All 3 entries tagged Diplomacy

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June 06, 2007

This G8 had better be good

Tony Blair’s got twenty-one days until he moves home and finds himself relatively unemployed. The removal vans have already arrived. But you have to wonder why it’s only the furniture that’s moving out today, and not the owners too.

Blair was supposed to go on a six-week legacy tour, saving the world and reminding us how much he’s achieved since 1997.

So what’s he managed to do?

  1. Helped BP find some business in Libya
  2. Pissed off the Russians
  3. Delayed the cash-for-honours investigation a bit longer
  4. Er… and that’s it.

So this week’s G8 meeting had better be good. Nothing short of a deal with the United States on climate change would be enough to have made this six-week holiday worthwhile.


May 14, 2007

A new era for British–Franco relations?

Two men, from similar political backgrounds, with similar political views. Yet one is mocked by the British as the archetypal miserable Frenchman, while the other represents a great new hope for relations between his country and ours.

The Times’ Washington correspondent, Gerard Baker, wrote that:

Having endured years of Gallic disdain, contempt and hostility, America is getting used to the happy possibility that France might actually be a friend and even an ally again.

Sarkozy and Blair, 11th May 2007Given Britain’s ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ relationship with the United States in recent years, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy to the Élysée Palace also permits a thawing in relations between Britain and its neighbour.

The bonhomie exhibited by Mr Blair and M. Chirac this week was tinged with the disdain that the two statesmen have held for each other ever since Blair burst onto the European stage with his brand of slick, demanding diplomacy in 1997. But when he met M. Chirac’s successor (right), things were very different.

Perhaps M. Sarkozy’s warmth was helped by the knowledge that his British counterpart will not long be in a position to demand things of Europe. The infamous rebate will surely come up again in time, and Mr Brown is known to be a more passionate defender of Britain’s subsidy from Europe than Mr Blair has been.

Yet there is little to suggest things will be frostier when the Scot moves to Number 10. While he may not be the Europhile that Tony Blair is, he and Sarkozy may find their mutual Atlanticism to be a useful asset.

An infamous Sun front-pageSarkozy’s nicknames include ‘Sarko the American’ and ‘Speedy’ (a sign of his apparent hyperactivity, apparently). Both seem to be traits that Gordon Brown is moving towards. The steady hand on the economic rudder will likely be replaced by a fervent Prime Minister, keen to exert control quickly over ‘his’ government while making constitutional changes to win over the people. His ability to sit on the fence was demonstrated well in his recent book, Courage. It features a delicately balanced portrayal of two Americans, two Brits and two Europeans.

Denis McShane – former Minister for Europe – painted a picture of a European tricycle, with Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel perched on each wheel. It’s a convincing image. With Iran and Syria seeming to pose the only foreign threats to this balancing act, on foreign affairs the leaders of Europe’s major industrial nations are generally united.

But will this new-found Euro-love permeate into wider society? Britons’ ridicule of all things Gallic has become something of a cliché. The optimist would suggest that better relations between our political leaders might help to rectify this over time. Certainly the tabloid front-pages accusing the French of being “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” might be a thing of the past if co-operation at a political level succeeds.

Of course, Sarkozy will only be a success if he solves the numerous domestic conundrums that he promised in the election. But rebuilding relations with Britain and America could be an even greater prize for his country in the long-term.


March 30, 2007

What if we were in Iranian waters?

I probably won’t make myself popular for saying this… But what if the British sailors were in Iranian waters?

I’ve been troubled by some of the Foreign Office language, which is vague enough to leave room for admitting they were wrong. For instance, we’ve heard about the exact spot where the sailors were captured. But we’ve not been shown the line that they took before that. What if they accidentally went into Iranian waters, then returned to Iraqi waters, and were then captured. Essentially, both the British and the Iranians would be in the wrong. The Britons for having been in Iranian waters, and the Iranians for having gone into Iraqi waters to detain them.

If what we’ve heard is true, the Iranians were in the wrong because they should have shepherded the sailors out of their waters – there is no need for them to have been detained under maritime law.

Compare a British news report with one on an international news website. There is often a subtle difference in language. The British media take MoD statements as fact, while there’s more emphasis on ”...the MoD claim that the sailors were in Iraqi waters…” in international reporting.

My concern is that we’re only hearing half of the story. This is largely because the Iranian regime is disfunctional, secretive and has a lot to hide. But I wonder whether the vacuum of information from the other side means that we’re getting information which isn’t as high-quality as we’re led to believe.

Would our media ever decide something the Iranians said was correct and that something the MoD said was incorrect? It seems very unlikely.

We, understandably, want our sailors back. The MoD, understandably, would never want to admit that they made a mistake in relation to Iran. Foreign relations are too sensitive to give them any ground on such an international stage.

And the Iranians have, for sure, acted wrongly by detaining the fifteen, putting two of them on television, making them read admissions of guilt and denying consular access.

But what if we did cock up? Would we ever find out the truth?


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