Sarkozy condemns Gaza offensive in speech outlining 2009 ambitions


FRENCH REACTION:PRESIDENT NICOLAS Sarkozy said yesterday that Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip is a failure that has harmed the security of the Jewish state. He also expressed willingness to return to the region to help reach a ceasefire agreement.

The war in Gaza is a “tragedy which must stop”, Mr Sarkozy told foreign ambassadors at his annual new year reception. France condemned Israeli forces entering the Gaza Strip.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to take. Everyone knows the attachment of France, and mine in particular, to the non-negotiable security of Israel. But I say what I think. This intervention does not strengthen the security of Israel.”

Mr Sarkozy condemned Hamas for “firing rockets that regularly fall on Israeli civilians who’ve got nothing to do with it”.

Assessing the results of the three-week-old conflict, Mr Sarkozy said the Palestinians are more divided than ever; Mahmoud Abbas, the western-backed president of the Palestinian Authority, and moderate Arab leaders have been weakened.

“The Israeli government stands accused everywhere in the world, while Israel, more than other states, needs the solidarity of the world,” Mr Sarkozy said.

“This is the result. If you tell me that this isn’t a tragedy, when those who are most extreme in every camp have benefited, then we don’t have the same vision of the crisis.”

Mr Sarkozy mentioned Barack Obama twice, saying he hopes the new US president will immediately “send a strong signal of US re-engagement” in the Middle East, and urging the new US administration to adopt a climate package similar to Europe’s.

Mr Sarkozy predicted that 2009 “will be a year of very great difficulty, probably one of the most difficult in decades” because of the economic crisis and the risk of war “in this vast arc of crisis that goes from the near east to Pakistan.”

It was “indispensable” that both the G20 summit in London in April and the climate summit in Copenhagen in December succeed.

The French leader delivered a pull-up-your-socks harangue to the rest of the world. “It all depends on your will,” he told the ambassadors. “Do we want to submit to the crisis, or do we want to master the crisis?”

Mr Sarkozy outlined his ambitions for 2009: a return to economic growth; the adoption of “clear and universal” rules in finance and for the fight against global warming; “decisive progress” towards adapting international institutions for the 21st century; the conclusion of a peace accord in the Middle East, and resolution of crises in Sudan and the Great Lakes region of Africa.

“You probably think I’m too ambitious,” the French president said.

“I’m convinced that time works against us – against the crisis, against peace and justice. To think we have time is a major strategic error . . . We know what has to be done, so let’s do it.” The task will only become more difficult in 2010, he warned.

“I want us to understand that we no longer have time,” Mr Sarkozy said, hammering out each word.

“The priority for 2009 is that men and women in positions of responsibility use these responsibilities to act – not to command, not to wait. Because waiting without doing anything is nothing other than complicity.”

He could almost stop there, the French president said, prompting laughter from the ambassadors. He nonetheless talked for 38 more minutes.

... on Brian Cowen

When Mr Sarkozy addressed European issues, at the end of his New Year’s speech to the diplomatic corps, Ireland came first.

“I hope Europe will at last equip herself with the institutions she needs: a president elected for two-and-a-half years,” Mr Sarkozy said.

“And that depends on our Irish friends. I would like to pay homage to the courage of the prime minister, Brian Cowen, who announced a referendum for the second semester of 2009. We will support them. Ireland must understand that Europe needs her, and perhaps she needs Europe, as the financial crisis has shown. Europe needs to speak with one voice.”