Gaddafi's French Shopping Spree Has Critics Unhappy With Sarkozy

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 14, 2007

PARIS -- December, it seems, is a great time to shop in Paris.

Brother Leader Moammar Gaddafi, the newly redeemed leader of Libya, came to town this week loaded with petrodollars for a holiday shopping spree, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy was an eager merchant.

To give a more authentic Middle Eastern bazaar effect to the whole affair, Gaddafi set up a Bedouin tent in the gardens of the official guest residence, the 19th-century Hotel Marigny, next to the presidential Elysee Palace.

Human rights groups and politicians lit into Sarkozy, accusing him of selling French principles down the river and seeming to ignore Gaddafi's poor human rights record in exchange for $14.7 billion worth of deals. The contracts provide for Libya to buy 21 Airbus jetliners, at least one civilian nuclear reactor, more than a dozen Rafale fighter jets, 35 helicopters, armored vehicles, air defense radar gear and other useful items.

"Some say that Gaddafi's attitude in his country has not changed, that he does not respect human rights and still supports terrorism," said Khadija Mohsen-Finan, a North Africa specialist at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. Others, she said, accuse Sarkozy of being "a cynic with his realpolitik and his willingness to make money from Libya."

But Mohsen-Finan said that in her view, Gaddafi gave up "the core of his diplomacy" when he relinquished his weapons of mass destruction and renounced terrorism. And Sarkozy has put commercial interest at the top of his agenda, she added, after realizing that France was late to invest in Libya in comparison with Germany and Italy. "These two new types of diplomacy will redefine a new link between France and Libya," she said.

The French government said it was all business as usual. "Libya has become a client like any other," presidential spokesman David Martinon told LCI television.

Some analysts said that doing business with dictators was, in fact, business as usual for any French government.

Sarkozy has also been disparaged recently for signing $30 billion worth of deals on a trip to China while saying little about that country's human rights problems and for rushing to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin after his party's victory in a parliamentary election last week that many people in the West were calling undemocratic and unfair.

Sarkozy defended his outreach to Gaddafi, saying that the Libyan leader's decision in 2003 to halt his country's weapons programs and terrorist activity deserved to be rewarded, which could induce other rogue countries to follow suit.

"I am also here to fight at the side of French businesses and factories so that we have the contracts and orders that others were so happy to have in our stead," Sarkozy told reporters after his first meeting with Gaddafi on Monday. Besides, he had implored his guest to "make progress on the path of human rights," Sarkozy said.

Gaddafi begged to differ.

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