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WikiLeaks: France sought to kick-start peace talks behind US’s back

Secret documents show Nicolas Sarkozy, worried about Quartet and Washington stealing show, considered enlisting Russia in joint initiative for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to Jerusalem on May 23, 2013 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to Jerusalem on May 23, 2013 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

France sought to play a leading role in the possible relaunching of direct Mideast peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 2011, going so far as to float the idea of keeping other world powers out of the effort and issuing an ultimatum to the United States, according to documents released by WikiLeaks late Tuesday.

According to a 2011 cable published by the group, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy considered not including the Middle East Quartet — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia — in the initiative so as to prevent other world powers from steering negotiations according to their interests.

The leaked note, dated June 10, 2011, describes Sarkozy’s determination on June 7 to go ahead with a bid to restart direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, “in spite of an apparent lack of interest on the part of some major players.”

The leak was part of a larger trove that included revelations that the US spied on French leaders, sparking an outcry in Paris.

It came as the UN Security Council is set to begin discussing a fresh French initiative, which would call for peace talks and set a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank by 2017.

The US, which could veto the measure, has not yet said whether it will support the initiative, which is opposed by Israel.

In the document, France is seen as worried that letting the Quartet lead peace efforts could see Paris’s ideas fall by the wayside.

“It was also disclosed in a conversation between Sarkozy and his foreign minister, Alain Juppe, that consideration was given to including the Quartet in the process; however, they were wary about such an invitation because that group might not bow to Paris’s wishes,” the cable reads.

According to the document, France, which is not a member of the Quartet, feared that “if the group elected not to support direct talks, the French initiative would be a non-starter.”

Another French concern was that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would dominate the proceedings if the initiative were to be led by the Quartet.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Vladivostok, Russia, in September. (photo credit: Jim Watson/AP)
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Vladivostok, Russia, in September, 2012 (Jim Watson/AP)

Sarkozy had also contemplated appealing to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev for a possible joint initiative without the US, the note said, as well as issuing an ultimatum to US President Barack Obama regarding Palestinian statehood.

The documents published by WikiLeaks, which came just weeks after Obama signed into law landmark legislation ending the US government’s bulk telephone data dragnet, also showed Washington had wiretapped current French President Francois Hollande as well as his two predecessors, Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.

The revelations prompted Hollande to call a defense council meeting first thing Wednesday “to evaluate the nature of the information published by the press on Tuesday evening and to draw useful conclusions,” said one of his aides.

The French ambassador to the US Gerard Araud appeared to downplay the revelations, stating on Twitter: “Every diplomat lives with the certainty that their communications are listened to, and not by just one country. Real world.”

Important, confidential discussions are held by “secure methods of communication,” he continued, but “all our other devices are, by definition, listened to.”

But an aide of Sarkozy blasted the alleged spying as “unacceptable methods as a general rule and more particularly between allies.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said French citizens had a right to know their government was “subject to hostile surveillance from a supposed ally,” and promised more “timely and important” revelations soon.

Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 had revealed mass US surveillance activities, sparking global outrage.

British newspaper The Guardian reported at the time that the NSA has listened in on the phone calls of 35 world leaders. According to different reports they include the leaders of France, Mexico and Brazil.

While it was not known then if Hollande’s phone was tapped, the French leader had said in a visit in February 2014 to Washington that the two allies had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping.

“Mutual trust has been restored,” Hollande said then.

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