Sarkozy Snubs Obama on Nuclear Threat Stance

More background on the Sarkozy reaction to Obama

(…) Don’t take it from me. Take it from Sarkozy, who could not conceal his astonishment at Obama’s naivete. On Sept. 24, Obama ostentatiously presided over the Security Council. With 14 heads of state (or government) at the table, with an American president at the chair for the first time ever, with every news camera in the world trained on the meeting, it would garner unprecedented worldwide attention.

Unknown to the world, Obama had in his pocket explosive revelations about an illegal uranium enrichment facility that the Iranians had been hiding near Qom. The French and the British were urging him to use this most dramatic of settings to stun the world with the revelation and to call for immediate action.

Obama refused. Not only did he say nothing about it, but, reports Le Monde, Sarkozy was forced to scrap the Qom section of his speech. Obama held the news until a day later — in Pittsburgh. I’ve got nothing against Pittsburgh (site of the G-20 summit), but a stacked-with-world-leaders Security Council chamber it is not.

Why forgo the opportunity? Because Obama wanted the Security Council meeting to be about his own dream of a nuclear-free world. The president, reports the New York Times citing “White House officials,” did not want to “dilute” his disarmament resolution “by diverting to Iran.”

Diversion? It’s the most serious security issue in the world. A diversion from what? From a worthless U.N. disarmament resolution?

Yes. And from Obama’s star turn as planetary visionary: “The administration told the French,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “that it didn’t want to ‘spoil the image of success’ for Mr. Obama’s debut at the U.N.”

Image? Success? Sarkozy could hardly contain himself. At the council table, with Obama at the chair, he reminded Obama that “we live in a real world, not a virtual world.”

He explained: “President Obama has even said, ‘I dream of a world without [nuclear weapons].’ Yet before our very eyes, two countries are currently doing the exact opposite.”

Sarkozy’s unspoken words? “And yet, sacr? bleu, he’s sitting on Qom!”

At the time, we had no idea what Sarkozy was fuming about. Now we do. Although he could hardly have been surprised by Obama’s fecklessness. After all, just a day earlier in addressing the General Assembly, Obama actually said, “No one nation can . . . dominate another nation.” That adolescent mindlessness was followed with the declaration that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” in fact “make no sense in an interconnected world.” NATO, our alliances with Japan and South Korea, our umbrella over Taiwan, are senseless? What do our allies think when they hear such nonsense?

Bismarck is said to have said: “There is a providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.” Bismarck never saw Obama at the United Nations. Sarkozy did.

France wriggles free from Brussels bureaucracy…

Who said the Europeans don’t believe in fiscal stimulus?:

The cost of a long lunch in a French bistro should become significantly cheaper after Paris won a seven-year battle with the European Union to allow it to slash the value-added tax on meals.

But how to pay the unpalatable €3.25bn ($4.2bn) bill taxpayers are being stuck with is prompting a debate over just what price to extract from the French restaurant industry.

France savoured victory last week when it finally won German approval for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to cut VAT on restaurant meals from 19.6 per cent to the EU minimum of 5.5 per cent.

The article is interesting throughout. Here are previous installments in the series.

[From The culture that is French, a continuing series]

Sarkozy Forces the French to Join the 1980s

To the extent that the French enjoy a natural advantage, it is in their inefficiency: They are the world’s most efficient producers of structured indolence. They are the kept women of the global economy; their status depends, in part, on their practical uselessness.

Reinvent the British and you get a global finance center, edible food and better service. Reinvent the French and you may just get more Germans.

That’s Michael Lewis writing opinion for Bloomberg:

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) — A few years after Margaret Thatcher came to power and launched what at the time seemed a futile war to compel the English people to embrace business values, I found myself dazed and confused in a London corner shop.

Down one aisle and up the other, I paced but found no trace of what I’d come for: the world’s finest pseudo-cookies. The shelf that once held those delicious McVitie’s wafers coated with milk chocolate was now stocked with less desirable items.

At length, I went to the middle-aged shop owner and asked where she’d hidden my favorite treats — this gift from the gods to those of us who want to pretend our cookies are merely crackers.

“We used to stock those,” she said, sweetly, “but we kept running out, so we’ve stopped.”

