November 05, 2003

France Denies Tariq Aziz Disclosures,

France Denies Tariq Aziz Disclosures, But How Convincingly?

A typical English language treatment of the denial here.

A French language AFP story is below:

HEADLINE: Paris reaffirme qu'"il n'y a pas eu" d'emissaire en Irak avant la guerre (Translation: "France reaffirms that 'there was not' an emissary in Iraq before the war")


BODY: La France n'a depeche aucun emissaire aupres de l'ancien president irakien Saddam Hussein avant le declenchement du conflit pour lui apporter "quelque assurance que ce soit", a reaffirme mardi le porte-parole du Quai d'Orsay.

"Il n'y a pas eu d'emissaire francais mandate pour se rendre en Irak (afin de) rencontrer Saddam Hussein et lui apporter quelque assurance que ce soit", a declare le porte-parole du ministere des Affaires etrangeres, Herve Ladsous, lors d'un point de presse. "Il n'y en a pas eu", a-t-il repete.

Le Washington Post, citant des responsables americains informes des interrogatoires de l'ex-vice-Premier ministre irakien Tarek Aziz, a ecrit lundi que des intermediaires francais et russes avaient "assure de maniere repetee a (Saddam) Hussein fin 2002 et au debut de cette annee qu'ils bloqueraient une guerre menee par les Etats-Unis a travers des reports et des vetos au Conseil de securite de l'ONU".

Ces "insinuations" sont "denuees de tout fondement", a affirme M. Ladsous. "Des rumeurs avaient deja circule a l'epoque, fin 2002 debut 2003, a-t-il rappele. Nous avions a chaque fois systematiquement et fermement dementi toutes ces rumeurs".

"Durant toute cette periode, la France n'a pas cesse d'appeler fermement les autorites irakiennes a s'acquitter de leurs obligations internationales telles qu'elles decoulaient de la resolution 1441 (du Conseil de securite de l'Onu), a poursuivi le porte-parole, car c'etait le seul moyen de denouer pacifiquement la crise".

The key language is bolded. The headline is a bit deceptive. While it is a direct quote from the French spokesman, and sounds like a blanket denial, flatly stating: "there was not" an emissary before the war--it should be noted that this statement is in the context (and comes directly after) a sentence where the spokesman said:

"There was no French emissary commissioned to go to Iraq to meet Saddam Hussein carrying any kind of assurances." [my emphasis]

I've seen stronger denials. Notice some of the potential loopholes in the "denial."

For instance, the French spokesman said that no intermediary sent by France was carrying "any kind of assurances."

Depends what the meaning of "assurances" is, huh?

Maybe there were emissaries--but they weren't carrying "assurances"--just, what were viewed, somewhat expansively, as mere sentiments of fellow-feeling and empathy instead.

Note also that the spokesman says that no French emissary was specifically mandated to go to Iraq to meet with Saddam.

Well, maybe the intermediary was specifically commissioned to meet with lower level Baathist leaders but then, in 'impromptu' fashion, had an audience or two with Saddam.

Am I parsing too much? Perhaps.

But I'd be happier if the French spokesman had said something like:

"These rumors are outrageous and are the product of complete and outright fabrications by Tariq Aziz. There were never, in the entire period leading up the war at least from the passage of UNSC Resolution 1441 on, any French emissaries that went to Iraq--covertly or otherwise--to meet with individuals in the Iraqi leadership to discuss any of the matters alleged by Tariq Aziz to have been under discussion.

Let me be even more specific for the avoidance of all doubt. Let me stress today that no advice, by any French government official or individual acting at the behest of the French government, was provided to anyone in the Iraqi leadership regarding gaming the prospects for U.S. military action in Iraq or the manner by which such military action might be pursued.

We take these charges very seriously as they involve our good ally America. I hope my statement today finally puts this grossly irresponsible rumor-mongering to bed."

Or something like that.

Another reason I'd like to see stronger denials?

Because I'm reminded of blasts from the past per the below (detailed in a February 13th 2003 L'Express article by Dominique Lagarde and Alain Louyot that I paraphrase below retaining the complete accuracy of the original text).

On January 15th, 1991--the French Embassy in Baghdad (the last Western embassy still open for business) was given the order to evacuate. The Iraqis were still wishing for an 11th hour visit from Roland Dumas, a Concorde was at the ready in Paris, but President Mitterand finally decided not to dispatch his FM as he calculated that war was inevitable.

See these last minute Baghdad gambits are something of a rich Quai D'Orsay tradtion.

And this was when Mitterand was President.

Chirac, let us recall, is the man who approvingly declared, about that so noble Baathist brand of socialism, in a visit to Baghdad in December of 1974:

"Nationalism in the best sense of the word and socialism as a way to mobilize the energies and organize the society of tomorrow are sentiments very close to the heart of the French."

Hear, hear!

More of Le Figaro article paraphrased below:

On September 5, 1975, Saddam returned the favor and decamped to Paris. Chirac spoke of his "friendship" and "affection" for Saddam. After visiting nuclear installations in Cadarache, both leaders spent the weekend at L'Oustaou de Baumaniere (lovely, isn't it?), an auberge where Chirac had welcomed such leaders as Deng Xiaoping.

Back in Paris, it was on to a gala dinner at Versailles. Quite grand!

Ostensibly over dinner toasts amidst the palatial grandeur--Chirac averred that Iraq is pursuing a "coherent nuclear program" and France will "associate itself with the effort."

Just that week, and doubtless noted somewhere in the Quai D'Orsay, Saddam had given an interview in the Lebanese paper Al Ousbou' Al Arabi (The Arab Week) where he said that cooperation with France was the "first step towards the production of an Arab atomic weapon".

As I've said, lots of previous history here folks. Tout est possible!

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