Friday, 30 August 2013

Syria: The Position of France.

French President Francois Hollande has made it clear he intends to side firmly with President Obama and the USA by threatening to intervene militarily against Assad in Syria over his alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, east of Damascus. France has been the most hawkish of all the powers on Syria.

In being prepared to act with the USA, Hollande, a nominal socialist, is appearing to take the position of Tony Blair who was seen as GW Bush's 'poodle' in supporting him on military action against Iraq while the British Parliament last night rejected military action. But France's policies are not a great reversal.

France has a very strong tradition of realpolitik and national egotism which led it to oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2003 for commercial and energy reasons and for it to be the most hawkish for intervention in 2013 against Assad in Syria precisely a decade later on the same basis.

France was responsible under President Sarkozy for setting up the 'Friends of Syria' group which met in Istanbul on Monday. His successor Francois Hollande ramped up the rhetoric about the need for missile strikes to 'punish' those responsible for the alleged chemical weapon attack in Syria.

France has been at the forefront of advocating coercion as a logical extension of the policy of putting pressure on Assad to surrender power. A political transition on the terms of France and other Western nations involved in Friends of Syria has been the geopolitical goal since the civil war started in 2011.

At the Istanbul meeting one source stated “The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva”.

France is a strong strategic partner of Qatar and an enemy of Iran which is backing Assad and Hizbollah. France's Total Group has long-term access to liquefied natural gas resources in Qatar and supplies an important proportion of France's LNG needs. A corporate video here was made on the subject by Total.

Shoring up Qatar's strategic position against Iranian plans to export gas to the Mediterranean via a pipeline through Syria would be achieved through a rival pipeline planned from the South Pars gas field ( which Qatar shares with Iran ) towards Turkey which also backs the Muslim Brotherhood.

As energy expert Felix Imonti commented in the online magazine for specialists interested in the industry called,
''Pipelines are in place already in Turkey to receive the gas. Only Al-Assad is in the way. Qatar along with the Turks would like to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Moslim Brotherhood. It is the best organized political movement in the chaotic society and can block Saudi Arabia's efforts to install a more fanatical Wahhabi based regime. Once the Brotherhood is in power, the Emir's broad connections with Brotherhood groups throughout the region should make it easy for him to find a friendly ear and an open hand in Damascus.'
Gas rich Qatar also invests vast amounts of money in the French economy, not least to revive depressed suburbs of large French cities which are prone to disorder and riots from alienated youths often holding radical Islamist ideas and viscerally detesting France's 'global role'.

President Hollande's policy with Qatar is firmly within the mould set by Sarkozy is offering strategic assistance to Qatar in return for lucrative Qatari investments which the French foreign ministry put at $15 billion, not including those of the Emir and family relations.

France's backing for Friends of Syria and Qatar's regional ambitions is based on a mutually beneficial partnership and pursuit of ruthless strategic ambitions not mentioned by papers such as Le Monde which reacted to the alleged chemical weapon attack with the headline 'Indignation is Not Enough'.

Appendix: Arms Deals

The urge in France to be at the forefront of advocating coercion to force Assad 'to go' is that it has joined a race to please Qatar and extend the benefits of Qatari petrodollars in promoting the task of job creation as President Hollande would as a 'socialist'.

The Financial Times reported as follows on Hollande's position
“We have reached a balance (of bilateral investments) and wish to preserve that and want to increase the volume of that exchange,” he told a news conference in Doha, noting that France was trailing behind the UK and Germany in the race to lure Qatari petrodollars.
Qatar, which has been flexing its financial muscle since the credit crisis, has made several investments in French companies and real estate, amounting to as much as $15bn in the past few years. The ruling family has also invested significant amounts of money in Paris.
The British government, as represented by Chancellor Osborne, is mentioning how Parliament's rejection of military action in Syria is about 'whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system, be that a big open and trading nation that I'd like us to be or whether we turn our back on that".

France wants to maintain its primacy as the main arms dealer to Qatar as well, in particular lucrative sales of  French Rafale fighter jets made by Dassault . In June in Doha, Hollande stated, during talks on Syria about  Assad's position, and with evident satisfaction and pleasure,
"We supply light and modern arms to the Qatari army. I made new proposals for air, land and naval defence. I am quite confident that we will make progress in each of these areas...France will always be there for Qatar to ensure its defence and security,"
The British government is going to be concerned that it could fall out of favour with Qatar and lose prestige and influence now that the annoying problem of democracy has got in the way of Cameron, Johnson and Osborne potentially losing ground to France and other Friends of Syria with these lucrative interests.

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