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645 words - June 18, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
France has been at the forefront of hottest issues of the world policy arena and it has taken a harsher stance than most of its allies, the United States in particular, on Iran and Syria. Breaking with quite unanimous praise from the international community, France coldly "noted" the election of Hassan Rouhani as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Though it paid "tribute to the Iranian people's unshakeable aspiration to democracy," it immediately took the opportunity to remind Iran of the international community's "high expectations", particularly regarding the nuclear program and the involvement in Syria. About the ongoing crisis in Syria, France clarified its accusations against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about the use by the "Syrian regime" of chemical weapons against the "Syrian opposition", specifically "sarin nerve gas."
France stressed it was "the first nation to announce it publicly," and pointed out that the United States concurred with France on three points. According to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Washington confirmed France's accusations, stepped up non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition and now shares the idea that a coordinated response has to be formulated "based on its new evidence." France affirmed it verified that the opposition did not make any use of chemical weapons too and explained that there can only be one consequence: "stepping up aid to the Syrian resistance." In addition to past operation against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and its ongoing military operations against terrorist groups in Mali and the Sahel region, France surprisingly became the "warmonger" among its NATO partners who looked very shy in comparison.
The time when France was labeled a "surrendering monkey" as the United States was launching Operation Iraqi Freedom back in 2003 almost sounds like science-fiction today. Even though the French government, under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and President François Hollande, has been progressively toughening its international posture, the French public opinion has been much more wary about such an evolution. Though it overwhelmingly supports Operation Serval in Mali, it indeed remains very cautious about the support its government brings to the Syrian opposition. Most of the French people question why France has engaged itself so far in the crisis and the divide seems to grow as the Syrian crisis worsens. President Hollande's government described the Syrian opposition as "resistants" while most of the French still wonder if there is any real difference between these "resistants" and President Assad. In the meantime, a growing number of comments in French media have been drawing - clumsy but indicative - parallels, even asking "why are we in Mali fighting against the same people that we are supporting in Syria?"
Actually, their two main concerns have been about the future of the Christian and non-Muslim minorities in Syria, in case the Assad's government falls, and the stability of Lebanon, a country with which they share longstanding historic ties. It is clear that the growing religious influence within the Syrian opposition greatly hampers any strong support from the French public opinion. What the French want for the Syrian people and what most radical elements of the Syrian opposition want for Syria are poles apart: the French hope for freedom for all Syrians, and therefore fear that Syria could become a religious state instead. According to observers, France's intransigence on the international scene has proved ambivalent within the French public opinion. Positive about what's being done in Mali, it is far more doubtful about their government's involvement in the Syrian crisis. It has been fueling growing misunderstanding between President Hollande and the French people, and with some 3-year hindsight, the huge importance of religion in the countries "freed" during the Arab Spring now looks like a setback rather than a victory to most of the French public opinion.
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