Dumas about Syria
by Louis Denghien (Press Release: Infosyrie – 07/12/11) *
Foreign Minister (1984 to 1986) and Foreign Affairs (from 1988 to 1993) of François Mitterrand – a minister who tried to keep the Gaullist policy of friendship between France and the Arab world and to defend the right the Palestinians a state – President of the Constitutional Council from 1995 to 2000, prominent lawyer and essential personality of the Paris of politics and international diplomacy, Roland Dumas was kind enough to grant us an interview. Where he traces the outline of French diplomacy vis-à-vis the Arab world in general and Syria in particular. The opportunity to speak – rather well – from Syria and al-Assad and his son whom he met and – rather badly – the current French government’s attitude towards the Arab-Muslim world and Washington. Where we see a super-diplomat knows cannot forget …
Infosyrie: Sir, what was the “traditional” line of French diplomacy vis-à-vis Syria – and the Arab world in general – since the establishment of the Fifth Republic? Were there differences of opinion, and attitude, between de Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard?
Roland Dumas: We can not, especially when one recalls the Fifth Republic, speaking of French diplomacy without mentioning the figure of General de Gaulle. It was indeed a fairly clear vision with respect to Arab countries and from NATO. I note that today turns its back on this policy, including those who claim to De Gaulle. Which is unfortunate. For the second part of your question, and to come up today, there is an apparent continuity in people, but we can not say that most of the Gaullist current claims to the rest and his whole attitude turns back to what was the Gaullist tradition in this area as in others.
Infosyrie: What was the position of François Mitterrand on Syria? Was there at the beginning of his presidency, strong views on the subject? Was it likely to evolve in office and why?
RD: I had instructions from President Mitterrand on the problem of the Middle East and relations with Arab countries were to keep a balance as possible between the West and Arab countries. François Mitterrand had a great admiration for the father of the current Syrian president, Hafez el-Assad, whom he had met several times. And when I myself met with President Hafez el-Assad, Francois Mitterrand was very keen on my return to France, to know exactly what I thought of the character, what impression he had made, and what that he told me.
Infosyrie: And indeed, what impression you had Hafez al-Assad?
RD: I got my first meeting with Syrian President through a mutual friend, former comrade in arms of Hafez al-Assad, a Syrian general. Hafez al-Assad has agreed to receive me. He twice held for seven hours, I was invited to lunch at his villa personal and finally told me in substance: “Come back when you want, you are always welcome! “ I had contact with him a very precise and very useful, which allowed me to go right round the character. And I do not know what he said to his son Bashar, but when he, in turn, became head of state of Syria, came to Paris (July 2008 Editor’s note) he asked me and he wanted that we mentioned my encounters with her father.
I wanted to talk with Hafez el-Assad of conflict in the Middle East and he was very, very clever: I came from Shimon Peres (1), to try to make progress on the Israeli Arab, and I knew right away in the very long speech that kept me he was not ripe for a settlement but the question he asked me was very intriguing: “Is Do you just have the agreement or that of Shimon Peres Israeli President? “
Infosyrie: But you, you have an overall assessment of the Baathist regime, how do you assess the influence he had in the region?
RD: I, unlike others, I do not want to meddle in the affairs of Syria.
Infosyrie: Do you have provided advice to individuals François Mitterrand on Syria?
RD: In the case of Syria, we talked. It was pretty much agree with the policy that I proposed at that time was to maintain contact, a serious and close contact with that country, under a long shared history between our two countries – the president Hafez al-Assad had also dwelt at length on this subject at our meeting – illustrated, to stick in recent times by the French mandate in the interwar period, the creation of Lebanon as Syrians regard as a region of Syria. Hafez al-Assad had even said that Christ was in fact Syrian. In short, Mitterrand had instructed to maintain close contact with Damascus, which I did, and to have good relations with the Syrian president.
Infosyrie: Is there been any “great moments” , highlights the relationship between France and Syria between 1981 and 1995?
RD: No, but François Mitterrand was really impressed with Hafez el-Assad. He also knew that the Syrians were very close to the Russians. And that the Russian-Syrian alliance was very important for the entire Middle East. And it is also the problem faced today France and Britain in their attempt to condemn Syria before the United Nations.
Infosyrie: Do you think a man like Jacques Attali, long time quite close adviser to François Mitterrand, and known for his pro-Israeli and pro-American, has played a role in the field of Franco-Syrian relations ?
RD: To my knowledge no role. It may still believe otherwise. Jacques Attali is!
Infosyrie: Could you explain the ambivalence of the position of Jacques Chirac, a comprehensive and long hostile to Syria, however, this ex-officio of the funeral of President Hafez al-Assad in 2000? Have you had the opportunity to discuss this issue with him?
