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France watchful of next steps in Syrian crisis

media Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Beijing on September, 15, 2013 AFP/Wang Zhao

While France publicly welcomed Russia and the United States’ landmark agreement yesterday on how to persuade Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to eliminate his cache of chemical weapons, the winning plan has left some French officials quietly grumbling.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius cautiously hailed the agreement as an important step forward in the Syrian crisis, but also added that there was still a long way ahead, especially as a new United Nations report released tomorrow could leverage Paris' case for a Security Council resolution condemning the regime.

"France will take the report to be published Monday by the UN inspectors on the Damascus massacre into account before formulating a definitive stance," Fabius said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has indicated that report will provide evidence that Assad’s regime waged a chemical weapons attack on August – proof that France hopes could shift the discussion.

The French largely envisioned an approach more aimed at bolstering support to the opposition, but with this new plan some have expressed worry that it could favour Assad.

"What we are saying is that the Geneva accord does not settle all accounts," said one French official to the French news agency AFP. "It is not a stamp of approval for Assad, whom we simply do not trust. There is a lot more involved."

Anti-Assad rebel forces have rejected the deal believing that will not end the civil war that has left more than 110,000 people dead and millions displaced.

"Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day and to accept [the deal] just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?" Free Syrian Army chief General Selim Idriss asked.

France, which was Washington’s main backer of a military strike against Damascus, now finds itself sidelined as first Britain, and then the US abandoned a military approach.

France’s efforts in the coming days will continue to focus on a military intervention back-up plan in case diplomacy fails.

But among the far-left, which has opposed military intervention in Syria from the start, there are different sentiments circulating.

Raquel Garrido, spokesperson for the far-left "Front de Gauche" party, said Hollande's determination has severely damaged France's reputation.

She believes that Hollande put France in a humiliating position because even though the country is small, it has weight in the UN’s Security Council. Its traditional position, she said, has been to uphold international law, and especially in the face of strong US unilaterism.

“What’s our role in the international arena if we are just going ahead of what we think Washington wants,” Garrido said to RFI. “How humiliating is that, how un-French is that?”


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