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Morocco as France's "Mistress" Now Ascribed to Araud, Suit Threatened

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 27 -- Two days ago we asked, when a French Ambassador in the United States is quoted calling Morocco France's "mistress" in the context of Western Sahara, what happens?

   Since then, Spanish actor and activist Javier Bardem (and Le Monde) have clarified that the reference is to Gerard Araud, France's Ambassador to the UN. And Araud, as he has at least one before at the UN, has threatened to sue. Here for the record is that.

  Readers may remember that French president Francois Hollande only recently said he would not sue a publication, since he himself is immune from litigation. Araud apparently doesn't see or take seriously that double standard. (There's talk of even Hollande calling not only Mohammed VI but also Araud, though since Araud won't answer questions this is not possible to confirm or deny.)

   L'affaire Araud had made it even into the press notes of MINURSO, one of the few UN Peacekeeping missions that does not have a human rights monitoring mandate.

  The head of UN Peacekeeping, of course, is Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row to hold the post. And lo and behold, on February 25 Ladsous appeared in the French media (via Maghreb Arab Press) praising Morocco for its peacekeepers -- trying to keep the peace, one wag remarked, if only for his own country.

  Araud's previous threat to sue was made in January at the Security Council stakeout, about an article his own Mission spokespeople had refused requests to comment on.

  The goal seems to be to discourage through litigation threats and retaliatory exclusion stories that are critical or comparative -- between a French diplomat now serving as consul in San Francisco to the Indian diplomat Khobragade, who cannot re-enter the US without being arrested.

  This type of intimidation and censorship is opposed, including by the new Free UN Coalition for Access, which also with regard to Western Sahara questioned the banning from the stakeout microphone of the Polisario Front, a party to a UN mediated process. If as the quote has it Morocco is France's mistress, what is Western Sahara? The word abuse comes to mind.

   Another play on words: while Araud threatens a legal suit, through intimidation and apathy recent coverage of Araud at the UN has focused on, what else, his suit, that is, his tailor. What about what the UN's Navi Pillay said on January 20, about French forces leaving Muslims at risk of attack in Central African Republic? More on that to follow.

   Initially all but one account said the ambassador in question was France's ambassador in Washington Francois Delattre; no less than Le Monde put the "mistress" words in the mouth of France's Ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud, click here for that.

 The Le Monde story was ironic, both because at the UN in September Laurent Fabius told a reporter who asked about French killing in Algeria that he would prefer to get a question from a "real" journalists, and because of Araud's recent statements on responsible and "micro-tabloid" journalism.

Meanwhile in Paris, Moroccan diplomat Abdellatif Hammouchi was served with legal papers relating to alleged torture in the Temara detention center. If that relationship seems to be unraveling, others ask: if Morocco is France's mistress, what are Mali and the Central African Republic, or even more attenuated, the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Morocco loudly criticized the group behind the torture legal papers, ACAT, and that they were served on the ambassador's residence. France seems to have a different approach to claiming immunity for its diplomats abroad, including in the United States, and others' diplomats in France. Click here for Araud on this.

  Even before this flap, there were reports from Washington of Delattre leaving, and renewed speculation about Araud joining another EU counterpart in a move (200 miles) south to DC. On Amtrak's Acela express train service, when working, it's fast.

  For Araud, it might be time: he seems to have caught the Herve Ladsous syndrome, of citing articles he doesn't like and refusing to answer critical questions. Will the Morocco as France's mistress quote speed the spinning of the wheel? Watch this site.


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