Sarkozy criticizes Bush during award ceremony
The French President praises himself and derides George Bush a day before the two leaders meet at the G20 summit.14 November 2008
PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday asked an audience to compare his leadership during the Georgia-Russia crisis to that of outgoing US President George W Bush, a day before the pair are due to meet at a Washington G20 summit.
"When on 8 August someone had to leave for Moscow or Tbilisi, who defended human rights?" Sarkozy asked, at a ceremony in the Elysee Palace as he accepted a prize for "political courage" handed out by Politique Internationale magazine.
"Was it the president of the United States who said 'This is unacceptable'? Or was it France which kept up dialogue" between Russian and Georgian leaders, he asked.
Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in August after Tbilisi tried to retake its separatist South Ossetia region by force. Sarkozy negotiated a ceasefire to end the fighting.
"I remember the American president's call the day before our departure for Moscow: 'Don't go there, they (the Russians) want to go to Tbilisi, they're 40 kilometres away. Don't go, (just) condemn it'.
"We were there with (Foreign Minister) Bernard Kouchner, as if by chance while we were there, the ceasefire was announced," he said as he accepted the prize, which was previously earned by the late pope John Paul II.
Sarkozy was due to fly to the United States on Friday to meet Bush and other world leaders at a summit to discuss the financial crisis.
The French president used his speech to praise other foreign policy initiatives undertaken by France since he came to power in May 2007.
"If we had not taken risks for peace and for the rights of the Lebanese by inviting (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad, there would still be war in Lebanon," he said.
Assad returned to the international community when he was invited to Paris in July. Syria was isolated from global politics since the 2005 murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, widely blamed on Damascus.
Sarkozy also said his policies were directly responsible for the release in July of Ingrid Betancourt.
Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician, was released along with 14 other hostages after being held by Colombia's FARC rebels since 2002.
"Was there any chance of getting her out if France had not made Ingrid Betancourt a main objective of its policies? None," said Sarkozy.
The president also said that France helped free six Bulgarian medics in 2007 after almost a decade jailed in Libya.
[AFP / Expatica]