June 8, 2004
The devil's advocateBy Olivier Guitta
A few weeks ago, President Bush began enforcing the Syria Accountability Act, signed into law in December, imposing economic sanctions on Syria for its continued support of major terrorist organizations and its occupation of Lebanon.
At the same time the European Union is on the verge of signing a major trade agreement with Syria. Who is pushing hard for it? France. And here's why.
France always had strong ties with Syria, deriving in part from the League of Nations mandate. But since Chirac took power in 1995, the relationship has dramatically improved. France and Syria are now tied by an 'indestructible friendship': these are Chirac's exact words.
Two facts illustrate this friendship better than anything else:
1— Chirac was the only Western Head of State who attended Hafez El Assad's funeral in Damascus in 2000;
France has been replacing Russia as the main partner for the new Syrian regime. As a matter of fact, France is training Syrian university professors.
The prestigious ENA (Ecole Nationale d'Administration) school, which the whole French political class attends (Chirac studied there), is helping in preparing the future of the Syrian leadership. The city of Lyon picked Aleppo, the second Syrian city, as its sister city. These are just a few examples of France's public assistance to Syria's rogue regime.
Of course, there are other levels of cooperation that are much less publicized, especially the weapons trade and the lingering rumors of enormous financial contributions Assad made to Chirac's reelection campaign in 2002.
It looks like Assad learned from Saddam Hussein that the best way to make friends in Europe is to buy off politicians. How else do you explain the following fact?
The private organization 'Friendship France—Syria' counts on his board: Raymond Barre, ex Prime Minister, Claude Cheysson, ex Secretary of State, and Nicolas Sarkozy, current Finance Minister. For these three men, the decision to belong to such an organization can be motivated by only two things: either financial rewards or political gains.
In the case of Sarkozy, it is very surprising to find out that he is part of Assad's fan club. Sarkozy is very popular in France, with the reputation of being Mister Clean —— he has never been involved in any scandals yet —— and he is predicted to become France's next President. Obviously, Sarkozy followed in Chirac's footsteps regarding foreign policy, and decided to support radical Muslim regimes.
It is then not surprising that Chirac invited Nasrallah, the leader of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, to attend the Francophone Summit in Beirut in October 2002. Hezbollah, like other terrorist networks such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to name just a few, have their headquarters in Damascus, Syria. Nasrallah, in an interview to Syrian TV in June 2002, praised Syria for 'remaining a safe haven for Jihad.' Since Bashar Assad took power in 2000, Syria's implication in and direct aid to Hezbollah has dramatically increased.
Before September 11, 2001, Hezbollah was the organization which had killed the most Americans throughout the world. To assess Hezbollah's power and evil, let's just quote Richard Armitage, US Deputy Secretary of State, who declared on September 5, 2002 that, ' Hezbollah may be the A—team of terrorists. While Al Qaeda may actually be the B—team.'
Hezbollah's goals are clear and can be summed up through this Nasrallah statement in March 2003: 'Death to America was, is and will stay our slogan.' What a shock, then, that when Chirac met Nasrallah, the French President said, 'Hezbollah is an important component of the Lebanese society'.
Obviously, Chirac sees a major terrorist organization, whose goal is to destroy us, as a morally legitimized entity.
On a more cultural level, during that Francophone Summit, Hezbollah and France agreed on having Al Manar TV (the Hezbollah TV network) start broadcasting their terrorist propaganda in France to the French people, and in particular to the Muslim community. At the same time, on October 22, 2002 Al Manar won in France the equivalent of the Emmy for best news reporting!
So, Chirac not only rewards a terrorist—sponsoring state but also has no problems shaking hands and making deals with the A—team of terrorists.
On the domestic front, France also forgets all its principles when it comes to pleasing the Syrian regime. For example, here is what happened to Nizar Nayouf, a Syrian dissident who spent ten years in prison in Damascus for his human rights activism and opposition to the rule of Assad. He was repeatedly tortured during his imprisonment, and his health deteriorated so much that, under tremendous international pressure, including the Pope, he was released. In 2002, after receiving medical treatment in France, he was granted political asylum.
Surely, it looks like Syria thought that it was better off exiling him to a friendly country where he could be closely watched. And that is exactly what happened. As soon as Nayouf started to become active in criticizing the Syrian authorities, his problems started. In September 2003, when he asked for a refugee passport in order to travel to Washington to speak at a conference on Syria, his request was denied. Furthermore, he was 'advised' by the French authorities not to attend.
They then decided to throw him in jail without ANY judgment against him. So now, instead of a Syrian cell, Nayouf was imprisoned in a Parisian jail. France always boasts about being the country of the Human Rights, but clearly, such a label does not apply in this case. France is acting more like an Islamic despotic regime than a Western democracy. What a shameful country....
But things did not stop there, because Nayouf was not the kind of person to be intimidated by the French authorities. On January 5, 2004 in an interview with the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, and then with Britain's Channel 5 News, Nayouf affirmed that in February 2003, a month before the US intervention in Iraq, Saddam's WMD were evacuated to Syria in ambulances, with the personal involvement of Bashar Assad and his family. Nayouf's source inside Syria's military intelligence gave him also the exact locations where these weapons were hidden.
This is not all: Syria's Central Bank and the Medina Bank in Lebanon would be holding at least $2 billion in cash, as well as gold bullion and platinum that was smuggled out of Iraq before the war. The go—betweens for these transactions were three Lebanese politicians, including Emile Lahoud, Parliament member and Lebanon President's son.
This last fact is crucial, because it corroborates an important report from the Iraqi newspaper Al Mada, which published an exhaustive list of international personalities who benefited from Saddam Hussein's generosity for services rendered. This list, confirmed by the Iraqi Oil Ministry, contains the name of (surprise!) Emile Lahoud, along with twelve Syrian bigwigs, such as the Syrian Defense Minister's son, as well as many Western politicians.
France is also very well represented on this list, of course. We can find Charles Pasqua, the ex Interior Minister and personal friend of Jacques Chirac, along with Patrick Maugein, a French oil businessman, also very close to Chirac.
But France's role in this affair did not stop there. Recently, as reported in the French newspaper Le Parisien, Nayouf was summoned to the French Interior Ministry by the DST —— the French equivalent of the FBI —— to answer questions about the documents he got concerning Iraq, Syria, the WMD and France. At this point, Nayouf refused to give them any information and went back to his apartment, only to find it burglarized. In fact, nothing of value was stolen except for three CD—ROMs and some floppies. Most intriguingly, some files were deleted from his computer.
You probably guessed correctly: the missing information was exactly what the DST demanded from him a few hours aearlier. Even though the DST called him later, proclaiming their innocence, Nayouf's lawyer said it was not the work of a petty thief, but rather that of professional secret agents, French or foreign. Nayouf added that among the stolen documents was proof that in the 1990's the Iraqi Embassy in Paris was sending cases full of cash to prominent French personalities.
The US Administration and public realized only just over a year ago, during the Iraq debate, that France was becoming a hostile nation. Since then, France has been forgiven by many, even though it still never misses an opportunity to side with the devils: in this case Syria and Hezbollah. In light of all these facts, is it not time for Congress to prepare a France Accountability Act, to sanction it for its support of terrorist states and organizations alike?