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Jerusalem was both "shocked" and "disappointed" by French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy's reported selection of Socialist Hubert Vedrine as his foreign minister over the weekend.
Vedrine is a well-known and not-much-beloved personage in Jerusalem, having served as foreign minister under prime minister Lionel Jospin from 1997-2002.
During the height of the Palestinian violence that began in September 2000, Vedrine advocated economic sanctions against Israel within the EU.
Sarkozy, who has pledged to revolutionize French politics and bring the country back up to par with European heavyweights Britain and Germany, surprised many with his offer - reported in the French media over the weekend - to the left-wing Vedrine, whose term as foreign minister was characterized as pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab.
The appointment seemed to fly in the face of expectations in Jerusalem that Sarkozy's election would usher in a significantly warmer period in Israeli-French ties.
"Although we were happy, we knew that it would not be a rose garden," one diplomatic official in Jerusalem said of the Sarkozy presidency. "This is the first thorn."
At the same time, the official said, Israelis must realize that in picking his foreign minister, Sarkozy was taking into consideration his own political needs, and not necessarily asking himself, "What's good for Israel?"
"We are not the only thing that he is worried about," the official said. The selection of Vedrine, he added, represented two things: First, that Sarkozy meant what he said during his campaign when he promised to place professionals in his cabinet regardless of political affiliation, and second, his desire to show an openness to the French Left.
Also, the official said, the selection of Vedrine meant that Sarkozy would have someone in the post who - since he was not one of the Socialist Party's leaders - was completely dependent on him. Vedrine, who was president Francois Mitterrand's chief diplomatic adviser and then foreign minister under Jospin and Jacques Chirac, has a reputation for loyally and effectively doing his bosses' bidding.
Patrick Devidjian, a top Sarkozy political adviser, said Vedrine would have no problem working with Sarkozy's proposed foreign policy platform. "When you enter the government, it means you are willing to put into practice the presidential policy," Devidjian said.
However, in a January interview with the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper, Vedrine said that "Palestinians... endure misfortune and utter chaos, viewed as the outcome of a policy suggested by the US and Israeli right-wing parties."
While Sarkozy has repeatedly said that he would not legitimize Hamas or Hizbullah by entering into dialogue with them, and that the Iranian threat must be met with unity and firmness by European leaders, Vedrine voiced another approach.
"With respect to France, I always call for keeping dialogue channels open with Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. I would not be the least be stunned should France follow this path," he said.
A Sarkozy official told the Post on Sunday that one of the reasons Sarkozy looked to Vedrine was because of the contacts Vedrine still had, especially in Arab countries, from his days as foreign minister.
"He has friends in the Arab world, and he carries a bit more influence there than the other names that were rumored for the foreign ministry," the official said.
Vedrine "was one of the worst foreign ministers for Israel then, and the same would be the case today," the official said.
As of Sunday, Vedrine had not accepted the offer, but if the appointment becomes official, it would likely spark outrage within the French Jewish community, an official in Sarkozy's UMP party told the Post. "There would be friction with the Jewish community. Jews in France thought that there would be a Zionist government in France, and this is a scandal for them. They will not embrace him."
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