Royal's visit

So far, no French politician has been tough on Iran, where France has substantial business interests.

segolene royal 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
segolene royal 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Segolene Royal, whose recent landslide victory in the Socialist party primaries makes her a serious candidate for president in France, just completed a quick tour of this region. Though she surprised many with her encouraging statements, it is far from clear what direction she is taking on foreign policy matters. The trip did not exactly begin on the right foot on Friday, when she met with Ali Ammar, a Hizbullah MP, in Beirut. Not surprisingly, Ammar attacked the "unlimited dementia of the American administration" and, speaking of Israel, claimed that "the Nazism that has spilt our blood and usurped our independence and our sovereignty is no less evil than the Nazi occupation of France." Royal, who later claimed that Ammar's comments on Israel had not been translated for her, responded, "I agree with a lot of things you have said, notably your analysis of the United States." She subsequently explained further that she was speaking of US policy on Iraq, not "the wider policies of the United States." Here, her hosts, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, chose to overlook the entire Lebanon episode. Despite the meeting with the Hizbullah MP, or perhaps because of it, Royal took a hard line against Iran's nuclear program. "We have to stop [Iran] from producing uranium even for civilian use… There are those who say I do not understand the situation, but I do. I have long contended that Iran with nuclear power is not just a danger to Israel but to the rest of the world." This, coming from a socialist candidate in France, would seem to be significant. The obvious contradiction between her meetings in Lebanon and in Israel have yet to be resolved. Back in Paris, Royal was widely criticized for her handling of the meeting with Hizbullah. Her main opponent from the right in the presidential race scheduled for this spring, Nicholas Sarkozy, was perhaps the only French leader who was critical of Hizbullah during the war in Lebanon, calling it a terrorist organization. Judging from her statements in Israel, where she also expressed some understanding for Israel's position regarding the flap with French UNIFIL forces precipitated by Israeli overflights of Lebanon, Royal seemed to be interested in softening the generally anti-Israel stance of her country in general and of French socialists in particular. We like to take such efforts at face value. The French Jewish community, however, is reportedly concerned that Royal has ignored repeated requests for a meeting since she became a presidential candidate, while the community has been encouraged by Sarkozy's stances on foreign policy within the French context. Yet if Royal is signaling an interest in moving French policy toward being more fair to Israel and tougher on Iran, there is much she could do to allay lingering suspicions. The first would be to spell out how she thinks Iran's nuclear push should be stopped. So far, no French politician has come out strongly for tough sanctions on Iran, where France has substantial business interests. While economic sanctions alone, certainly if they are relatively weak, will not dissuade Iran, the likelihood of success for any policy that does not include sanctions is much less. Indeed, we imagine that Royal would, most of all, like to avoid the need for military action against Iran, and therefore should understand that draconian economic and diplomatic measures are the best chance to avoid the need to take even more drastic steps. We hope that upon her return home, she will meet with representatives of the Jewish community, and that even her meeting with a Hizbullah MP could serve as the basis for changing her stance that it is a legitimate political organization. She did not, after all, meet with Hamas because of that organization's involvement in terrorism; the same should have gone for Hizbullah. Royal's lack of foreign policy experience means that she can still adopt many new policy stances. Her instincts on Iran, as expressed during her visit here, were right. The question now is how she would propose translating them into effective policies.