Monday, July 26, 2004

Keeping Your Rep

Nations like individuals have a reputations which their rivals and opponents study to determine just how far they can be pushed. Readers will recall that Jacques Chirac demanded an explanation of Ariel Sharon's exhoration for Jews to leave France. The New York Times reported on July 19th:

When Israel's prime minister urged the Jews of France on Sunday to flee immediately to Israel to escape anti-Semitism at home, the reaction was swift, angry and unified. French officials, lawmakers, commentators and Jewish leaders all told Mr. Sharon that he was out of line. The office of President Jacques Chirac issued a statement on Monday saying Mr. Sharon would not be welcome in France until he explained himself. "France has asked for an explanation following Mr. Sharon's declaration," the statement from Élysée Palace said. The government, it said, "has let it be known that from today an eventual visit by the Israeli prime minister to Paris, for which no date had been set, would not be considered until such an explanation is forthcoming."

Sharon of course, refused to deliver any such explanation while France waited, and waited and waited ... and then France declared the crisis over. Finished, forgotten. According to the Jerusalem Post, Sharon is welcome in Paris like a long-lost brother.

French President Jacques Chirac has ended the row between Paris and Jerusalem over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's call for French Jews to flee the wave of "wild anti-Semitism" in France and immigrate to Israel. Chirac sent a message to President Moshe Katsav via a senior government minister to tell him that the crisis is over. ...  However, beyond the media hoopla that ensued was a close relationship that developed between Katsav and Chirac during Katsav's state visit to France last February. ... Aware that Katsav had on numerous occasions during that visit and afterwards expressed his admiration for the efforts that Chirac is making to eradicate anti-Semitism in France, Chirac wanted to assure him that the excitement caused by Sharon's call for instant immigration did not have a long shelf life.

What a surprise. Ariel Sharon knew perfectly well that if Jacques Chirac lacked the stomach to face a relative handful of Islamic bandidos he would be thoroughly terrified to confront a technologically advanced state like Israel. France might bluff and bluster; but ultimately it would fold, and knowing this, Sharon simply bullied Chirac into submission. Once countries get a reputation for being thoroughly toothless people stop paying attention to their threats.

The Iranian refusal to convict the killers of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi by state agents similarly illustrates the Mullah's contempt for Ottawa, despite its bowing and scraping. Kazemi's indignant son complained that Canada was being pushed around.

"It's fair to say that Canada has failed to send a clear message to Iran that there will be consequences of their action," Stephan Hachemi, 26, said from Montreal on Sunday. "I don't see any reason why they shouldn't expel the Iranian ambassador from Canada," he said.

But the word "consequences" has long been expunged from the Canadian foreign policy dictionary. And Ottawa of course, lost no time deciding to let itself be pushed around and have its nose ground in the dirt. "The Canadian government is disturbed but has not yet chosen a course of action after an Iranian accused of killing a Canadian photographer was acquitted, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said on Sunday." Compare this with Australian Prime Minister John Howard's virtual promise that the Bali bombers, whose convictions were set aside on a technicality by the Indonesian Supreme Court, would be punished.

Prime Minister John Howard promised his government would do all it could to ensure the Bali bombers were punished despite a successful appeal against one of their convictions. Indonesia's constitutional court upheld an appeal which could throw all trials of convicted Bali bombers into doubt. In a majority 5-4 decision, the court ruled retrospective anti-terrorism laws used to convict several of the bombers were "against the spirit" of Indonesia's constitution.

"Let me make it very clear that every effort is being made by this government, in co-operation with the authorities in Indonesia, to ensure that the overwhelming desire of the people of both our countries (is met) - and that is, that those responsible for these horrible deeds are appropriately punished according to the full vigour of Indonesian law," he said.

There is no reason for Indonesia to doubt that Howard will use every instrument in Austrlia's power, including its military forces, to make sure this happens. Australia is not France and everybody knows it.


Canada has outlined the steps it will take to obtain justice for a photographer who was tortured and beaten to death in Iran.

The acquittal of an Iranian intelligence agent in the death of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi has done nothing to ensure that truth and justice prevail, says Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew. ... He also hinted at further legal or diplomatic steps to put pressure on Iran, saying the Canadian government is "reviewing its options." But he stopped short of announcing any concrete initiatives. ... Canadian officials said Sunday they had been unable to determine if the weekend verdict marks the end of judicial proceedings in Iran, or whether authorities there may continue investigating other suspects.

John Terry, a Toronto lawyer who represents Hashemi, said the verdict may be appealed through the Iranian courts, but he holds little hope of success there. He has been pressing Ottawa to take the case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Sympathies should go out to the Kazemis, whose mother was murdered in the course of covering a story in Iran. She had been arrested for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests against the government. "Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi died of a stroke, but a presidential committee later found that she died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage from a blow to the head." If Ottawa's strongest remaining action is to go before the International Court of Justice at The Hague it will have tacitly admitted that the problem lies beyond its unilateral capacity to solve without answering the key question of how the Court will enforce its decision, assuming it rules in Canada's favor. At best, a favorable ruling will provide a political basis around which to organize an international regime of sanctions or punishments on Teheran.