France’s government distanced itself from right-wing MP Jean-Frederic Poisson’s visit to Syria on Sunday, where he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, President of the People's Assembly Jihad al-Lahham and a number of religious officials.
In a statement released yesterday, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Poisson is "just like other parliamentarians who visited Syria before him, does not carry any authorization from the French authorities, and was not carrying any official letters".
The ministry was referring to the visit of four French parliamentarians to Damascus five months ago, in a visit that provoked a hot reaction from President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls and France’s Socialist Party.
Surprisingly, Poisson's visit was met with a moderate response from the Foreign Ministry, with some observers speculating the silence is likely an attempt to avoid publicizing the MP's visit.
The recent visits raise serious questions about France’s policy towards the Syrian file, as Poisson’s observations reflect a serious lack of consensus in French policy-making circles.
According to Poisson, President Assad "cannot be neglected", as politically isolating the Syrian president would be a "big mistake" on behalf of Europe and America, stating the issue is "not whether the US and Europe support him or not, but a dialogue with Assad is essential in order to defeat the barbarism of ISIS".
The French MP avoided any mention of the crimes committed by the regime against civilians, including the use of explosive barrels, the deaths of 220,000 people and the displacement of half of Syria's population, claiming he is "not the International Criminal Court".
For over a year, there have been calls in Paris to open a dialogue with the Assad regime, with the vast majority of these calls emanating from the right-wing camp, including former intelligence officials. Official French policy, as expressed by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, refuses to choose between the Assad regime and ISIS, and calls to support a "third option" based on the principles of the Geneva statement.
Paris openly supports the opposition Syrian National Coalition, headed by Khaled Khoja, militarily and politically, but France’s government wants the Coalition to expand the opposition base through inclusion towards other political entities, including the Coordination Commission.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer