The New York Times reports: For all their indignation last summer, when the scope of the United States’ mass data collection began to be made public, the French are hardly innocents in the realm of electronic surveillance. Within days of the reports about the National Security Agency’s activities, it was revealed that French intelligence services operated a similar system, with similarly minimal oversight.
And last week, with little public debate, the legislature approved a law that critics feared would markedly expand electronic surveillance of French residents and businesses.
The provision, quietly passed as part of a routine military spending bill, defines the conditions under which intelligence agencies may gain access to or record telephone conversations, emails, Internet activity, personal location data and other electronic communications.
The law provides for no judicial oversight and allows electronic surveillance for a broad range of purposes, including “national security,” the protection of France’s “scientific and economic potential” and prevention of “terrorism” or “criminality.”
In an unusual alliance, Internet and corporate groups, human rights organizations and a small number of lawmakers have opposed the law as a threat to business or an encroachment on individual rights. [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal reports: The Obama administration’s overtures to Iran are straining the U.S. alliance with Israel in ways not seen in decades, compounding concerns about the White House’s ability to manage the Middle East’s proliferating security crises, said current and former American diplomats.
In a sign of Israel’s growing disaffection with Washington, French President François Hollande was given a hero’s welcome when he arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday for a three-day visit that would showcase Paris’s hard line against Iran’s nuclear program ahead of international talks in Geneva this week.
Mr. Netanyahu reiterated his criticism that the U.S.-backed compromise was a “very bad deal” while hailing Mr. Hollande for his opposition to the agreement at a joint news conference Sunday evening in Jerusalem.
“Your support and your friendship is real. It’s sincere. You were one out of six,” he said, referring to the six world powers participating in talks with Iran.
Both the U.S. and Israel insist the relationship is strong enough to sustain even a pronounced disagreement. But the State Department said on Sunday that it was considering sending Secretary of State John Kerry back to Jerusalem for the second time this month to try and repair the breach with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [Continue reading...]
Jonathan Steele writes: France’s scuppering of the carefully negotiated interim nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers was reckless but not unexpected. As a brazen affront to the Obama administration’s desire to mend relations with Tehran after 35 years it needs to be linked to Saudi Arabia’s recent and similarly abrupt repudiation of US policy on Syria. A historic shift is under way in US strategy towards the Middle East. After decades of isolating or overthrowing regimes that profess independence, Washington has decided that its long-term interests are better served by stability than subversion.
The shift has been caused by several factors: the unforeseen popular uprisings which led to the Arab spring and are still bringing unpredictable consequences; the incomplete revolt in Syria which has led to a multiplication of al-Qaida and other jihadis rather than the fall of Bashar al-Assad; the increasing chaos in Iraq which ought to be a warning to the Gulf of the dangers of letting Sunni versus Shia tensions rip; and finally Washington’s declining need for the region’s oil.
Confused and not forewarned by their American ally, France, Israel and Saudi Arabia are lashing out in wild and undiplomatic terms. [Continue reading...]
Robert Mackey writes: As my colleague Mark Landler reports, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on Monday that it was unfair to blame last-minute objections from his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, for scuttling a potential deal with Iran over its nuclear energy program last weekend in Geneva. “The French signed off on it, we signed off on it,” Mr. Kerry said of the final proposal presented to Iran’s negotiating team. “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.”
Shortly after these remarks were reported, Iran’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, pushed back on Twitter, claiming that the draft proposal from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1, changed drastically after the French intervention on Saturday, as the Guardian diplomatic correspondent Julian Borger reported.
No amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thursday to 545 PM Saturday.But it can further erode confidence
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 11, 2013
Since Mr. Zarif did not mention Mr. Kerry’s name or Twitter handle in that message, it fell into a category of gibe known as a subtweet on the social network, which is the rough equivalent of talking behind someone’s back, but doing so in such a loud stage whisper that you expect them to hear the criticism.
Just to make sure that his message was heard, however, Mr. Zarif addressed the secretary of state by title in a follow-up missive, in which he also appeared to complain about public comments from Mr. Fabius disparaging an early draft of the deal as “a fool’s bargain.”
We are committed to constructive engagement. Interaction on equal footing key to achieve shared objectives.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 11, 2013
The minister, who says that he enjoys reading comments posted on his Persian-language Facebook page, ended his brief flurry of Twitter diplomacy on Monday on a more positive note.
Christopher Dickey writes: Those who follow closely the machinations of the Quai d’Orsay (as the French foreign ministry is called) see French perversity as just one part of the picture, along with some fundamental shifts in the government’s attitudes toward the Middle East.
“Of course if you are a French politician, there is always some benefit when you pee on the shoes of the Americans,” says journalist Gilles Delafon, author of Reign of Contempt, an up-close look at French diplomacy under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007-2012. “There is also the fact that President Hollande is going to visit Israel this month.”
Indeed. The reasons French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave for dashing the high hopes for a deal with Iran in Geneva echoed in substance the bitter attacks on the negotiating process leveled earlier in the week by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Hollande certainly will get a warmer reception by the Likud and its allies as a result.
Syria has been a complicating factor. It’s now well known that the Israelis and Saudis were appalled when President Obama first threatened to bomb the military installations of the Assad regime to punish it for using chemical weapons, then reversed course, pleaded for the approval of Congress and accepted a Russian-brokered diplomatic deal to eliminate Assad’s poison-gas arsenal.
But it was French President Hollande who really got left out on a limb. When no other country agreed to back Obama’s attack plan, Hollande committed himself not only to give political support, but also to participate in the operation. According to the French press, some French warplanes were already on their way to the skies over Syria when Hollande got word the attack had been called off.
Hollande has the lowest approval ratings of any president in modern French history, and that little humiliation at Obama’s hands did him no good at all.
But there is also a deeper current of hostility to Obama’s penchant for peacemaking. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: France warned of serious stumbling blocks to a long-sought accord with Iran as unity among Western powers seemed to fray in talks on getting Tehran to curtail a nuclear program seen as a bomb risk in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Iranian media quoted the Islamic Republic’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, as saying “the issues are serious and there is still a gap in stances”, and that the talks would probably end later in the day and be resumed at a later date.
As discussions stretched on, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was doubtful whether they would soon succeed in nailing down an interim deal that would begin to defuse fears of a stealthy Iranian advance towards nuclear arms capability.
“As I speak to you, I cannot say there is any certainty that we can conclude,” Fabius said on France Inter radio, stressing that Paris could not accept a “sucker’s deal”.
His pointed remarks hinted at a rift brewing within the Western camp. A Western diplomat close to the negotiations said the French were trying to upstage the other powers.
“The Americans, the EU and the Iranians have been working intensively together for months on this proposal, and this is nothing more than an attempt by Fabius to insert himself into relevance late in the negotiations,” the diplomat told Reuters, speaking on the condition of anonymity. [Continue reading...]
AFP reports: France believed the United States attempted to hack into its president’s communications network, a leaked US intelligence document published on Friday suggests.
US agents denied having anything to do with a May 2012 cyber attack on the Elysee Palace, the official residence of French presidents, and appeared to hint at the possible involvement of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, a classified internal note from the US National Security Agency suggests.
Extracts from the document, the latest to emerge from the NSA via former contractor Edward Snowden, were published by Le Monde newspaper alongside an article jointly authored by Glenn Greenwald, the US journalist who has been principally responsible for a still-unravelling scandal over large-scale US snooping on individuals and political leaders all over the world.
The document is a briefing note prepared in April this year for NSA officials who were due to meet two senior figures from France’s external intelligence agency, the DGSE. The French agents had travelled to Washington to demand explanations over their discovery in May 2012 of attempts to compromise the Elysee’s communications systems.
The note says that the branch of the NSA which handles cyber attacks, Tailored Access Operations (TAO), had confirmed that it had not carried out the attack and says that most of its closest allies (Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand) had also denied involvement.
It goes on to note: “TAO intentionally did not ask either Mossad or (Israel’s cyber intelligence unit) ISNU whether they were involved as France is not an approved target for joint discussions.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Germany and France are to spearhead a drive to try to force the Americans to agree new transatlantic rules on intelligence and security service behaviour in the wake of the Snowden revelations and allegations of mass US spying in France and tapping of the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
At an EU summit in Brussels that was hijacked by the furore over the activities of the National Security Agency in the US and Britain’s GCHQ, the French president, François Hollande, also called for a new code of conduct agreed between national intelligence services in the EU, raising the question of whether Britain would opt to join in.
Shaken by this week’s revelations of NSA operations in France and Germany, EU leaders and Merkel in particular warned that the international fight against terrorism was being jeopardised by the perception that mass US surveillance was out of control.
The leaders “stressed that intelligence-gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism”, a summit statement said. “A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary co-operation in the field of intelligence-gathering.”
Merkel drove the point home: “We need trust among allies and partners. Such trust now has to be built anew … The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies. But such an alliance can only be built on trust.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The French government has summoned the US ambassador in Paris, demanding an explanation about claims that the National Security Agency has been engaged in widespread phone surveillance of French citizens.
On Monday, Le Monde published details from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden suggesting that the US agency had been intercepting phone calls on what it terms “a massive scale”.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned: “This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens.”
His summoning of the ambassador for urgent talks came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, arrived in the French capital for the start of a European tour focused on discussions over the Middle East and Syria, and keen to stress close military and intelligence ties with Paris, which he recently called America’s “oldest ally”.
The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, described the revelations as shocking and said he would be pressing for detailed explanations from Washington.
“Rules are obviously needed when it comes to new communication technologies, and that’s something that concerns every country,” he told Europe-1 radio. “If a friendly country – an ally – spies on France or other European countries, that is completely unacceptable.”
The report in Le Monde, which carries the byline of the outgoing Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked with Snowden to lay bare the extent of the NSA’s actions, claims that between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013 the NSA recorded 70.3m phone calls in France. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Nassurdine Haidari knows that people like himself — black and Muslim and a former imam — are not a target audience for France’s presidential candidates. But he is outraged nonetheless that voters in the banlieues, the poor, heavily immigrant suburbs of French cities, are not only taken for granted but are also used as symbols to promote racial and religious anxiety.
“The banlieues are the great absence in the campaign,” Mr. Haidari said. “We don’t talk about them. People don’t want to talk about them. They don’t want to engage.”
At 34, French-born of parents from the Comoros Islands off Africa’s east coast, Mr. Haidari is a success — a deputy mayor for youth and sport for the First and Seventh Arrondissements of Marseille and a member of the Socialist Party.
But even his party’s presidential candidate, François Hollande, while campaigning on diversity, equality and new spending on job creation and education, speaks in generalities, Mr. Haidari said. “The entire political class has a problem with Islam,” he said. “It’s disconnected from reality.”
Mr. Hollande proposes a minister for women, Mr. Haidari said, but not for Arabs. “We need a minister for equality, to deal with all the discrimination,” he said.
As for President Nicolas Sarkozy and the members of the far-right National Front, they are playing the politics of division and scapegoating, Mr. Haidari said. “The issue isn’t the burqa,” the full-face veil, he said. “They do it to raise the pressure. It’s to show people that ‘we can handle the Muslims.’ ”
The language is particularly pointed now, after the murders in Toulouse of seven people — three Muslim soldiers and four Jews, three of them children — by a French-born Muslim, Mohammed Merah, 23, who claimed inspiration from Al Qaeda. The killings have been followed by a series of arrests of suspected Islamic radicals, which Mr. Sarkozy says has no connection with Toulouse or presidential politics.
Even in Marseille, a city renowned for its tolerance, there is a heated issue around an effort to build a large mosque that has been stymied by problems of politics, financing and fierce internal divisions among Muslims. Altogether, they represent about 30 percent of Marseille’s 850,000 people but are having more children than the non-Muslim population. Muslims represent 8 percent to 9 percent of France’s 63 million people.
Zvi Bar’el reports: It appears that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can rest easy for now, as voices coming from the European Union suggest a military operation is not in the offing. Not only do Syria and China reject such an attack, but on Monday, Germany, France and Turkey added their voices to those objecting to a military option. The United States also does not seem thrilled at the prospect of launching another war in the region.
The European and American plan to impose another dose of sanctions on Iran may be worrisome, but it likely isn’t threatening as long as China, Russia and several of the Gulf states continue regular trade relations with Iran.
The effort to impose restrictions on the export of gasoline to Iran, which can only supply 60 percent of its own demand, is unlikely to come to fruition, as some fear the restrictions would only harm the citizenry and not the regime. Furthermore, the efficacy of such a plan remains doubtful. Iran recently declared that it is capable of producing more gasoline; with a strict rationing program it might well be able to overcome the entire shortage. This would not necessarily mean that Iran could successfully supply its demand for gasoline over the long term, but it would certainly be able to significantly reduce its dependence on foreign imports.
The more ambitious aim of obtaining a UN Security Council resolution to impose international sanctions will have to wait, especially given Russia’s efforts to promote – together with Iran – a new diplomatic plan that is being dubbed “Step by Step.” Under the plan, Iran will begin to respond to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s demands. In exchange for every satisfactory response, the international community would gradually roll back the existing sanctions on Iran.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister visited Moscow last week to discuss this idea with his Russian counterpart, and on Sunday the Russian deputy foreign minister for Middle Eastern affairs, Mikhail Bogdanov, went to Tehran to discuss the joint diplomatic effort with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
Meanwhile, Iran is adopting a new line of public diplomacy aimed both at Europe and the United States. Yesterday Salehi declared, “Strengthening the ties between Europe and Iran will be very helpful to Europe, since if Turkey joins the European Union, Iran will be a close neighbor of Europe’s.”
Over the weekend Ahmadinejad also said that “The Iranians are a nation of culture and logic, and are not warmongers.” The remarks, made at an event marking the unveiling of ancient artifacts returned by Britain to Iran, received big headlines in the Iranian press.
It is not clear what Ahmadinejad meant by “logic,” yet it notably was Ahmadinejad who initiated the 2010 agreement to deposit Iranian uranium in Turkey. Ahmadinejad is also believed to lead a certain school of thought that maintains it is better to come to an agreement with the West now, as opposed to the views of much of the radical religious leadership, which objects to any agreement.
In the end, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be the one to decide whether to promote any new diplomatic options. But the assessment that he still hasn’t given the green light for the production of nuclear weapons seemingly leaves the window of diplomatic opportunity open.
Ahmadinejad also can rest easy about his domestic situation. Yesterday he got some unexpected support from Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president, who is considered the leader of the Iranian opposition, and who until now never failed to criticize his rival. Khatami declared that if there were an attack on Iran, all groups – those that want reform and those that don’t – would unite to rebuff the attack.
Khatami defined the Israeli threat as “psychological warfare and a bluff,” but expressed concern that such psychological warfare could persuade the international community that an attack on Iran was possible.
Iranian opposition sources say that the debate over a possible attack on Iran plays directly into Ahmadinejad’s hands, since it boosts his political position not only vis a vis the opposition, but also vis a vis the supreme leader, Khamenei, whose confidants see Ahmadinejad as a political threat.