Cablegate: Former Pm Jospin Deflects Speculation About

Published: Tue 8 Nov 2005 01:01 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 007626
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/07/2015
Classified By: Ambassador Craig Stapleton for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Over lunch with Ambassador Stapleton on November 2,
former prime minister Lionel Jospin said that desire for
change, along with widespread disappointment with the record
of President Chirac and the center-right, "puts things in
place" for a center-left victory in 2007. However, he also
cautioned that disarray in both the center-left and
center-right could lead to a 2007 presidential election "like
the one in 2002" that would offer the people "no real choice"
in the second round. He stressed that, for the institutional
system of the Fifth Republic to work as intended, the
Presidential election has to provide a mandate to govern,
resulting from a choice between two credible second-round
candidates. Pressed as to his own widely rumored return to
politics to unify the contentiously divided PS, Jospin stuck
to his script of insisting that he was retired and that, if
he entered the nomination race at this time, he would only
"add to the party's division problems." Jospin's energy and
his evident relish in commenting on a range of domestic and
international political issues belied both his age (68) and
his self-deprecating dismissals of himself as "too old" and
"a man of the past." END SUMMARY.
2. (C) Jospin argued that the deep divisions that are
clouding the future of France's Socialist Party (PS) result
from both the May 2005 referendum (when the party's
electorate largely did not follow their leadership's call to
vote for the EU constitutional treaty) and the April 2002
Presidential election (when the PS, led by Jospin, failed to
make it to the second round). Jospin insisted that the
center-left voters' 'no' vote May 29 "was not a vote against
the constitution," but "a vote against the government." Had
the 2002 Presidential election not deprived voters "of a real
choice between left and right" in the second and decisive
round, the Constitutional referendum might not have become
such a lightening rod for frustration across the electorate,
particularly on the left. Jospin stressed the importance,
for the sound functioning of the institutions of the Fifth
Republic, that a presidential contest in France end with a
clear mandate for a program and a candidate. A "non-contest"
like the 2002 second round run-off between incumbent
president Chirac and right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen
deprived the people of the opportunity to choose between the
records and policy projects of the center-right and the
center-left. "Chirac didn't even bother to take the election
seriously," Jospin said, "because he knew he would win."
3. (C) "If we put forward a solid program" that speaks to
French voters' concerns, then, Jospin said, "we can win" in
2007. COMMENT: By "we," Jospin meant "the governmental
left" -- the social democratic center of the Socialist Party
(PS) that has (1981 - 86, 1988 - 93, and 1997 - 2002)
controlled a majority in the National Assembly and run the
government. Like many in the center of the left, Jospin
believes that President Chirac's dismal record, the
relatively good record associated with Jospin's tenure as
prime minister (1997 - 2002) and the natural tendency in
democracies to alternate centrist parties in power puts
victory in 2007 well within reach of a moderate, credible
Socialist Party candidate. END COMMENT.
4. (C) Pressed as to who that PS candidate might be, Jospin
resolutely struck to his script of insisting the party had
first "to decide on a program" (at the upcoming party
congress in mid-November), and then move on to "rallying
behind whichever candidate emerges as the party
standard-bearer." Jospin drew a (questionable) parallel with
his own, "unexpected" emergence as leader of party and
spokesperson for its platform. (Note: In 1991, after
President Mitterand had hounded his prime minister -- and
long-time rival for leadership of PS -- Michel Rocard out of
office, Jospin, a Mitterrand protege, succeeded Rocard. End
note.) Jospin said he envisioned the adoption of a party
platform prompting the "natural emergence" of a spokesperson
for it -- the PS's candidate for 2007.
5. Jospin refused to comment on who he thought would
eventually emerge as the Socialists' candidate for the
Presidency in 2007, although he appeared to exclude Laurent
Fabius. Prompted to comment on his own ambitious, he was
consistent throughout the meeting -- as he has been in public
-- in refusing to rule himself definitively either in or out
of the race. On the one hand, he insisted on several
occasions that it was time to pass the baton to the next
generation and that he was not actively campaigning. On the
other hand, his continued references to his recently
published book and his insistence that the party needed to
define its program before it chooses its standard-bearer
suggested that he might still view himself as a potential
6. (C) Jospin went to great lengths to affirm his admiration
for the U.S. and his conviction that shared, core values
unite the U.S. and France (and Europe) despite deep divisions
over Iraq and the role of multilateral institutions. Jospin
was skeptical that democratic self-government can be created
in a society unadapted to it, while acknowledging that U.S.
withdrawal from Iraq would only lead to chaos. Jospin also
lamented what he called the U.S.'s "turning away" from its
historical nurturing and legitimization of multilateral
institutions, such as the UN. Notwithstanding these
differences, Jospin insisted that part of being allies and
friends was the freedom to disagree about important matters
and say so. While he agreed with French policy on Iraq, he
had strongly disapproved of President Chirac's decision to
brandish publicly the threat of a French veto. Jospin also
commented that multilateral agreements (for example, on
Climate Change, Landmines, and an International Criminal
Court) that may seem unworkable to the U.S. nevertheless have
great "symbolic importance," and that the U.S. underestimates
the damage done to its international standing in opposing
7. (C) Jospin said Iran's aggressive rhetoric contradicted
its stated desire to play a more constructive role in the
international community. Iran's ambitions as a regional
power -- indeed, as a new rallying point for Islamic
civilization -- Jospin implied, contradicted its claim to
want nuclear energy purely for peaceful purposes. He
nevertheless added that it "remained to be seen" what Iran's
real intentions were, but then wondered whether recent
statements by Iranian President Ahminejihad calling for
Israel's destruction constituted a "turning point" beyond
which there is no return.
8. (C) Jospin's remarkable energy and voluble,
forward-looking engagement across a range of issues belied
both his age (68) and his self-deprecating insistence that he
was retired and without specific plans for the future. While
it is tempting to take his protestations at face value, there
is also room for skepticism. Many experienced observers, in
the press and in the political class, would argue that Jospin
may well end in the right place at the right time as the
presidential candidate judged most capable of leading the PS
and uniting the center-left electorate in 2007. Jospin's
just published book -- a crisp and comprehensive, if often
commonplace, overview of the situation facing France and what
to do about it -- lends credence to the view that, even if he
is not actively plotting his return to power, he is carefully
avoiding closing the door on a possible return. The success
of such a strategy -- to win the PS nomination by not running
for it -- depends on his concealing his goal until it's
clearly inevitable. Whether or not it will become inevitable
-- that the party concludes it has no other winner in 2007
except him -- remains to be seen.
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