Frenchman Macron pivots towards Middle East, sparking speculation | Voice of America

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PARIS – After spending months battling the coronavirus fires at his home, French President Emmanuel Macron has turned to the Middle East, flying last week to two regional hot spots, Lebanon and Iraq, and Thursday hosting a summit in Corsica dominated in part by southern Europe. growing friction with Turkey.Macron’s penchant for bold moves, from dramatic announcements on climate change to hosting large meetings on global crises and pushing Europe for greater fiscal and military integration, inevitably made headlines. international newspapers. His latest foray into the Middle East is no different.

But opinions vary wildly on the president’s motivations and tactics, with some suggesting he aims to restart France’s Arab strategy, fill a vacuum left by Washington, or simply keep a close eye on French strategic and commercial interests. . Still other observers warn against French neocolonialism or the fact that Paris does not sufficiently engage its European allies.

“What is Macron doing in the Middle East?” The English language of Egypt Al Ahram weekly wrote Tuesday, summing up a larger question raised by commentators.

Analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges, a former French diplomat, offers another approach.

“He wants to forget what’s going on in France,” where coronavirus cases are on the rise again, Moreau Defarges said of Macron’s Lebanese efforts, in particular. “He wants to mobilize French public opinion around a great cause.”

Problems with Ankara

At Thursday’s summit outside the Corsican capital of Ajaccio, leaders of France and several other European Mediterranean states were expected to find a common European Union position on Turkey, Macron said, with clear differences over a series of issues, including exploration for Turkish hydrocarbons in waters claimed by Greece.

French President Macron opens the MED7 summit with Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in Porticcio, September 10, 2020 .

The bloc’s relations with Ankara are also expected to dominate an EU summit later this month.

NATO members France and Turkey have also clashed over other issues, including Libya and Syria, with the Turkish Foreign Minister recently calling Macron “hysterical.”

But a Thursday editorial by the regional newspaper West France offered a different take on the issue, while congratulating Macron on his leadership.

“At another time, Washington would have shown diplomatic activism to reduce tensions between Turkey and Greece,” writes the regional daily. This is not happening, he added, “Europeans are on the front line”.

Single player strategy?

Also in Iraq, Macron’s first official visit to Baghdad last week came just before Washington’s long-awaited announcement of a troop withdrawal, reflecting the administration’s broader goal of reducing deployments to Iraq. foreign.

There, the French president defended Iraq’s sovereignty, sandwiched between the conflicting interests of his two powerful allies, the United States and Iran – although he offered no details or promises. concrete form of greater French aid, according to reports.

FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron, center-right, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, visit Baghdad on September 2, 2020.

Once again, some analysts viewed Macron’s visit through the prism of US policy in the region.

“At a time when the Iraqi people reject the strong foreign presence and [President Donald] Trump announces retreat of American troops, Paris… can advance its pawns, ”France wrote The Parisian newspaper, suggesting that Middle East stability and trade ties were top French priorities.

Yet he also warned that Macron is embarking on a solo strategy, urging him to team up with other European allies, “to weigh against other big players in the region.”

Hero or naive?

Macron’s visit to Lebanon earlier last week – his second since the Beirut port explosion in early August – sparked similar warnings against going it alone, as well as sharper criticism.

The French president was greeted as a hero by the citizens of Beirut during a visit to the capital, just two days after the massive explosion. This time, he delivered a difficult message and a detailed draft roadmap to the bickering leaders of the country, in order to propose reforms in a matter of weeks or risk sanctions.

French President Emmanuel Macron, second from the left, listens to members of local NGOs unloading emergency aid delivered to Lebanon at the port of Beirut on September 1, 2020.
FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron, second from the left, listens to members of local NGOs unloading emergency aid delivered to Lebanon at the port of Beirut on September 1, 2020.

Macron was putting his political capital on the line, he told Politico Europe en route to the country, betting on the country.

“The risk of Emmanuel Macron’s Lebanese ‘bet’ is that it grows with each visit”, The world written in a recent editorial.

The president’s capital, he added, “is also that of France and Europe”. He called on Macron to get other European countries behind him to “limit the dangers of a lonely adventure”.

France also recognizes Hezbollah’s role as a key political actor in Lebanon, reflecting a broader European policy of separating the movement’s political and military role – even as Washington imposed new sanctions on Tuesday against allies of what ‘it considers it a terrorist organization.

Paris “wants to maintain a channel of dialogue with Hezbollah in order to avoid the destabilization of Lebanon,” analyst Karim Bitar told Agence France-Presse.

But Hezbollah critics have called the approach naïve and dangerous.

“The real beneficiary of his visit has been Iran and its terrorist militias, which continue to increase terrorism and brazenly interfere in the region,” Saudi political analyst Hamdan Al-Shehri wrote in Arab News of Macron.

Yet others describe Macron’s diplomacy in the Middle East as an ultimately unrealistic attempt to rekindle the status of a former colonial power in decline.

“Macron may be trying to impose his program on the Middle East and challenge the emerging order”, Al Ahram hebdomadaire wrote. “But France’s ability to influence events is hardly what it was a century ago.

For his part, Moreau Defarges affirms that French policy in the Middle East has evolved.

“Western countries are leaving the Middle East,” he said. “The new actors are regional actors – but they are very dangerous actors”, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“The problems are so huge and complex,” added Moreau Defarges, “that Western countries do not want and cannot take charge of themselves.

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