The French fox that ate the grapes

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images France’s chattering classes are agog at l’audace of Nicolas Sarkozy, who sent his wife Cécilia to Libya earlier this week. Cécilia flew to Tripoli to secure the dramatic release of five Bulgarian nurses in a deal that, in truth, had already been all but inked by more publicity-shy EU and Bulgarian negotiators. ...

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600342_070726_libya_0_05.jpg

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

France's chattering classes are agog at l'audace of Nicolas Sarkozy, who sent his wife Cécilia to Libya earlier this week. Cécilia flew to Tripoli to secure the dramatic release of five Bulgarian nurses in a deal that, in truth, had already been all but inked by more publicity-shy EU and Bulgarian negotiators. Back in 2006, the Bulgarians, the Libyans, and the European Union set up a fund for over 400 Libyan kids who had been infected with HIV. That was the vehicle through which this deal eventually worked, but Cécilia is getting most of the credit for her last-minute involvement. Miffed EU officials have, understandably, grumbled to the press about how the Sarkozys are stealing their diplomatic triumph.

But the French are actually getting away with more than mere publicity here. French companies are wasting no time cutting deals with the Libyans in the defense, oil, gas, and civilian nuclear sectors, with more likely on the way.

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

France’s chattering classes are agog at l’audace of Nicolas Sarkozy, who sent his wife Cécilia to Libya earlier this week. Cécilia flew to Tripoli to secure the dramatic release of five Bulgarian nurses in a deal that, in truth, had already been all but inked by more publicity-shy EU and Bulgarian negotiators. Back in 2006, the Bulgarians, the Libyans, and the European Union set up a fund for over 400 Libyan kids who had been infected with HIV. That was the vehicle through which this deal eventually worked, but Cécilia is getting most of the credit for her last-minute involvement. Miffed EU officials have, understandably, grumbled to the press about how the Sarkozys are stealing their diplomatic triumph.

But the French are actually getting away with more than mere publicity here. French companies are wasting no time cutting deals with the Libyans in the defense, oil, gas, and civilian nuclear sectors, with more likely on the way.

So what does Libya get? The nurses’ harrowing tales of their internment certainly give Libyan jails a black eye, but the regime is getting the international recognition and investment it has long craved. No domestic reform necessary. Thus, the real long-term winner of Libya’s euros-for-hostages deal may be not Sarkozy, but Seif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, the Western-educated son of the Libyan leader who was heavily involved in the negotiations over the Bulgarian nurses. You can bet that Seif is going to take his share of the proceeds, and that Libya’s heir apparent has advanced his claim to the throne with this coup.

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