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.
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'.