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US diplomats poke fun at Sarkozy in leaked memos

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2010-12-03

Surrounded by yes-men who are unwilling to point out “when the emperor is less than fully clothed”, the “hyperactive” French President gets some savage treatment from US diplomats in the WikiLeaks cables, despite calling him the US’s staunchest ally.

The leaked cables paint a colourful picture of French President Nicolas Sarkozy - a staunch ally of the US on one hand, and a gaffe-prone, “hyperactive” and impulsive character surrounded by yes-men on the other.

And there is a certain mocking jocularity in the once-secret cables, published in their thousands by WikiLeaks this week.

Left-leaning French daily Liberation, in an editorial on Wednesday titled “Sarkozy Undressed”, said that “in all these memos you get the sense that the diplomats are grinning as they write about the French President.”

Sarkozy ‘the American’

The USA could not have a stauncher ally than Sarkozy, the leaked documents reveal.

“Nicolas Sarkozy is the most pro-American French president since World War II,” wrote US envoy to Paris Mark Pekala in April 2009, adding that the French President was “arguably the most influential leader in Europe.”

Le Monde, the French daily chosen by Wikileaks to publish excerpts, published Wednesday the astonishing revelation that in 2006, as interior minister of an outgoing government, Sarkozy was even considering sending French troops to Iraq.
 
The US-led war in Iraq was always deeply unpopular in France and was vigorously opposed by then-President Jacques Chirac.
 
And although no French troops were sent to Iraq, Sarkozy did bolster the French military contribution in Afghanistan once he came to power, adding some legitimacy to George W. Bush’s controversial foreign policies.
 
An ‘emperor less than fully clothed’
 
But the memos, all candid reports by diplomats relayed back to Washington, do not shy away from barbed criticism.
 
And the publication of reports describing the French president as a leader surrounded by yes-men will have caused some embarrasement at the Elysée Palace.
 
One cable, sent by US Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin, spoke of Sarkozy’s opposition to Turkey joining the EU.
 
Rivkin wrote that aides had diverted a presidential flight from view of the Eiffel Tower, lit up in the colours of the Turkish flag during a state visit of [Turkish] Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for fear of upsetting the president.
 
Sarkozy’s aides, Rivkin wrote, “demonstrate little independence and appear to have little effect on curbing the hyperactive president.”
 
In the same memo, Rivkin worried that a high turnover of presidential staff raised questions “as to whether new faces will be any more willing to point out when the emperor is less than fully clothed.”
 
Getting personal
 
Criticism of the president went deeper. Diplomats, in cables that were never intended for publication, also mention Sarkozy’s marriage to Carla Bruni-Tedeschi just months after the president divorced ex-wife Cecelia.
 
“In a major miscalculation in image management, Sarkozy paraded for media coverage his billionaire life-style with former supermodel and current First Lady Carla Bruni-Tedeschi,” one diplomat wrote in 2008.
 
The cable added that the French press turned on the president “as a vulgar, insecure celebrity-worshipper focussed only on himself and his place in the limelight.”
 
Paris has been quick to condemn the publication of a quarter of a million confidential memos to WikiLeaks, and France-based Interpol has issued an arrest warrant for the website’s founder Julian Assange on Swedish charges of rape and sexual assault.
 
On Tuesday French government spokesman Francois Baroin told reporters that Sarkozy told ministers that the release of the WikiLeaks documents is the “height of irresponsibility.”

Date created : 2010-12-01

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