Friday, July 04, 2008

Sarko scrambles to save face

One of the curious aspects of the spectacular rescue operation in Colombia is the absence from it not only of the man who was going to solve all the problems of the continent, Hugo Chavez but of President Nicolas Sarkozy. The most important of the hostages was the French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002.

Sarko had made her release the key point of his foreign policy and has, on various occasions, tried to put pressure on the Colombian government to sit down and negotiate with FARC. Said government and President Alvaro Uribe, a close ally of the United States, had other ideas. The army has been systematically destroying the leadership of FARC. Then it put together an extraordinarily bold plan, which it then carried out with meticulous care, to free all the Western hostages.

The plan, it appears, was carried out with the full knowledge and approval of the American government. The French President, on the other hand, was not even informed until it was all over.
French diplomats said they didn't find it strange that France was kept in the dark about the army operation that freed Betancourt. They said the rescue was planned over months in great secrecy and that even some members of Colombia's government weren't in the know.

But while France wasn't informed, the United States apparently was. The freed hostages included three Americans. U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield said U.S. and Colombian forces cooperated closely on the rescue mission, including sharing intelligence, equipment, training advice and operational experience. U.S. presidential candidate John McCain also said Colombia's president had told him in advance of the rescue plans
Presumably, the Colombians knew what they were doing.

Sarko had to scramble back to the Elysee Palace but managed to recover his position by collecting Dr Betancourt's children and posing with them for the cameramen, though he did stand in the background, doing his best to look statesmanlike. The children were flown to Colombia by Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister and at the moment the government is basking in reflected glory.

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