Le Figaro Reports on French Warming toward Pyongyang

Sebastien Sabetti [in Seoul], “La France tente sa chance à Pyongyang [France Tries its Hand/Takes its Chance with Pyongyang],” Le Figaro, 9 October 2009.

[Translation by Adam Cathcart]

NORTH KOREA.  How to turn a handicap into an advantage: France is now playing diplomatic poker [coup de poker diplomatique, e.g., taking a diplomatic gamble] with the North Korean issue. Its objective: to catch up, overtaking its own slowness [combler son retard] in the midst of one of the hottest current international crises. By preparing to send Jack Lang on an “informational mission” to Pyongyang in early November, Nicolas Sarkozy seeks to place  Paris in the heart of the nuclear equation, seizing the opportunity of a slight relaxation [une timide détente] in the standoff between Kim Jong Il and the international community. Sidelined by the absence of diplomatic relations with North Korea, France wishes to become a part of the solution by bargaining with Pyongyang, offering establishment of political linkages against progress toward denuclearization. “The idea is to hold out a carrot” to the besieged dictatorship, said one senior diplomat.

“The time is right. We feel that their stance could change,” justified the former Socialist minister who met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul after passing through Tokyo. And many factors argue for a revival of hope.  They include recent appeals at the dictator’s feet for bargaining with the United States [appels du pied du dictateur, perhaps a reference to the Clinton visit?] the arrival of a new Japanese government, and more open dialogue and increased pressure from China on the Kermit Kingdom.

But actually, Nicolas Sarkozy has been preparing his coup for a long time: Lang’s mission was originally scheduled for early this year, but was postponed at the last minute due to a North Korean ballistic missile test.  For the Elysee [e.g., Sarkozy], France reduced its room for maneuver by prioritizing the nuclear issue and continues to undermine its long-term interests by being the only country in the European Union, with the exception of Estonia, by not having have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.  This  anomaly could be repaired if the North agrees to make tangible steps toward denuclearization. The French initiative has been quite well received in Tokyo and Seoul, but Jack Lang has yet to convince Washington, Moscow and Beijing. But beyond that, it cannot be said whether Kim Jong-il will even deign to grant him an interview.

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