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French press review 13 April 2018


Russia strengthens its position in Syria, Washington ponders, the world waits. French President Emmanuel Macron says he's not for turning.

The top story in Le Monde looks at the defeat, after a five-year battle, of the Syrian rebel forces in Eastern Ghouta. The centrist paper reports that Russian military police are now in control of the region's main city, Douma.

This victory, says Le Monde, achieved at the end of eight weeks of brutal clashes and at the cost of at least 1,600 civilian lives, has strengthened the position of Russia, chief supporter of the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad.

But it has also driven up the level of tension between Moscow and Washington, with the United States still to decide on an appropriate response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by government forces earlier this month in the battle for control of Douma.

Following a series of outraged tweets by US President Donald Trump, threatening to attack targets in Syria, a Kremlin spokesman said that Russia "does not participate in tweeto-diplomacy.

"We," he said, "are in favour of a serious approach."

The presidential outburst appears to have surprised even his own military chiefs in the Pentagon. Questions from journalists were referred back to the White House, with the assurance that all options were still being considered and that no final decision had yet been made.

Cold war heats up dramatically

The same story dominates the front page of right-wing paper Le Figaro. The main headline there asks if the Syrian tension between the American and Russian rivals will continue to mount, or if this latest crisis will prove to be the tipping point in a long war of words.

Le Figaro's analysis of the current stand-off goes back to October 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis, suggesting that relations between Washington and Moscow have returned to that low level, which almost led to nuclear conflict.

For the moment, all is speculation.

What would happen if Russia stood by its engagement to destroy any US aircraft or vessel-launching missiles at Syrian targets?

What if US strikes were to kill Russian military personnel in Syria?

The fact is, says Le Figaro, that Western influence in Syria has waned since former US president Barack Obama failed to live up to his red-line rhetoric after the chemical attack against civilians in 2013.

Now the crisis is being managed by Iran, Russia and Turkey, with Vladimir Putin using the Syrian conflict to reestablish the Kremlim as a credible strategic force on a global scale.

But the unpredictability of Donald Trump, the conflicting aims of Iran and Turkey, and the proven capacity of Israel to profit from regional confusion to "resolve" the military threat posed by Iran make any analysis of what might happen next extremely difficult.

The president is not for turning

Left-leaning Libération goes local for its main story, with a picture of French leader Emmanuel Macron and a headline reading "The president who says no, no, no, no, no . . ."

That's a reference to the presidential determination, hammered home yesterday on national television, that Macron will make no concessions to the rail workers, students, motorists, pensioners, ecology activists and others who don't like the way he's running the shop.

He's not for making any concessions.

The president believes the reduction of wealth tax was justified, that the rail reform will be carried out despite strikes, that extra expenses for pensioners are legitimate, that the 80km per hour speed limit will make national roads safer, that students should stop protesting about the university selection system and prepare for their exams.

Libé is grudgingly forced to admire the man for his chameleon ability to confront the intellectuals with intellect, the Catholics with catechism, talk style with the stylists, and get down to the level of the ordinary voter when the need arises.

The message is simple: he's going to see it through. And this smiling Napoleon may even succeed, admits Libé. Unless his determination goes down in the humiliating blaze of defeat. Remember Waterloo!