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In what is being touted as a surprising pick for foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner is expected to take the position of France's top diplomat on Friday, dispelling fears that President Nicholas Sarkozy was set to bring back former foreign minister and socialist Hubert Vedrine.
Kouchner served as health minister in the Mitterrand government, was the United Nations administer in Kosovo. He is also the founder of Nobel Prize-winning organizations Doctors Without Borders and Doctors of the World.
While Kouchner is a socialist, and was closely affiliated with Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal in her bid against Sarkozy for the presidency, his background in the political and humanitarian spheres was enough to propel him to the top spot at the Quai d'Orsay, officials said Thursday.
"Even though he spoke out against him [Sarkozy] while he was with Segolene [Royal], it was election time, they were in the trenches, and what was said was not that bad anyway. It showed his willingness to do what is necessary to properly lead," a Sarkozy official told The Jerusalem Post.
A Quai d'Orsay spokesman told the Post there were still no official decisions as to who would be occupying which cabinet positions, but one official said that whoever takes over the foreign ministry "has to take the president's line."
The official also said it was not known why Vedrine's nomination fell through, but that Kouchner would be a more "comfortable" choice, dovetailing with Sarkozy's commitment to human rights.
According to a report in Le Monde, Kouchner was far more compatible with the humanitarian stance that the president took during the campaign, a matter where Vedrine is seen as "hostile."
"I don't know if they did not see eye to eye on some issues, but from now until the announcement [of the foreign minister], everyone is still a candidate," the official said.
While the prospect of Kouchner's appointment has been well received in the international community, back in France, some like Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande believe that the inclusion of Kouchner in a "Rightist" government is not in France's best interest, and that Kouchner would be a prisoner of Sarkozy's "right-wing policies."
"It will be a government of the Right that will conduct policies of the Right, with a president of the Right. One needs to have coherence and constancy. The rest is a matter for one's conscience," Hollande said.
The socialists have also accused Sarkozy of trying to undermine the Left by co-opting its members.
"He [Kouchner] is just and fair. He does not, and will not favor one over the other. I think Sarkozy is making the right decision," Sylvain Semhoun, the representative of Sarkozy's Union for Popular Movement (UMP), told the Post.
"Israel got lucky [with Kouchner]. Israelis should thank God it's him and not Vedrine," he said.
Kouchner, who was born to a Jewish father and a Protestant mother, is close to right-wing Jewish MP Pierre Lellouche, who advises Sarkozy on international issues. And Kouchner received an honorary degree from Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba at the height of the second intifada.
"He intervened on behalf of the Palestinians in Jordan [during 1970's Black September], so they are familiar with him. The Lebanese know him well, too, from his work with them, and both [peoples] are well disposed toward him. The confidence they have in him is an asset," a UMP official said.
Kouchner's reputation would allow him to "do things that no one else could" regarding kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in Lebanon, and Gilad Schalit in Gaza, the official told the Post.
Israeli officials hope mediating for the release of the kidnapped soldiers will not be the end of France's positive moves under Sarkozy.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has said that with the coming to power of his friend Sarkozy, he expects French Middle East policy "will no longer be characterized by reflective anti-Israelism."
The UMP official said he believed Bernard Kouchner could help defuse the Iranian nuclear threat.
Kouchner at the diplomatic helm, coupled with the new American-style National Security Adviser Jean-David Levitte - former French ambassador to Washington - Sarkozy is making good on his pledge of support to his American friends.
Kouchner and Levitte broke ranks with the French government in 2003, refusing to oppose the invasion of Iraq. Kouchner published an article in Le Monde arguing the positives in toppling Saddam Hussein. He has also been outspoken on the handling of the Chechen situation on the part of the Russians.
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