Sunday, September 16, 2007

in the news: NK/Syria and Sarko's physicality

I'll call your attention to two interesting articles, both from the Times Online UK. The first is about that recent complaint Syria made regarding Israeli planes straying into Syrian airspace. Remember that? Well, it may well be that the Israelis weren't straying: they may, in fact, have been bombing a cache of North Korean materials meant to be converted into nuclear weapons.

It was just after midnight when the 69th Squadron of Israeli F15Is crossed the Syrian coast-line. On the ground, Syria's formidable air defences went dead. An audacious raid on a Syrian target 50 miles from the Iraqi border was under way.

At a rendezvous point on the ground, a Shaldag air force commando team was waiting to direct their laser beams at the target for the approaching jets. The team had arrived a day earlier, taking up position near a large underground depot. Soon the bunkers were in flames.

Ten days after the jets reached home, their mission was the focus of intense speculation this weekend amid claims that Israel believed it had destroyed a cache of nuclear materials from North Korea.

The Israeli government was not saying. "The security sources and IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] soldiers are demonstrating unusual courage," said Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. "We naturally cannot always show the public our cards."

The Syrians were also keeping mum. "I cannot reveal the details," said Farouk al-Sharaa, the vice-president. "All I can say is the military and political echelon is looking into a series of responses as we speak. Results are forthcoming." The official story that the target comprised weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite group, appeared to be crumbling in the face of widespread scepticism.

Andrew Semmel, a senior US State Department official, said Syria might have obtained nuclear equipment from "secret suppliers", and added that there were a "number of foreign technicians" in the country.

Asked if they could be North Korean, he replied: "There are North Korean people there. There's no question about that." He said a network run by AQ Khan, the disgraced creator of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, could be involved.

But why would nuclear material be in Syria? Known to have chemical weapons, was it seeking to bolster its arsenal with something even more deadly?

Alternatively, could it be hiding equipment for North Korea, enabling Kim Jong-il to pretend to be giving up his nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid? Or was the material bound for Iran, as some authorities in America suggest?

The first question in that final paragraph is chilling, and certainly throws the ongoing nuke talks with North Korea into a new light. (Well, maybe not so new for those who follow such things closely.) I do wonder, though, how concerned North Korea might be about this. NK is already suspected of a whole spectrum of illegal activities, the goal of which is the undermining of US interests, and if they've already received payment for whatever they purportedy shipped, they might not care about the eventual fate of their products. I say this because I think the regime is narrowly focused on the question of its own survival, and whatever game it's playing with the rest of the world is ultimately only about that.

The second article of note offers a glimpse into the contrast between French coziness and German stiffness: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has apparently had enough of Nicolas Sarkozy's kissing, hugging, and other public displays of affection. The article's writer does the unthinkable and draws a relationship between Sarkozy's mannerisms and his diminutive stature (you'll recall from the articles I had translated that Sarko is extremely sensitive to remarks about his height), and he doesn't stop there:

When you receive the Sarko treatment, you sense the desire to dominate as well as the friendliness. I experienced it backstage in a TV studio after interviewing him in May. The slight menace and Sarko's small stature inevitably bring Hollywood gangsters to mind. With women, there is a patronising side.

Merkel feels that Sarkozy has been pushing her around since he won the presidency in May and began trying to impose himself as boss of Europe. She has now had enough of his Tigger-like antics and her people are making it known that she resents the excessive greetings.

Le Parisien newspaper relayed the complaint today: "Angela Merkel, who is very reserved, does not greatly value the outpouring of affection from her French opposite number -- his way of kissing her on every meeting and touching her and handling her shoulders in front of the cameras."

The Germans might normally accept the Sarko style as Gallic warmth, but they see it as part of a power game in which the French president is breaking the rules of the Franco-German relationship. These require Paris and Berlin to treat one-another as equal senior partners, the "motor" of the European Union, even if their interests have diverged since the end of the Cold War.

In the past few months Sarko has, in German eyes, committed the following offences. He grabbed the limelight during Germany's six-month presidency of the EU last June and claimed as a personal triumph an agreement on a new constitutional treaty. He flouted the rules of the EU single currency by raising the national debt with tax breaks. He foisted a French candidate on Europe as next boss of the International Monetary fund. He brokered the release of foreign medical workers from Libya after all the groundwork had been done by the European Union. He imposed his French priorities in the revamp of the management structure of EADS, the Franco-German parent of the Airbus company. He is indulging in protectionism by creating French industrial champions, such as the energy giant born with the merger between Suez and Gaz de France. On Monday, Sarkozy instructed Merkel to drop German hostility to nuclear energy. The list goes on.

Poor Merkel. She was offended when George Bush came up behind her and massaged her shoulders at a G-8 summit in late July of 2006 (the hilarious music video version of this brief encounter is here), and now she's got Sarkozy groping her, too.

Question: do leaders like Bush and Sarkozy try these stunts with female leaders from non-Western countries? I'm morbidly curious. I think we need to elect a president who goes straight for the crotch when meeting women, just to see how the women fight back.

Oh, wait-- we had that president already. Heh.


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