PARIS, MARCH 2 2010
The head of the Somali Maritime Government (SMG), Abdi Garad, was received at the Elysee Palace this morning by French President Nicholas Sarkozy in what was seen by many as the start of a new strategic relationship between France and the rapidly developing Indian Ocean power. According to Sarkozy, it is time to draw a line under the 'unfortunate incidents in our past' and to 'develop a strong commercial and political relationship between our two great peoples'. Garad concurred, commending Sarkozy for breaking free from the 'piracy' paradigm which had coloured relations between his government and the West for so long.
The centrepiece of the new relationship is 'exclusive negotiations' over the sale of four state-of-the-art Mistral class warships. The deal has raised eyebrows in other western capitals which still view the SMG with a great deal of suspicion. Prime Minister Fillon was quick to justify the sale however, mentioning that it will save thousands of jobs at the St. Nazaire shipyards, and that France will not be installing sensitive military equipment on the vessels (although it will supply the email addresses of people who can). Fillon also commented that the SMG needs to be engaged rather than confronted, and that the vessels would be used as hospital ships for civil defence purposes only.
Notably, the latter claim has never been confirmed by the SMG. Garad is on record as saying that the ships would be used for whatever purpose required, and a senior SMG commander is reputed to have said that, had the Mistrals been in place since summer 2008, the SMG would have been many more times as effective in its 'anti-smuggling' activities.
France is understood to be anxious to complete the deal by the end of April, so as to focus its attention on the proposed transfer of nuclear material to Iran and North Korea for medicinal research purposes.