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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05PARIS1667 2005-03-14 11:11 2011-02-10 08:08 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
Appears in these articles:
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 001667 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2015 

Classified By: Ambassador Howard H. Leach for reasons 1.5 (b) and (d). 

1. (C) Summary: Former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told 
Ambassador Leach March 11 that Europe was beginning to ask 
itself whether the Bush Administration's pursuit of democracy 
and reform in the Arab world and elsewhere might be bearing 
fruit. Elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, 
the Orange revolution in Ukraine and the pro-democracy 
opposition movement in Lebanon had even the most skeptical 
European governments adjusting their policy towards the U.S., 
with France under Jacques Chirac at the top of the list. 
Nevertheless, Vedrine said that the jury was still out and 
that the last half of 2005 would show conclusively whether 
U.S. policy in Iraq, in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace, 
and for the restoration of Lebanese democracy would be 
successful. He also cautioned that "brutal" U.S. tactics in 
the Arab world could as easily lead to confrontation and 
chaotic change. He foresaw potential "serious conflict" with 
Iran, unpredictable consequences if the Basher al Assad 
government were to fall in Syria, and a degradation in 
U.S.-European relations if Israeli Prime Minister Sharon 
tries to make Gaza first Gaza only. Vedrine described 
Russian President Putin as a partner for the West, albeit 
imperfect. He was sympathetic to U.S. strategic concerns in 
East Asia related to EU plans to lift the China arms embargo. 
Finally, Vedrine offered some thoughts on France's 2007 
presidential race. End summary. 

2. (C) Former Foreign Minister Vedrine, who served in 
Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's 1997-2002 
"co-habitation" government under President Chirac, told 
Ambassador Leach over lunch March 11 that the European visits 
of President Bush and Secretary Rice had done much to improve 
the tone of U.S.-European relations. Even more important 
than the atmospheric changes we're now seeing is the growing 
discussion in Europe whether Bush Administration policy in 
support of democracy and reform in the Arab world and 
elsewhere is beginning to bear fruit. Successsful elections 
in Iraq and the Palestinian territories and the Lebanese 
opposition's push for Syrian withdrawal stand as significant 
accomplishments. In none of these cases, however, is success 
assured, Vedrine cautioned. The last half of 2005 would be 
decisive for U.S. policy in Iraq, it would see whether PM 
Sharon was prepared to implement his Gaza withdrawal plan and 
begin to pull back from the West Bank, and it would reveal 
whether Lebanon would be able to free itself of Syrian 

3. (C) Of these challenges, Vedrine identified the 
Israeli-Palestinian peace process as central. Progress here 
could dramatically improve U.S. relations with the Arab 
world. But continued U.S. pressure on Israel will be 
critical to success. The U.S. must insist that Israel give 
the Palestinians a real prospect of forming a viable state. 
If Sharon stops all movement once the Gaza withdrawal is 
complete, the situation will rapidly degrade and 
U.S.-European relations will suffer, Vedrine said. Vedrine 
agreed with the Ambassador's suggestion that both Israelis 
and Palestinians should be encouraged to take steps towards 
peace. But he said that their capacities to respond were 
different. Israel was a strong democratic state and its 
elected government would be able to implement any commitment 
it made. The Palestinian Authority, by contrast, lacks most 
of the attributes of a state and is little able to impose its 
authority on rejectionist groups in the territories. 
Palestinian President Abbas "needs more than just pressure," 
Vedrine said, he needs to be able to show results. Peace is 
in Israel's interest, so it must be prepared to continue its 
negotiation with the PA, even if it is attacked. Israel 
"cannot allow terrorists to dictate the agenda." 
Undoubtedly, Sharon has a political problem, but so did 
Itzhak Rabin, who did not allow inevitable isolated terrorist 
attacks to deter him. Vedrine said he personally liked 
Sharon, found him truthful, and believed therefore that one 
could work with him. But encouraging him to move beyond the 
Gaza withdrawal would fall to the U.S.; Europe could be 
helpful in assisting the Palestinians to manage affairs in 
Gaza once the Israelis left. 

4. (C) Iraq, said Vedrine, presented a different set of 
challenges. The legislative elections had been a success. 
If the U.S. could also make a success of the efforts to 
reconcile Sunnis and Shiites over a constitution -- the more 
important issue for Iraq's future -- most Europeans would be 
prepared to acknowledge that U.S. policy had been right all 
along in Iraq. Asked whether he perceived any concrete, 
supportive steps in Iraq from Chirac, Vedrine said he thought 
the French president would be prepared to offer any form of 
assistance short of military. But, Vedrine cautioned, the 
U.S. "has not won yet." There is still a danger that Iraq 
will descend into civil war or that a fundamentalist Islamist 
government will take power. The jury is still out. Just as 
in Iraq, America's "brutal policy" in Syria and Lebanon could 
lead to positive change -- "or to disaster." 

