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D-Day: Diplomatic divisions overshadow united front

© AFP file photo

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2014-06-06

French President François Hollande is hosting his US, Russian and European counterparts for the D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations. But beneath the united front lies a host of tensions. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look.

The official photograph for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy will show US President Barack Obama, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

But beneath the facade of unity, the leaders will be manoeuvring several subjects of discord.

Ukraine

Western powers, particularly the US, have recently talked about isolating Russia diplomatically and economically as punishment for having “annexed” Crimea and “destabilised” eastern Ukraine.

But after the tough talk – notably at this week’s G7 summit, to which Putin was not invited – Western leaders are meeting Putin for the first time since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the US and EU imposed sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

They are, undoubtedly, hoping to kickstart the talks they have been calling for over the past few months -- especially given the recent withdrawal of 40,000 Russian soldiers from the Ukrainian border and the election of Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko.

Putin dines with Hollande at the Elysée Palace Thursday evening before meeting with Merkel on Friday morning, just before the start of the official commemoration ceremonies. British Prime Minister David Cameron will also meet with Putin, aiming to nudge Russian and Ukrainian leaders towards the negotiating table.

But all eyes will be on the lunch meeting between Obama and Putin on Friday in Normandy, marking the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since the Ukrainian crisis erupted at the end of 2013. Obama has encouraged Putin to recognise Poroshenko’s election and start rebuilding trust with the West.

The US and Europe have warned that if there is no easing of tensions, there could be tougher economic sanctions on Russia mapped out at the next EU summit on June 26.
But the US and West European nations have to overcome national and domestic differences to arrive at a united stand on Russia.

At a press conference in Brussels Thursday at the end of the G7 summit, Obama admitted that he expressed concern to France about its intentions to keep building warships for Russia as Europe and the US are trying to isolate Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.

Obama noted that he recognized the three-year-old deal had important implications for the French job market. But, he added, “I think it would have been preferable to press the pause button,” on France’s plans to sell two Mistral warships to Russia.

France is facing mounting pressure from allies to cancel the 1.2-billion-euro deal on the grounds that Russia could use the ships against its Black Sea neighbours.

BNP Paribas

If Obama and Hollande have presented a united front against Russia these past few months, another issue has driven a wedge between them: the $10-billion fine US authorities are pushing BNP Paribas to pay in order to end a criminal probe into allegations that the bank evaded US sanctions against Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

The legal spat took on a diplomatic dimension when Hollande sent Obama a letter earlier this month calling for a “reasonable” agreement on the issue and expressing his view that the US measures were “disproportionate,” according to a report in the French daily Le Monde.

Hollande is expected to raise the subject again during his dinner with Obama Thursday night. But speaking to reporters in Brussels earlier Thursday before heading to France Obama said he would not interfere in the judicial process. “We don’t call the attorney general and tell him how to prosecute cases,” he told reporters. 

Syria

The other touchy subject between France and the US is the Syrian army’s use of chemical weapons in the bombings on rebel-held zones in Syria. According to an investigation by French daily Le Monde (mentioned in the paper on June 4), French authorities hold firm proof that Syrian forces repeatedly used such weapons on civilians starting in October 2013.

But the French government has refused to publish the exact findings, allegedly because it is waiting for the green light from the two other countries that contributed to the report: the US and the UK. According to Le Monde, the report’s conclusions would obligate France, the US, and the UK to take action, as the three countries – and most notably Obama himself -- established the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” that could not be crossed.

The NSA

There may be a chill between Obama and Merkel because of the US National Security Agency’s alleged tapping of the German chancellor’s mobile phone. On Wednesday, Germany’s federal prosecutor announced the opening of an investigation into the allegations, which surfaced last summer.

Germany, a country still nursing scars from the Nazi regime and the Stasi’s state surveillance, expressed particular shock at US whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast system of surveillance targeting German phone and internet communication.

Obama is expected to shower Merkel with diplomatic attention in an effort to mend ties with its traditionally close ally.

Date created : 2014-06-05

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