Sarkozy gets cosy with Assad

By Shirli Sitbon, June 19, 2008
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Jewish institutions and opposition parties have criticised the welcome extended by French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to Syrian leader Bashar Assad to the summit launching the Med Union on July 13 and to the next day’s Bastille Day celebrations.

“It is not the invitation to the summit itself we are criticising, but the honours given to Assad the next day when he’ll be the nation’s guest at the presidential tribune for the national celebration,” a spokesman for the Jewish umbrella body CRIF told the JC.

But the invitation is seen by others as an opportunity to push negotiations with Syria further after Jerusalem and Damascus revealed their own indirect talks.

Paris has sent two emissaries to Damascus, among them Jean-David Levitte, France’s former ambassador to the US.

“If the Israelis are talking to the Syrians… let’s not be too smart about things, I think it’s important to talk to people on opposite sides,” said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

“If Sarkozy obtained information about developments and a change in the Syrian approach, then there could be a breakthrough,” political analyst Raphael Drai told the JC.

“But this diplomatic effort will be very complex and difficult to push through.

“There are in fact three negotiations in one: there’s the Israeli-Syrian process, the Lebanon issue, and the attempt to draw Syria away from Iran. Syrians argue that if they accept western demands and move away from Iran, they should at least get in return major advantages in Lebanon and land restitution from Israel in the Golan.”

According to Reuters, Israeli officials said Jerusalem was trying to set up a meeting between Mr Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who will participate in the same events on July 13-14. The Israeli embassy in France told the JC it did not wish to comment  on the media reports and that it was currently focusing on Mr Sarkozy’s own trip to Jerusalem, due to take place in a few days.

    Last updated: 2:53pm, June 19 2008