The mystery of the French hostages, part 2
Why is this mystery important?
This is important because appeasement-and-negotiation is the cornerstone of French foreign policy. Or as the French would rather put it, “French is the language of diplomacy”. There was colossal shock and disappointment felt by the general public when the hostages failed to materialize at Friday’s press conference, which was broadcast live on TV — while at the same time, the Italian hostages were released, and Italy’s a member of the Coalition in Iraq. The catch phrase is “La diplomatie est dans le bleu” (diplomacy’s in the blue — it has failed). The repercussions of this failure will be felt for months, not only within the UMP (Chirac’s party), but in all the political parties. The ramifications on French-American relations are yet to be ascertained.
I don’t believe this hostage crisis will change the French as much as the Iranian hostage crisis changed American politics during the Carter administration, though.
For now, here’s an update on the news: (note on the translation: I’m not an elegant translator. Thank you for your forebearance)
Yesterday morning I posted that Philippe Brett hasn’t been seen or heard of since Friday. Well, Brett finally did turn up and spoke to the press at the restaurant of his Damascus hotel, without the hostages. He claimed he’d been within 25 meters of the hostages (a curious statement, if you ask me). Not as willing to talk while in Damascus was UMP parlamentarian Didier Julia, who gave a press conference after he returned to Paris.
UMP honcho and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s doing all he can to disengage the government (and his party) from any links with Julia’s fiasco: “Julia was engaged in a personal initiative, without any official mandate. The government had not approved, the government would not approve, and it wouldn’t support” [Julia’s initiative], and so are saying Chirac and the Left.
France 2’s report The story of a fiasco refers to Julia as a man with “close ties to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, and to Syria”. (my translation)
According to him (Julia), the convoy transporting the French hostages to Damascus cam under fire by American troops at the Iraq-Syria border. American forces deny the allegation.
According to “Radio France internationale” (RFI) and the “Journal du dimanche” (JDD), Julia’s promised rescue operation was a hoax. Information agencies could have indeed established that Philippe Brett, Julia’s intermediary who had announced Friday to be in Iraq at the side of the hostages, was actually in the suburbs of Damascus.
According to the JDD, French experts estimate that Didier Julia and his group are handled by Syria, made furious by the French support for the vote of the resolution 1559 condemning the Syrian presence to Lebanon. Damascus, which would have influence on the kidnappers, would like to force Paris to agree to some of its conditions in order to obtain a release of the two journalists
(A parenthetical comment: on the first video after they were taken captive, the hostages said their release was conditional on France’s voiding its recent law forbidding the use of veils in public schools).
Julia says it’s “not dramatic if in four days we haven’t yet succeeded. considering that in 43 days, others, with greater approaches haven’t, either”. The “others” he’s referring to is the French government, including a message from Foreign Minister Michel Barnier offering recognition to terrorist groups: (link via ¡No Pasarán!)
Referring last Tuesday to an international conference on Iraq’s scheduled January election that the Bush administration wants held in Cairo in November, Barnier said the meeting would have to include “a certain number of groups and people who have currently chosen armed resistance.” The agenda, he went on, needed to take up the presence of American troops in Iraq, and specifically the question, “How long are they are going to stay?”
Le Monde‘s headline today confirms the government’s involvement with Julia’s mission: “Julia mission actually was followed and facilitated by Paris”
In its Tuesday October 5 edition, Le Monde however affirmed that l’Elysée (President’s palace) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had been informed of the Julia mission by president Jacques Chirac’s office of the adviser for Africa, Michel de Bonnecorse, then by a note of Didier Julia “describing his intentions”.
and the French Embassy in Damascus had requested on Sept. 30 visas for Julia “and a journalist”, visas which were to be made available at the Iraq-Syria border. Julia was also told that he could fully use the Embassy’s services as a member of Parliament. Douglas has all the details and a chronology.
This is the top story in France today. As Noël Mamère, the leader of the Green party said, “The Prime Minister will not be able to clear himself by receiving the chiefs of political parties”. It remains to be seen.
The hostages have been held for 47 days.