Right then I thought: Thatcherism is doomed. The English will never embrace efficiency, or money-making, or the-customer- is-always-right mindset, or any of those uneasy values that underpin modern capitalism.

I was wrong, obviously. The English have not merely embraced commercial values but have become so thoroughly imbued with them that London has displaced New York as the world’s money hub. A nation of people once embarrassed to complain that their soup was cold is now among the first to demand to speak to the manager.

But that was England, and those were the English. This is France, and these are the French.

…From this safe distance — 6,000 miles away — it’s hard not to admire Sarkozy’s audacity. Here’s an elected leader, serving at the pleasure of the French people, who has taken it upon himself to do the one thing certain to induce despair and hatred in the hearts of those people: force them to become more productive.

Inflicting market values upon the British circa 1980 felt a bit cruel, but visiting it upon the French circa 2008 feels almost like an unnatural act, like forcing a cat to fetch.

Of course, it’s possible to change a society and to drag it into the global economic monoculture. Mrs. Thatcher showed how: Break up collectives and make people feel a little bit more alone in the world. Cut a few holes in the social safety net. Raise the status of money-making, and lower the status of every other activity. Stop giving knighthoods to artists and start giving them to department-store moguls. Stop listening to intellectuals and start listening to entrepreneurs and financiers.

Enjoy…

A new French revolution?

A HOWL of rage is expected today from French taxi drivers, shopkeepers, civil servants and other protected sectors when President Nicholas Sarkozy receives a revolutionary plan for recasting the face of France.

The reforms are urgent because “France remains very largely a society of connivance and privileges,” Mr Attali says, in a leaked draft of the report.

Now this is a real French revolution — exciting to say the least! Is it really possible to overturn the socialist privileged?

The scheme, which Mr Sarkozy has promised to enact, would abolish regulations that ensure the comfort of trades and professions but stifle the economy. It would also mean opening the frontiers to immigration, building 10 large new cities and scrapping France’s 200-year-old departements, or counties.

The “300 decisions for changing France” have been devised by a team of 40 experts headed by Jacques Attali, 64, an economist-writer who served in the 1980s as ideas man to Francois Mitterrand, the late Socialist president.

Mr Sarkozy gave Mr Attali a mission after his election last May to find a way to “unleash the economic growth that France is lacking”. Mr Attali, whose high-spending ways forced his resignation 15 years ago as head of the London-based European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, promises that his package will add 1per cent to annual growth. It will also cut unemployment by more than three points if enacted over the next year, he says.

The reforms are urgent because “France remains very largely a society of connivance and privileges,” Mr Attali says, in a leaked draft of the report.

Some of the 300 ideas follow paths that Mr Sarkozy has already trod in his attempt to lift the anti-competitive burdens that drag on prosperity.

These include a revolution in higher education, cutting labour charges and loosening the job protection that feeds unemployment. Others are so counter to Gallic tradition that many doubt that Mr Sarkozy will fulfil his pledge to Mr Attali: “What you propose, I shall carry out.”

Teachers, a group devoted to regular strikes, are aghast at the idea that their performance should be rated by their pupils.

The Attali group proposes the unheard of idea of letting retailers and traders sell what they want, where and when they want. At present shops are not allowed to sell at a loss except during twice-yearly sales.

Retailers are not allowed to negotiate prices with suppliers and Sunday opening remains a rare exception.

France’s shortage of taxis would be solved by the abolition of tight quotas and the authorisation of minicabs, a scheme denounced by the National Taxi Owners Federation as aggression. Hairdressers would also be freed from protective quotas, as would veterinary surgeons and the legal profession. All are preparing a ferocious riposte to the ideas, 20 of which have been highlighted for urgent action.

The Socialist opposition has already denounced the scheme as blatant Anglo-Saxon capitalism.

“There is not a single word on salaries,” said Benoit Hamon, a Socialist MEP. “They want to boost the economy but they’re not doing anything for French people’s wallets.”

Marine Le Pen, deputy chief of the far-right National Front, said Mr Attali should be renamed Attila because “this is a precise and organised plan for ensuring the death of the French nation as we know it”.

