From ‘honeymoon’ to war: what US cables said about French courtship of Gaddafi


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has assumed a high profile in the international military offensive launched to support the rebellion against the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. But US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, and published here by Mediapart, shed a revealing light upon previously sweet relations between Sarkozy and Gaddafi (photo), described by one American ambassador as a "honeymoon" period of "high hopes for lucrative contracts".

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Confidential US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, and published here by Mediapart, shed a revealing light upon France's current high-profile involvement in the international military offensive against the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Fabrice Arfi reports.


The US cables studied by Mediapart, issued for the most part from the US embassy in Paris, focus on Franco-Libyan relations since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President of France in 2007. They highlight how Gaddafi was so recently, unambiguously and largely unsuccessfully courted for his wealth before suddenly becoming a despot worthy of odium against whom Paris has led what interior minister and Sarkozy insider, Claude Guéant, controversially called a "crusade" - the outcome of which appears increasingly uncertain.


The about-turn in relations between the two countries can be summed up in three symbolic dates, representing the milestones of a realpolitik that is now closing in like a trap on Libya as much as on France.

  • 2007, a Sarkozy-Gaddafi "honeymoon" period, as a US ambassador put it.
  • 2010, the moment of lost illusions has arrived, as demonstrated by the unvarnished comment of a French diplomat: "The Libyans, they talk, they talk but they don't buy anything (from us)"
  • 2011, war - at France's initiative.


One of the main US diplomatic cables dedicated to Franco-Libyan relations is dated July 26th 2007 (cable n°116777) - two days after the liberation of the Bulgarian health personnel framed by the Libyan regime in an HIV-related health scandal. France was very involved in the liberation process, in which it used the services of Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, one of the key middlemen cited in the high-profile political scandal known as the Karachi affair.


Craig Stapleton © DR Craig Stapleton © DR

Non-classified, but presented as "sensitive", the cable was written by Ambassador Craig R. Stapleton who was posted to Paris from 2005 to 2009. The ambassador describes, not without irony, the "honeymoon" Nicolas Sarkozy enjoyed with the Libyan leader during a visit by the French president to Tripoli on July 25th 2007. The title of the cable is unambiguous: President Sarkozy's Trip to Libya Sets High Hopes for Lucrative Contracts.

Stapleton's pen is, to say the least, scathing: "Having achieved the desired political effect of burnishing his image as a man who can help resolve intractable issues, French President Nicolas Sarkozy used his July 25 visit to Libya following the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to boost economic and trade relations with that country".

The ambassador continued: "Sarkozy's effort to derive real commercial gain from his newfound relationship with Libyan leader Qadhafi is partly intended to make up ground believed lost to the United States and others since Libya's rehabilitation in late 2003."1


1: The spelling of the Libyan leader's name differs in American and British English. The US cables are quoted here, as in every text published by Mediapart English,true to the original text. This is why it is quoted with the spelling 'Qadhafi', while the text of the article written by by Mediapart journalist Fabrice Arfi adopts the spelling 'Gaddafi'.

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This article, initially published on Mediapart's French pages, results from an agreement signed between Mediapart and WikiLeaks on January 31st, 2011, by which Mediapart became a new media partner for the whistle-blowing site. The partnership respects the independence of each of the two parties, and confirms the principles of freedom of information espoused by both parties. It also confirms the shared principles that respect the confidentiality of sources and the integrity of the information published.

An article describing the circumstances of the agreement, and a Mediapart video interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange recorded during the occasion, can be seen by clicking here.

Only a small volume of the more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables in WikiLeaks' possession has been published so far. Mediapart's policy is to spend all appropriate time to properly research the documents it is now provided with under the agreement, and to follow up with the necessary investigations of the information they provide.