Sarkozy defends first lady's role in medics' deal

24th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 24, 2007 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday defended his decision to involve France's first lady in delicate negotiations on the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan jail, as he prepared to head to the north African country for cooperation talks.

PARIS, July 24, 2007 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday defended his  decision to involve France's first lady in delicate negotiations on the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan jail, as he prepared to head to the north African country for cooperation talks.

Sarkozy, whose wife Cecilia joined EU envoy Benita Ferrero-Waldner on a high-profile mission to clinch the final deal in Tripoli, confirmed he would leave for Libya on Wednesday.

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, jailed for life in Libya on charges of infecting hundreds of children with the AIDS virus, were freed early Tuesday after the conditions Tripoli had set down for extradition were met.

Speaking hours after they touched down in Sofia on board a French presidential plane, ending an eight-year ordeal, Sarkozy told reporters his visit was a "political trip to help Libya reintegrate the concert of nations".

The French president brushed off the controversy whipped up by his wife's involvement -- highly unusual for a French first lady and seen by his critics as evidence of his overly personal approach to power.

"We solved a problem. Period. There's no point theorising about a new organisation of French diplomacy or the status of the head of state's wife. We had to get them out, we got them out. That is what counts."

"Cecilia did a quite remarkable job," Sarkozy said. "This involved women, it was a humanitarian issue. I thought Cecilia could make a useful contribution."

"She did so with great bravery, a lot of sincerity, humanity and skill, by understanding right away that we would have to take everyone's pain into consideration -- that of the nurses of course, but also that of the 50 or so families who lost a child."

The 49-year-old former PR executive made the trip to Tripoli with Ferrero-Waldner and Claude Gueant, secretary-general of the French presidency. She was expected back in Paris from Sofia shortly after midday.

Previous French first ladies have limited themselves to strictly humanitarian endeavours and played no part in diplomacy.

In Tripoli, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham said that both the European Union and France had contributed to the compensation funds for the families of children infected with AIDS.

But Sarkozy said that neither France nor the European Union had paid "the slightest financial compensation" to Libya "over and above the agreement framework that was on the table."

Accused by critics of trying to steal the credit for an EU-brokered deal, Sarkozy paid tribute to the work of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and external relations commissioner Ferrero-Waldner.

Paris and Brussels had "sought to resolve this issue working hand in hand," Sarkozy said, while also thanking "colonel Kadhafi for understanding that it was important for this decision to be taken."

During his visit, a Libyan government official said Sarkozy was expected to sign bilateral agreements on security, energy, education, immigration, health and scientific research during his visit.

Travelling with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the French leader was also expected to defend his call for a new Mediterranean union, and to enlist further Libyan help in the fight against terrorism and in stemming illegal migration towards southern Europe.
Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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