Mr Attali has also come under attack from Mr Sarkozy’s side. Some MPs are suspicious of the intellectual about whom Mitterrand used to say: “I don’t need a computer; I’ve got Attali.”

As the plan was leaked this week, members of Mr Sarkozy’s cabinet began disowning aspects. Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot told pharmacists there was no chance they would lose the chemists’ monopoly over the sale of non-prescription medicines.

Civil service unions, already due to strike this week against other reforms, are expected to take a dim view of Mr Attali’s plans for the rapid shrinking of ministries, a sharp drop in public spending and the creation of British-style public service agencies. Resistance is growing against the proposal, made twice in the past two decades, to scrap the 100 departements through which France has been administered since its 18th-century Revolution. To simplify the layers of French government, Attali suggests running the country through its 26 regions and urban councils.

'Sarkozy of Arabia' Sending Troops to the Gulf

Looks like France is finally sending troops to the Gulf, just not in the way you might have expected. Currently on a tour of the Middle East, President Nicolas Sarkozy has signed a deal with the United Arab Emirates to establish the first French military base in the region – indeed, the only foreign military base in Arabia that does not belong to the US.

At first sight this seems like an odd move, particularly to Americans (and Brits) weaned on sniggering tales of French military disaster and tanks with one forward and five reverse gears, and who still chuckle at the timeless simile that going to war without France is “like going duck hunting without your accordion”. What on earth has possessed the new French President to go committing troops to the Persian Gulf at a time when tensions in the region are rising? Doesn’t he realize that they might actually one day have to, y’know, fight?

As ever in these cases, there is more to this announcement than meets the eye. It needs to be seen in the context of two considerations; France’s economic interests in the region – which are significant – and France’s view of its place in the world, which may appear a comical one to many observers but which the French themselves take deadly seriously.

France has always sold weapons to Gulf states, as have Britain, America and others. But her economic interests in the area go much further. Despite the justifiable scepticism about Iran’s motivation for pursuing its nuclear program, the truth is that the Iranian interest in smashing atoms together is mirrored in many Arab states, too. As well as the agreement to base French troops there, the UAE have also agreed to cooperate on nuclear power, as have Algeria and Libya too. Moreover, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also expressed an interest in taking their relationship with France to the nuclear level.

The burgeoning infrastructure of the oil states needs energy to sustain it, too; over a quarter of the Gulf States’ oil production is consumed domestically rather than exported. Every barrel of oil that goes towards lighting the streets of Dubai is $100 that could be flowing into the UAE’s coffers instead. At over two million barrels a day… well, you do the math. Any energy source that frees up production for the export market is to be welcomed, and very few countries have the expertise to build and maintain nuclear plants. France is one of these, and it’s taking full advantage.

However, beyond the allure of the Emir’s cash, as welcome as it is, there’s a wider consideration at work. France still sees itself very much as a global power, and while sending 500 troops to catch some rays in a peaceful Arab state may seem like small beer to American eyes, the symbolism of the move is potent nonetheless.

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French media paints Sarkozy in their special way

Sweet & sour: everything about president Sarkozy’s visit to the United States that could be sweet—his personal popularity, a giant boost to the prestige of France, the benefits of good relations with a major world power—was turned sour in the French media.

From Paris Nidra Poller surveys print and TV media coverage of Sarkozy’s visit to America. Example:

Prime time news gave the spit-in-his-eye treatment to President Sarkozy’s address to Congress—a few snatches of his speech with applause and standing ovation, revised by an anchorman who reminds viewers that George W. Bush is an unpopular has-been and someone else—certainly a Democrat—will be in the White House next year. Nevertheless, the privately-owned TV channel TF1 presented an exclusive interview of President Bush by Patrick Poivre d’Arvor. The president was relaxed, alert, personable, coherent and, yes, eloquent. He was by far the more sophisticated of the two. Poivre d’Arvor asked questions flavored with French vinegar, and Bush replied with good humored intelligence. He defended his choices, including of course the liberation of Iraq, while understanding that “people don’t like force…that’s normal.” He praised Sarkozy in terms that contrast sharply with French anti-Sarkozy sarcasm: “He’s intelligent, has a lot of energy, he’s a lot of fun to be around…and he’s serious.” Poivre d’Arvor opined—with downcast eyes, nose, and mouth—that the United States had lost its reputation as a land of freedom and is seen today as an oppressive nation. Bush laughed heartily. “That’s absurd! » Defending his record—liberating 25 million Iraqis and perhaps creating a Palestinian state—he reminded Poivre d’Arvor that the judgment of history will fall when he is no longer of this world. In the meantime, he doesn’t let himself be swayed by polls, he does what he thinks is right. And, he concluded, the Republican candidate is going to win in 2008, because we are tough on terrorism and advocate tax reductions.

