Friday, December 1, 2006

Royal shuttles around Lebanon

On the second day of her visit to Lebanon, French Socialist Segolene Royal flew by helicopter to the UN headquarters of the UNIFIL where she met with Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, the interim French leader of the UN peacekeeping force until the Italians take over next year. The helicopter ride was meant to avoid any delays caused by a protest scheduled today against the current Lebanese government. The demonstrations are organized by Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon who wish to destabalize the government. Several weeks ago there was a mass resignation of Shiite cabinet members, and the death of Pierre Gemayel has furthered the crisis. Israel has also warned that if the current Lebanese government falls, the UN might be forced out of southern Lebanon, clearing the way for Hezbollah to rearm.

Royal's decision to stay in Lebanon during this rather uncertain time can only help her back home in the polls. Yesterday she reiterated her support for a democratic and peaceful Lebanon, and pledged that France would stand beside it and "try its best to help Lebanon prosper". France has long been a supporter (and a colonizer) of Lebanon, so her words of friendship are to be expected. What will be interesting is how she interacts with the Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Minister when she meets with them this weekend. Nicolas Sarkozy has been a strong supporter of Israel, a slightly unusual stance for a possible future French president. Royal has been very tough in her rhetoric on Iran, welcome words to Israelis who are quite worried about the nuclear program there. Whether she can or wants to turn those common positions into friendship is a different story.

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