Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sarkozy’s Top Diplomat: Undiplomatic Opposite - New York Times 

Sarkozy’s Top Diplomat: Undiplomatic Opposite - New York Times

“To change the law, you sometimes have to break the law.”

Has Nicolas Sarkozy made a mistake with this choice of the brash, socialist Kouchner as Foreign Minister? Or will Sarkozy and his man work well together and forge a renewed friendship with the United States?

“An unguided missile,” is how Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former United Nations secretary general, once described him.

But Mr. Kouchner, who has served as France’s health minister and the United Nations’ administrator for Kosovo, has also been the country’s most popular politician on the left over the years.

Elegant, dapper, with movie-star looks despite his age, Mr. Kouchner is half of one of France’s leading power couples.

His longtime partner, Christine Ockrent, is probably France’s best-known female television journalist. They entertain regularly from their grand duplex apartment overlooking the Luxembourg Garden; they always get the best restaurant tables. They have been tarred by their critics with the label “gauche caviar,” Champagne-and-caviar socialism at its worst.

Mr. Kouchner intimately addresses women — and men — as “my dear.” His passion and confidence in speaking English help compensate for his charming but sometimes excruciating mistakes.

By naming him and three other leftists to his conservative government, Mr. Sarkozy fulfilled his promise that his tenure would be one of “openness,” while stripping the Socialist Party of one of its icons just weeks before French voters choose an entirely new Parliament. (Accepting the job of foreign minister got him drummed out of the Socialist Party on Friday.)

Mr. Sarkozy is also signaling that he is serious about putting both human rights and outreach to the United States at the core of his foreign policy. Mr. Kouchner is as close as a Frenchman comes to being pro-American.

EVEN Mr. Kouchner, a co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning relief organization Doctors Without Borders, appreciates the novelty of his appointment.

“This is a bit unusual,” he confessed Friday in his first remarks at the Foreign Ministry. He added that he “would not have done it” had he not felt the conviction “to serve our country.”


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