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Sarko’s diplomatic roadshow comes to Gaza

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is hitting all the Middle East power centers in a two-day tour of the region. First, he held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at Sharm el-Sheikh. Then it’s off to Ramallah to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, before landing in Jerusalem in time for dinner with Israeli Prime Minister ...

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy is hitting all the Middle East power centers in a two-day tour of the region. First, he held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at Sharm el-Sheikh. Then it’s off to Ramallah to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, before landing in Jerusalem in time for dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. On day two, Sarkozy jets off to Lebanon and Syria.

The French president has tasked himself with the modest goal of negotiating an immediate ceasefire to the carnage in Gaza. Even if he fails to score a diplomatic victory, his whirlwind tour will no doubt represent a triumph of travel booking.

Sarkozy’s extremely personal brand of diplomacy has taken him to over 40 countries in the first year and a half of his Presidency. His hyperactive travel schedule has spawned a long list of diplomatic initiatives: he went to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, and attempted to enlist the Syrian president in joining his Union of the Mediterranean. He traveled to Moscow and Tblisi during the Russian invasion of Georgia, attempting to arrange a ceasefire.

He visited Abu Dhabi to sign a deal establishing a French naval base in the emirate, making it the only Western power other than the United States to have a permanent military installation in the Gulf. He paired with Gordon Brown to launch an initiative aimed at ending the genocide in Darfur, caused a diplomatic row with its traditional ally Morocco by first visiting its regional rival Algeria, and enraged many Africans by highlighting the positive aspects of European colonialism during a speech in Senegal.

All this travel has caused France’s 2009 travel and entertainment budget for Sarkozy to balloon 29% over the previous year, to $55 million. The French taxpayers are getting precious few diplomatic victories for their money, but many headlines. And that seems to suit them just fine. Sarkozy’s trips have raised France’s international profile, much to the pleasure of many French voters. Whether the people of Gaza will reap any of the benefits of Sarkozy’s diplomacy, however, remains to be seen.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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