5. (C) The Bashr al-Assad regime in Syria was "incapable of 
reform," Vedrine said. Bashar, himself, was a prisoner of 
the system and not in complete control. His survival, like 
Syria's, was dependent on maintaining Damascus' hold on 
Lebanon. Economically and politically, this was essential. 
The U.S. and France had to understand that getting Syrian 
forces out of Lebanon would be just the first step. 
Moreover, it is not clear that the Lebanese will be able to 
bring sufficient pressure to bear to do this themselves. 
They are also fearful that should they try, Syria will exact 
a heavy price. Therefore, Vedrine said, the U.S. and France 
have to understand that if we start down the path of pushing 
the Syrians, "we will have to go all the way." Reaching a 
good solution for Lebanon "will require regime change in 
Syria," Vedrine said, but pursuit of that policy in Syria 
would be just as complex and uncertain as it has proved in 
Iraq. If the current regime stays in power, however, "we 
won't change a thing" in Lebanon. 

6. (C) The U.S. and France should be honest with each other 
about what we seek in Lebanon and we should carefully think 
through consequences. France, for example, does not agree 
with the U.S. policy of bringing about democratic change in 
the Arab world. Chirac's policy towards Lebanon is not 
determined by any commitment to ideology -- democratic or 
otherwise. When former Prime Minister Hariri argued the 
necessity of placating Syria, Chirac followed him. When 
Hariri decided shortly before his assassination to oppose 
Syria, Chirac moved to opposition with him. Vedrine said he 
personally was attracted to the democracy doctrine. There 
have been lots of examples of attempts to transform the Arab 
world, Vedrine said, and none of them has been successful. 
Nevertheless, the idea of promoting freedom and building 
democracy was "seductive" and "tempting," Vedrine said, while 
adding that his attitude was not typical of that of the 
French political class, which tended to be much more 
skeptical. Vedrine said he has argued in speeches that the 
U.S. fails to understand the complexities of the world, 
whereas Europe fails to understand the world's toughness. On 
balance, the advantage probably goes to the U.S., because 
Europe's need to delve into the complexities of issues acts 
as a brake on its will to act. 

7. (C) Asked for his thoughts on Russian President Putin's 
turn towards authoritarian rule, Vedrine argued for 
pragmatism. Putin remains an important partner for the West, 
albeit an imperfect one. He is rational, even "cold" in his 
analysis of events, "and this can be useful," Vedrine said. 
The subject, he added, is one that divides Europeans, along 
classic old Europe/new Europe lines. France, Germany, Italy, 
the UK and other older EU members generally see Putin's 
Russia as a partner and a source of energy products. Former 
Warsaw Pact EU members neighboring Russia, with their direct 
experience of Soviet rule, are much more wary. 

8. (C) After asking whether U.S. political differences with 
China would lead us to impose trade sanctions on Beijing, 
Vedrine deployed some fairly standard French talking points 
in defense of EU plans to lift its arms embargo on China. 
Vedrine argued that there would be no rush to sell lethal 
weaponry to China if the embargo were lifted, asserting that 
the EU's Code of Conduct, which has been strengthened, would 
provide sufficient checks on European sellers. Vedrine 
seemed to shift, however, when the Ambassador noted Beijings 
big increase in weapons acquisitions in recent years, and its 
ratcheting up of tensions over Taiwan. Vedrine acknowledged 
that, unlike Europe, the U.S. had strategic interests and 
commitments in East Asia, and recognized the consequences for 
the U.S. if the Asian military balance was disturbed. He 
suggested that the U.S. and Europe talk with each other 
seriously about a long-term joint strategy for dealing with 
China. He also suggested that Japan might well decide to 
consider whether it needed a nuclear deterrent as China 
expanded its ambitions and capabilities in the region. 

9. (C) Finally, Vedrine addressed European and domestic 
political issues. He said that he believed French voters 
would back the EU constitution in the May 29 referendum. He 
said he expected a high rate of abstention, and a small but 
clear win for the yes. A "no" vote would send France into a 
"psychological crisis" because the country heretofore 
regarded as a central driving force of European integration 
would be seen by fellow Europeans as a "traitor" to the 
cause. In reality, however, the constitution draft offers 
only marginal improvements over the current Nice Treaty 
arrangements, and thus a no vote "would not be the end of the 
world." Turning to France's 2007 presidential elections, 
Vedrine said he expected the Socialist Party candidate to be 
either party First Secretary Francois Hollande or Former PM 
Jospin. Hollande, despite having been at the helm of the 
Socialist Party through two electoral victories this year 
(regional and European elections) and an internal party vote 
in favor of supporting the EU constitution, is still not the 
unchallenged leader of the party. If, as the election 
approaches, Socialists perceive that they will not be able to 
defeat the center-right candidate, there could well be a move 
to draft Jospin, which Hollande himself could support. On 
the center-right UMP side, Vedrine said it could well be that 
Chirac and UMP party president Nicolas Sarkozy both run, thus 
splitting the center-right vote. Such an outcome, 
hypothetically, could produce a second round contest between 
Jospin and the candidate who knocked him out of the second 
round voting in 2002, far right National Front leader 
Jean-Marie Le Pen. In order to avoid such an outcome, 
Vedrine said he thought Chirac could ultimately withdraw and 
allow Sarkozy, France's most popular politician, to be the 
center-right standard-bearer.