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Monday, May 7

Congratulations, President Sarkozy

If the United States wasn't at war, I would have stayed up all night partying over the news that a strongly pro-American Frenchman was now France's President. By 2003, I had learned that joy is out of place in war. Casting out joy is the only way I could avoid the other extreme of despair. Yet the thought of an era of genuinely warm relations between a French government and Washington is very heartening. Now for the cold realities.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's promised economic reforms face great opposition from France's unions and the Left, and even the most pro-change French know the reforms will cause widespread pain. Sarkozy would be a fool to rile the Left any more than he has to. So Americans shouldn't get their hopes up that Sarkozy's election means a radical shift in US-French relations in the near term; we should be happy with slow fence mending. The only place I might hope to see changes soon is in France's approach to Iraq, but I sit hard on the impulse to hope.

Sarkozy will have his coming out party as an international leader at the G8 summit next month. For now, a quick trip around the Middle East and Africa for immediate reactions to Sarkozy's victory:

Both sides of the Israel-Arab divide see hope in Sarkozy's election victory. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he is confident that Israel’s relations with France will strengthen during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency. In the past, Israel’s relations with France were often tense, with Israeli leaders viewing Paris policy toward the Jewish state as one-sided in favor of the Palestinians. Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the conservative Likud opposition party, called the election of Sarkozy good news for relations between Israel and France.

“Sarkozy is a friend of Israel and my personal friend. He wants to work in favor of peace and security for Israel,” the former Prime Minister was quoted as saying by the Israeli radio. (1)

Syria and Hezbollah have expressed hope that Sarkozy will bring a more "balanced" approach to France's relations with Lebanon and Syria.
President Bashar Assad in a telegram expressed hopes that relations between Syria and France, which have been marred for the past two years, "would develop for the two countries' interests" [...]

Chirac has led the international charge in support of Lebanon, organizing in January a Paris donors' conference that raised more than US$7 billion in soft loans and grants for Lebanon. In addition, he sent French troops as peacekeepers to southern Lebanon to monitor a cease-fire that ended the fighting last year between Hezbollah and Israel.

Chirac's involvement in Lebanon caused a stir last year when Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a pro-Syrian, publicly criticized the French president. The unusual high level rift was seen as the lowest point in bilateral relations since Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943.

Lahoud has urged Chirac to stop intervening in Lebanese domestic affairs, accusing him of siding with the anti-Syrian governing faction. He even blamed Chirac for excluding the Lebanese leader from a summit of French-speaking nations held in Romania in September. Chirac has rejected the charges.

Understandably, Lebanon's governing coalition hoped Sarkozy's presidency would mean continued French support.

Within minutes of the results, Saad Hariri, head of the parliamentary majority in Lebanon and son of slain leader Rafik Hariri, sent a message of congratulations to Sarkozy, expressing confidence that historic ties will continue to develop."This is the hope of all the Lebanese who remember France and the French for their permanent stand toward their causes, and this I pledge to continue to work to achieve it in my political and parliamentary position in Lebanon," Saad Hariri said in a statement.

The late Rafik Hariri was a friend of Chirac and the outgoing president is leading the efforts to create an international tribunal to try killers of the former prime minister.

There has been quiet concern in the country's parliamentary majority that with Chirac leaving office, personal, hands-on involvement by France may become a thing of the past.

The governing coalition in Beirut needs French backing, particularly in the U.N. Security Council, which discussed the tribunal last week and could adopt it without Lebanon's approval because of a deadlock between the government and opposition over its formation
.(2)
On the Iran front, we can imagine that Tehran isn't jumping for joy. Sarkozy is expected to push for a tough stand against Iran's attempts to build nukes and their anti-Israel actions. In late April he told an interviewer that Iran represents
"the most important problem on the international scene." The calls made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the destruction of Israel are the most profound threat to international peace, he said.(3)
On the African front, African leaders in countries that see large numbers migrating to France have greeted Sarkozy's victory with caution:
President Bouteflika of Algeria said the French people had chosen "a man of action", President Wade of Senegal called it "a brilliant election".

But the messages have been lukewarm at best, reflecting the uncertainty his win brings for French ties with Africa.

Mr Sarkozy has spoken of reforms in France`s relationship with Africa, in particular over immigration and trade.

Some African leaders are concerned Mr Sarkozy`s notions of reform could be a double-edged sword with uncertain consequences for the continent.

Mr Sarkozy lacks the personal contacts in Africa and the Middle East that Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterrand enjoyed before and during their presidencies.[...]
(4)
1) European Jewish Press

2) Associated Press via International Herald Tribune

3) EURSOC

4) Angola Press
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