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U.S., France agree on new sanctions against Iran

Or have they — it isn’t clear to me what they have actually agreed:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner spoke Friday of a common front against Iran’s nuclear program that included support for new sanctions against Tehran.

During a joint press conference with Kouchner in Washington, Rice said the United States and France agree on how to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

“I think that there’s, essentially, no difference in the way that we see the situation in Iran and what the international community must do,” Rice told reporters.

The two countries were doing groundwork for a new UN Security Council resolution at a meeting in Washington on Friday of political directors from six major nations that have been trying to negotiate with Iran — Russia, China, Britain and Germany, as well as France and the United States.

The French government under President Nicholas Sarkozy has shifted the country’s policies more in line with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, who had a frosty relationship with Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, highlighted by France’s vocal criticism of the Iraq war.

In a candid interview on French radio last week, Kouchner re-enforced France’s tough stance on Iran by declaring his country should prepare for war if Iran obtains nuclear weapons.

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Sarkozy's Social Contract

The President’s prescriptions for the ailing French welfare state are hard to argue with. Now if only Mr. Sarkozy bothers to apply them.

In unveiling his domestic reform agenda in Paris yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy called for “a new social contract” for France. His proposed revision of French socialist tradition going back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau is nothing short of revolutionary. His ability to deliver will make or break the Sarkozy presidency.

Mr. Sarkozy, true to character, came out swinging. The new President declared that those empty French political shibboleths — “social dialogue” and “solidarity” — “can’t be an alibi for inaction.” France’s generous welfare support and special privileges for insiders is “unjust” and “financially untenable,” “discourages work and job creation,” and “fails to bring equal opportunity.” The result: France’s jobless rate in the euro zone’s highest.

The President wants “a new social contract founded on work, merit and equal opportunity.” He then promised to loosen restrictions on working hours and toughen up requirements to receive unemployment benefits, to ease hiring and firing rules and ease incentives to retire early. By the end of the year he plans to cut back the costly benefits enjoyed by public-sector workers.

Cautious optimism is in order. Over the summer, his new government moved gingerly. An autonomy plan for universities was watered down. A law assuring minimum transport services during strikes, intended to weaken the unions, was as well. On the plus side, wealth and income taxes were cut and the inheritance tax abolished. Fine. But considering his strong mandate and dominance of parliament, Mr. Sarkozy didn’t overachieve.

The details of yesterday’s proposals are sketchy but potentially provide a foundation to build on. Echoing a frequent promise, the President said the law mandating a work week of a maximum of 35 hours ought to be further relaxed to let the French — perish the thought — “choose work over leisure.” His government has already made overtime tax-free. Inexplicably, Mr. Sarkozy refrained from pulling the plug on a law that’s come to symbolize France’s slothful ways.

The President showed more political courage in calling for an end to state-guaranteed job security at private firms. Such legal protections discourage companies from taking on new employees and spur outsourcing. By backing a new work contract, he sided with the almost 10% of the workforce out of a job — the so-called “outsiders” — against the majority of protected “insiders.”

Upping the ante, Mr. Sarkozy took on the most coddled insiders of all, public-sector workers. State employees retire earlier with full and often better benefits than the rest of the population, which picks up the tab. Train conductors, for example, legally stop work at 50 thanks to a rule drawn up early in the 20th century when they shoveled coal into engines. French conductors who sit inside the air conditioned cabins of modern bullet trains don’t face similar hazards.

