessman with strong Israeli connections, a mutual friend and patron.
[Meyer] Habib, the vice president of CRIF (the umbrella Representative Council of the Jewish Institutions in France), was Netanyahu’s unofficial representative in Paris and helped organize several meetings for him with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy when Netanyahu was opposition leader.
One sticking point had been Fabius’s public statements that Palestine was an essential problem for the region to solve and that Israel was responsible for helping to solve it. Netanyahu took the occasion of that August visit to correct Fabius on the subject of Palestine. [In the video below, Netanyahu lectured Fabius, saying that there’s a delusion in the west that the Palestinian conflict is “the root cause of this instability” in the Middle East, when actually is it “one of the results of the Middle East turmoil.”]
Still, the French minister hung in–and again now, on Iran, is doing what Israel would like to see done, though it goes against U.S. diplomacy. What is in this for France? Technology? access to Israeli intelligence? security equipment for detection of homegrown threats?
On Fareed Zakaria today, there was an interesting moment. Kenneth Pollack (who along with Peter Beinart has become one of the few neoliberals of the Iraq war party to see they were wrong and to change) was asked by Zakaria about the spoiler position of Fabius. He replied that he didn’t know the meaning of what Fabius was up to. The suggestion was he saw or guessed the meaning of it plainly.
Today Bromwich pointed me to Christopher Dickey’s piece at Daily Beast, Why France is to blame for blocking the Iran nuclear agreement. “He starts out lazy– ‘it is that they are French’, but gets more solid by the end. Dickey:
Under Sarkozy and his longtime Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the Quai’s policies came to be increasingly dominated by the French version of American neo-cons, many of them former leftists who preached the spread of democracy and dreamed of remaking the Middle East, if necessary, through war.
Sarkozy liked to say if he’d been president in 2003 he’d have backed the American-led invasion of Iraq; Kouchner let it be known he thought an armed confrontation with Iran was more or less inevitable.