'Sarkozy the American' mulled troops for Iraq: WikiLeaks
Even before his election, President Nicolas Sarkozy convinced the US he was the most pro-American French leader since the war and even discussed sending French troops to Iraq, leaked cables showed.
The French daily Le Monde, citing a trove of stolen diplomatic cables given to it by the activist website WikiLeaks, said Sarkozy wooed US diplomats in Paris long before taking office in 2007 and convinced them he was a firm ally.
"Sarkozy is the French politician who most supports the role of the United States in the world," the US embassy in Paris wrote in a 2006 portrait of the right-wing minister shortly before he announced his presidential run.
"His nickname is 'Sarkozy the American' and his affinity for America is authentic and comes from the bottom of his heart," the memo said, predicting an end to the tense relations under the outgoing president, Jacques Chirac.
Sarkozy made no secret of his admiration for Washington as he began his presidency, but some of the French voters who elected him might have been surprised by just how closely he supported then US president George W. Bush.
In the most startling extract from the cables, which have yet to appear on the WikiLeaks website and appear in Le Monde in French translation, the US ambassador writes in 2006 that Sarkozy might send French troops to Iraq.
"Sarkozy declared that France and the international community would have to help the United States resolve the situation in Iraq. Perhaps by replacing the American army with an international force," he wrote.
But the US war in Iraq remained extremely unpopular in France, and nothing came of this idea once Sarkozy was elected, although he did send more French troops to Afghanistan and brought France back into full NATO membership.
French voters, and Sarkozy's current political friends and foes, might also be surprised to learn that their president told the US embassy about his plan to run for office before he informed the public.
He was also, according to the leaked cables, not afraid to criticise the foreign policy of Chirac's government to his American friends, even while he was interior minister in the outgoing French administration.
The cables in Le Monde's hands do not come up to the present, but they show that Washington's enthusiasm for his rule was undimmed when Barack Obama was elected to replace Bush and made his first trip to France.
"Your visit comes at a historic moment," the US ambassador to France gushed in a briefing memo for Obama shortly before the president crossed the Atlantic to attend the April 2009 NATO summit in Strasbourg, France.
"Nicolas Sarkozy is the most pro-American French president since the Second World War. He is currently the most influential leader in Europe," the envoy wrote, conveying Sarkozy's desire for a close working relationship.
In fact, Obama and Sarkozy have never had warm relations -- and France and the United States continue to differ over Sarkozy's opposition to Turkish EU membership and on the best way to deal with climate change.
But US diplomats remain fascinated by Sarkozy, despite marvelling at his sudden and dramatic decline in public popularity and his "thin-skinned and authoritarian" way of dealing with his ministers and aides.
"Sarkozy is instinctively pro-American and pro-Israel," the embassy wrote, according to the memos, noting what they called Sarkozy's "Jewish heritage" a reference to his French Catholic mother's Greek Jewish father.
The US embassy was also delighted that Sarkozy chose to appoint Bernard Kouchner, a staunch Atlanticist despite his left-wing credentials, as "the first Jewish foreign minister of the Fifth Republic."
This, the diplomats wrote, would help move France away from its traditional pro-Arab stance, while reinforcing Paris' determination to deal with Iran, which both France and the United States perceive as a threat.
© 2010 AFP