Mr. Sarkozy’s long-awaited speech sets the stage for most important political battle in his first term. Whatever the President does in the next five years, he can’t claim to have succeeded unless France breaks out of its economic slumber. His equally ambitious foreign policy depends on it, too. For if Mr. Sarkozy can’t get domestic reform right, he won’t have the credibility to lead on Iran or make up with the U.S.

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France beginning to exhibit sanity under Sarkozy

This is encouraging — a Jerusalem Post bulletin on Iran’s nuclear weapons program:

French President Nicholas Sarkozy called Wednesday for sanctions on Iran to be tightened if the country does not adhere to the West’s demands to cease its nuclear agenda.

If Iran attains nuclear weapons, Sarkozy warned, a road to an arms race will be paved that could endanger Israel and southeast Europe, he said during an interview with a German magazine.

Sarkozy announced that France will join the official US-led struggle against head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei, who recommended that Iran be allowed to enrich uranium in some of its nuclear plants.

On Tuesday, American officials urged allies to back a formal protest against ElBaradei, saying his comments could hurt UN Security Council efforts to pressure Teheran over its enrichment program.

“We were indeed surprised by several comments from Mr. ElBaradei over the weekend,” said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei. “We share the gist of concerns expressed by our American partners – along with several other partners, for that matter.”

Over the past two weeks, ElBaradei has publicly said he believes it is too late to force Teheran to scrap its enrichment program as demanded by the Security Council, and argued instead for implementing inspection safeguards to prevent an expansion of the program.

Via Glenn Reynolds.

The New France

Very good news on Sarkozy’s new cabinet — la France may actually reform. I will be more optimistic if the center-right wins next month’s parliamentary elections:

Nicolas Sarkozy promised rupture and ouverture. Now the new French President is moving fast, per those catch phrases, to “break” with old ways of doing things and “open up” government.

His cabinet, unveiled Friday, shows how much his election two weeks ago has shaken up France’s political system. Only two members of the government headed by Prime Minister François Fillon finished the elite state training school, ENA. Among the prominent opposition figures on board is Socialist Bernard Kouchner at Foreign Affairs. Seven women, including a Justice Minister born to a Moroccan father and Algerian mother, give the streamlined 15-member cabinet a fresh look.

These changes aren’t, on current evidence, just cosmetic. Mr. Sarkozy is building an activist, hands-on presidency. The French people gave the new President “an exceptional legitimacy” by turning out in record numbers and awarding him 53% of the vote, Mr. Fillon said on the national network TF1 Friday night. Mr. Fillon said his job is to implement the Sarkozy agenda. This government offers the best opportunity to reform France in decades.

Mr. Fillon comes to the task with a good track record, the rare minister in the previous government who managed to pushed through tough changes by overhauling pensions. This experience will come in handy in neutralizing the unions and other vested interests opposed to reform.

Mr. Fillon said the priority was to pass a law letting the French work longer than 35 hours a week tax-free — an effective tax break and a run around the workweek law. Tax breaks on home purchases and the revocation of inheritance taxes are also imminent. “We won’t get growth without structural reform,” he said.

The choice of Dr. Kouchner sends a strong signal on foreign policy. In a best-case scenario, former President Jacques Chirac’s approach — anti-Americanism mixed with cynicism — will be buried fast. As the co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and a globally recognized champion of human rights, Dr. Kouchner brings a moralistic streak to the Quai d’Orsay. He is the rare French politician who spoke out in favor of deposing Saddam Hussein and has long championed humanitarian interventionism — neoconservatism by another name. Though a Socialist, until the party expelled him Friday, he is an ideological free agent and France’s most popular public figure. His presence in the government deals the Socialists another blow before next month’s parliamentary elections, which the center-right is expected to win.

The appointment of Christine Lagarde to Agriculture may be good for the Doha trade negotiations. A former Chicago-based head of a major U.S. law firm, and previously in charge of France’s external trade relations, Ms. Lagarde is a good negotiator who’s not wedded to farm interests. She’ll have to stand up to them to get the Doha round back on track.

In his instructions to the new government Friday, Mr. Sarkozy said he wants it to “carry out all the reforms at the same time.” Changing France is easier said than done. But Mr. Sarkozy is the first French President to say so forcefully, and begin to do so this fast and early. The good news is that the majority of the French want him to keep it up.

Read the whole thing.