Royal blasted for 'simplistic' ideas on Middle East

4th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 3, 2006 (AFP) - Ségolène Royal, the presidential candidate for France's opposition Socialist Party, sparked a foreign policy furore on the weekend as she toured the Middle East in a bid to boost her credentials for the world stage.

PARIS, Dec 3, 2006 (AFP) - Ségolène Royal, the presidential candidate for France's opposition Socialist Party, sparked a foreign policy furore on the weekend as she toured the Middle East in a bid to boost her credentials for the world stage.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Sunday took Royal to task for what he called her "simplistic" ideas on the volatile region, after she made a gaffe while visiting Lebanon on Friday.

During a meeting with a Lebanese MPs in Beirut on Friday, Royal had voiced agreement with an MP from the Hezbollah militant movement, Ali Ammar, that US foreign policy smacked of "insanity".

She said she shared his views "on a lot of things, notably his analysis of the role of the United States."

Ammar also compared Israel's behaviour towards Lebanon — which Israel bombarded over July and August in its 34-day war with Hezbollah — with "Nazism".

Royal, caught off guard by the storm her comments unleashed back in France, was forced to amend her comments by saying she meant to criticise only Washington's military adventure in Iraq. She said she drew a distinction between the policies of US President George W. Bush's White House and "the wider policies of the United States."

She also said she did not hear Ammar's "Nazism" comment — "otherwise I would have left the room."

The fumble was Royal's first error as she campaigns to become France's first woman head of state in elections due in April and May next year.

She had organised her Middle East trip — which on the weekend saw her travelling on to Israel and the Palestinian territories — to counter criticism in France that she was a political lightweight with a poor grasp of foreign policy.

The ruling conservative UMP party, which is yet to formally nominate its presidential candidate, seized on her gaffe, with Douste-Blazy going on French radio and television in Paris to blast Royal's words.

"I want to remind her that we are stronger and better listened to when we remain firm on our principles — I'm thinking in particular about Israel's right to security and about relations with the United States, even if we disagree sometimes with them," he said.

He quoted from Charles de Gaulle, saying: "I went to the Orient complicated with simple ideas. And hoping that these ideas were not simplistic."

The head of the Socialist Party, François Hollande, who is also Royal's partner and father of her four children, attempted to hose down the uproar.

The focus on her exchange with Ammar was "misplaced", he told Jewish Community Radio. He claimed that the translation of the meeting was "abridged, cut down, and did not contain all the comments reported elsewhere."

Hollande said "Hezbollah made comments that were, as usual, provocative, insulting. She reacted to them as she should have reacted to them" on the basis of the translation.

It was uncertain what damage the incident would inflict on Royal's campaign.

The latest poll, published on Sunday and conducted before Royal started her Middle East trip, showed she and her likely rival on the right, Nicolas Sarkozy, were in a dead heat for the presidency in terms of voter intentions.

The two declared candidates to replace Jacques Chirac each have 50 percent support, the poll by the IFOP institute showed.

Royal shed one point from the last IFOP poll released two weeks ago, while Sarkozy, who Thursday declared he was calling for his ruling conservative UMP party's nomination, picked up a point.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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