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The Arms Sale Orgy IV: France Horns In On Libya: Sideshow to the US-Saudi Arms Deal

July 31, 2007

(note: this piece has been some what revised from earlier today as I came across many of the details of the French-Libyan deal to build a nuclear power plant)

Jamal Dajani reporting for Link TV’s Mosaic Program (see http://www.linktv.org/mosaic for July 27) tells a touching tale about Libyan president Muammar Khadafi that rings true. It seems that Khadafi was greatly shaken by watching the US military find and capture a somewhat disoriented Saddam Hussein hiding in an Iraqi cave. As Dajanai tells it. Khadafi saw his own future humiliation in that morbid scene and was moved to take action.

How accurate this story is we’ll never know, but it has a certain air of truth about it. Almost immediately thereafter, the author of the Green Book (Khadafi’s version of Mao’s Red Book for Libyan Moslems) had something of a political epithany. There is nothing quite like seeing the downfall of a close ally to focus the mind on original political gestures to avoid a similar fate. Khadafi’s gesture – the first of many – was to announce that Libya would immediately abandon its nuclear weapons development program. The US might not have found a nuclear weapons program to dismantle in Iraq, a bit of an embarrassment which Khadafi helped alleviate by offering up his nuclear program instead. The Bush Administration took note and desperate for some positive p.r. and not finding solace in the sitution in Iraq, claimed political victory in Libya (a contorted claim at best: the argument went something along the lines that it was US policy in Iraq that forced Khadafi’s hand.)

Let’s leave out the fact that the Libyan nuclear program had not been modernized for 21 years (since 1982 when economic sanctions were imposed), that it was obsolete and had long been mothballed. Showing an unusual level of politeness and of letting bygones be bygones with the putrid smell of oil and gas in the air, the US and the UK acted dumb and forgiving. Khadafi could pretend that Libya was giving up a great deal by ending a program it had not developed for twenty years and the United States and Britain could pretend that they had just scored a political coup by pressuring Libya to dismantle its non-existent – but exceedingly dangerous nuclear program that no doubt threatened Manhattan. It just shows how oil and gas can be key ingredients in conflict resolution!

While the US and UK were at the business of forgiving and forgetting, they seemed to throw a few other measures in to sweeten the pot, `confidence building measures’, they’re called in the conflict resolution lingo. The US was more than willing to drop its claims against the Libyans accused of a 1896 bombing of a nightclub in W. Berlin. The Brits, always flexible when oil contracts come into play decided not to pursue the last payment owed to the Lockerbie survivors. The sanctions against Libya were lifted, the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor convicted of giving the AIDs virus to several hundred Libyan children and sentenced to death, first had their death sentence lifted and then were released and Tony Blair agreed to take Khadafi’s daughter as his second wife! (Ok, he didn’t, but who knows, he might have if asked, if it produced contracts for BAE, Britain’s high tech arms manufacturer.)

Was all this just about oil? The short and unambiguous answer is, yes, of course. What else?

France, looking on, tried to figure a way to worm in on the oil and the contracts. It too was willing to `forgive and forget’. The French-Libyan spat over Chad – where, in the 1980s, the two countries were actually in a low level war with each other – is history. The blowing up of a DC 10 French air carrier in 1981 (in which Libya was implicated) was also written off, with French President Nicolas Sarkazy instead calling on the two countries to `look to the future’.

France has been in trouble since the US led invasion of Iraq started. Paris was one of the big losers when its Arab policy designed and implemented by De Gaulle in the 1960s to buy Iraqi oil and sell Iraq weapons and nuclear plants was reduced to tatters. One of Sarkozy’s goals was to replace that old French-Iraqi relation with a French-Libyan one. He seems to have succeeded. First he sent his wife to Tripoli to negotiate the release of Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor imprisoned on charges of having purposely injected 400 Libyan children with HIV tainted blood. The initiative appears to have especially angered the Germans who had done most of the diplomatic footwork to free the nurses and doctors through the auspices of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, working for the European Union.

Sarkozy was not averse to stealing Germany’s thunder (and some key commercial contracts as well) by horning in at the last minute to give the appearance of having pulled the whole thing off. It suggests a pattern that Sarkozy is likely to follow in the future of piggy backing on EU diplomatic initiatives to promote the more narrowly defined French commercial and energy interests. This parallels exactly what Tony Blair is doing, fronting as the representative of the Quartet in the current Palestinian -Israeli negotiations, while essentially sniffing out commercial and military contracts for British industry with Bush’ permission. No surprise, that is exactly what he was doing as prime minister. Same job, different hat.

Sarkozy and wife faired rather well in the deal. Madame Sarkozy’s visit laid the ground work for the president himself to visit Tripoli. Khadafi, always the gracious host appeared a little cooler than usual according to the French press, but was still kind enough to give Sarkozy a tour of the remains of his Tripoli palace destroyed by US F-16 fighters in April of 1986, killing his six month old adopted daughter. The message seemed to be: I’ll forget this if you stop raising the issues of Chad and the 1981 downed DC 10. Sarkozy obliged. Khadafi then politely pretended that France had settled the Bulgarian nurse deal, and Sarkozy pretended that he wasn’t an impatient cut throat opportunist looking to cut cynical corporate deals, but a guy with a heart who could shed a tear for injustice especially if France could come away with a contract to build a nuclear power plant.

After this diplomatic bullshit had finished and the dust had settled, Libya and France had signed major commercial contracts, the jewel of which is France’s agreement to build a nuclear power plant in Libya to be used to power a major de-salination program in the water thirsty Saharan country. Entitled `Memorandum d’entente sur la cooperation dans le nucleare civile’, the agreement gives France new life in the Middle East and the possibility to position itself to win further contracts in intra structural development, hotel construction, the refurbishing and upgrading of Libya’s extraordinarily rich archelogical sites (like Leptis Magna) while screwing the Germans out of the deal at the same time. De Gaulle would have been proud!

Of course the French are already defending its plans to build a nuclear power plant in Libya the same way they defended helping Israel’s nuclear power program off the ground in the 1950s – that led to the production of Israel’s nuclear weapons’ arsenal – and the same way they defended building Iraq’s nuclear program at Osirak in the 1970s (only to be destroyed by their former nuclear client Israel in 1981). Completely ignoring Iranian claims to be developing nuclear energy for peaceful uses under the auspices of the IAEA, the French are very pleased to be developing Libya’s nuclear potential.

It was this deal that particularly irritated the Germans who had hoped through Steinmeier’s EU mission to achieve the same (or a similar) result. That the Germans got stung in the deal will play very well in France in boost Sarkozy’s popularity at home. It does not bode well for better German-French E.U. cooperation but it’s too early to make too much of this yet. Still, the Germans – that is the whole country – as this was all well publicized in both places – are taking note.

Letting France into such big commercial deals was clever of Khadafi. France is only Libya’s sixth trading partner behind Italy, Germany and UK in Europe. This deal gives the French a chance to catch up. Not wanting to put his eggs or his oil in one basket, Khadafi appeared more than willing to share his oil and military contracts with the French and not let the US and other EU countries monopolize the trade in both. In the past, Saddam Hussein followed a similar policy playing France off against the USSR. Such a policy has obvious political as well as economic consequences. Once against the main lines of the Kissinger deal described below appear to be working here

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