RD: I have indeed sometimes addressed the issue of Syria with Jacques Chirac. It seemed to me, you know, very “pointed” in the subject. He had on the general problem of relations with the Arab world, including the Palestinian question, which I would describe the positions of “advanced” and the issue of Syria, the positions that I would call the opposite of “backward” . I connect that to the fact that he had a very personal position on Lebanon, with a direct relationship with Rafik Hariri, which we know the disastrous fate. And whose death was attributed by the West once the Syrians. This is what motivated his hostile attitude to Damascus. That said, I told him repeatedly that he was wrong on Syria – it is not the first time however, he erred on Africa, the Ivory Coast … It s’ is certainly right about the Palestinian issue and the second Gulf War!
Infosyrie: Nicolas Sarkozy received with pomp Bashar al-Assad to Paris in July 2008 – Syrian President has even seen the magazine’s July 14 – and again in December 2010. He himself paid an official visit to Damascus in September 2008, which had not happened since Francois Mitterrand. How do you explain his reversal on Syria? Desire to please the Americans, or play the role he has not had in Tunisia and Egypt?
RD: I’m not in the intimate thoughts of Mr. Sarkozy, it would seem difficult to follow, however. But what I can see is that it has changed its policy, not only vis-à-vis Syria, but also vis-à-vis Libya and the Middle East. Some say it is for domestic political considerations, but I do not think so. I think he wants to play a role on the international political scene, and he thought he would play such an important role in infiltrating NATO, taking risky positions with NATO and by continuing to In general a policy that will lead us to great difficulties.
Infosyrie: This is the syndrome of “first class” of NATO in some way?
DR: Not even!
Infosyrie: And Alain Juppe? Do you have any contacts with him about Syria or other topics “sensitive” ?
RD: I know because it is Alain Juppe in Bordeaux. I am, somehow, very closely. I must say that I’m quite disappointed with its policy vis-à-vis the Arab world, even more disappointed that he contradicts himself. Indeed, when the French countryside had begun against Libya, he was still essentially says: “Above all, we will not use NATO as it may offend people and Arab countries. “ And now he swears by NATO!
Infosyrie: Especially since it was literally imposed this war by Bernard-Henri Levy, who is neither military nor diplomatic …
RD: In this connection I would add that it is inappropriate for a foreign minister to pass under the yoke of a man like Mr. BHL, this character is a troublemaker key to everything! Today there is a sort of general direction – bad – given for the French policy towards the Arab countries – all Arab countries: even if it is not the case today, it will be tomorrow – and is led by the president.
Infosyrie: What do you recommend, or Alain Juppe, or Nicolas Sarkozy, in this area?
RD: For Juppe, I have no advice to give to my successors. But if I were to say a word, I would suggest to be himself, just to try to understand, to discern the real issues, to return to the sources of Gaullist policy in this part of the world …
Infosyrie: What is your assessment of Bashar al-Assad and his regime? You met him in Paris, what did you talk then?
RD: President Bashar did me the honor, while he was in Paris, send me its ambassador (Lamia Chakkour, Editor’s note) to invite me to a one-to-head. I must say that I expected absolutely not! The meeting was very pleasantly passed and he asked me at the end of it, to preside at his side, his press conference, what I consider a great honor. And he notably said repeatedly during the conference, I was a friend of his father. And I think it is very important to note that during the private conversation I had with him, he told me that of his father.
Infosyrie: To immerse ourselves in the highly topical, what do you think of the argument developed by the Syrian government, that there is certainly discontent today in Syria, but it is fueled, exploited, hijacked by armed groups? This thesis – supported recently by some Anglo-Saxon media – you seem plausible?
RD: It seems to correspond to the general policy designed and built, in part by France, the Middle East. Libya is obvious, but it also applies to Syria, certainly with more caution: you will notice that in the latter case, the United States is – relatively – careful, they will play to war in words. They certainly have the Saudis as “small hands”. However I would like to state the obvious: Russia does exist. If the Americans and their friends do not realize it, they will learn soon!
Infosyrie: Alain Juppe it is in any case recent survey, the Council of the UN Security …
RD: The recent press conference by Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, whom I know well, was significant in this respect! As the bombing of Libya on the Franco-European anti-Syrian resolution at the UN.
Infosyrie: You think MM. Sarkozy, Fillon Juppe and shall, on Syria as in Libya, lower their claims?
RD: I hope they will again become realistic before it’s too late. There are two ways to end a war, win or retire. Look at Afghanistan, we remove the troops, we’re going, it’s a good thing, but what are the historians who ask the question: what was the interest of France to go to cram into this story? No answer yet.
Infosyrie: One last question: you go regularly to Syria?
RD: Quite regularly. I have not been back since the death of President Hafez al-Assad, in 2000, but I am invited, “permanent” as it were, by his son Bashar, and I intend to honor this invitation and visit a country that I ‘loves and respects, as soon as my schedule allows.