Heisbourg

Iran’s growing nuclear ambitions, the Israeli-Turkish incident, South Korea’s response to the sinking of its ship in the Yellow Sea and Obama’s posture on nuclear non-proliferation were just a few of the topics covered when one of France’s pre-eminent foreign-policy thinkers met with AAPA members at the home of member John Morris on June 9.

 Heisbourg, who was a guest of the Association on three previous occasions, described Iran’s current capability as a “reasonably developed industrial basis for weapons”, but said the Iranians were incapable of making significant “step changes” upward to the next level.

 He observed that several regional countries would follow Iran’s lead if it went nuclear; but Tehran might also mimic Israel’s stance of never officially admitting its nuclear capabilities.

 According to Heisbourg, the Eastern-Med Israeli-Turkish incident has critically harmed relations between the two countries, which Israel needed more than Turkey.  The relationship is “beyond retrieval,” he felt, adding that the Marmara boarding “casts doubt on the Israeli leadership’s ability to think clearly.”  And Turkey had been “Israel’s biggest foreign-policy catch in 20 years.”

 Meanwhile, the new Turkish foreign minister has managed to repair relations with virtually all its neighbors in just six months as part of a deliberate let’s-get-along policy that Ahmet Davutoglu has been implementing.  Heisbourg also hailed Turkey’s 2001 decision, taken in the midst of a monetary crisis, to become “a big economic player,” calling it a success.

 In good neighborliness, Russia may be taking a leaf from Turkey’s book, he said, pointing to resolution of the long-standing issue with Norway about the Barents Sea.  With Poland, Moscow had carefully remained quiet about the black boxes following the crash that had decapitated Warsaw’s cabinet. 

 Heisbourg replied stoically when asked his view on the situation in Afghanistan:  “Mountainous,” he observed.  He now tends to accept the assessment of U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal in terms of troop deployments and the withdrawal timetable.

 On the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, he stated, “I accept the dream” of the NPT and its Article 6, saying that “ultimately we have to go to a nuclear-free world.” The U.S.’s “reset” with Russia was “good news”, he felt, noting that with 90% of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the two powers, it was up to them to begin significant draw-downs.

 Heisbourg praised the way South Korea had handled the sinking of one of its naval vessels, taking the high road of an independent inquiry similar to what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had recommended for the Gaza relief-boat incident. 

 Heisbourg 006In other observations, he scoffed at the U.S.’s intelligence capabilities, pointing out that it was spending $30 billion a year on the effort:  “I have very little patience for American intelligence assessments,” he said.  His concluding remark was cautionary indeed:  “A multi-polar Middle East is,” he said, “a recipe for use of nuclear weapons.”

-By John Davidson


Noam Chomsky

MIT Prof. Emeritus Noam Chomsky told a standing room audience of some 50 Anglo-American Press Association members and guests Friday evening, May 28 that the Obama Administration's continuation of Bush Administration policies has been no surprise for him and that Europeans seem to like President Obama simply because he is more “polite” about pursuing the same basic policies.

 Chomsky 008Former AAPA President Rony Koven introduced Chomsky, at the home of member John Morris, as “America's chief gadfly.” Painting an often bleak picture with flashes of humor, Chomsky, 81, answered a wide range of political questions, touching on US handling of the economic crisis, immigration policy, Middle east policy, press freedom, and recent history back to  Vietnam.

 Chomsky, in Paris for a series of lectures on linguistics and politics, stressed the role of corporations in influencing everything from Obama policies to the media. He said he remains convinced of the thesis of his 1988 book on the media, “Manufacturing Consent,” that journalists are influenced by a "bought priesthood" of government and private interests. But he also said his views are more nuanced than often depicted and defended the reporting of working journalists on quality outlets like The New York Times as honest and professional, despite corporate oversight.

 Humanity's two main problems, he said, are nuclear proliferation and the environment, neither of which are being seriously addressed by Western governments. By depicting climate change as a lie, "Their [corporate] propaganda campaigns are working," he said.

 In the to-and-fro with members after his 90-minute presentation, he urged his friends to vote for Obama “while holding our noses." He said he understands that the Tea Party movement and right-wing talk radio hosts offer logical-sounding, if wrongheaded, answers to troubling questions the Democrats haven't dealt with effectively. The Tea Parties are quietly financed by corporate interests, he said.

 Traditional moderate Republicanism is “gone,” replaced by a centrist Democratic mainstream that has shifted rightward, he said. He repeatedly likened today's US to Germany's interwar Weimar Republic, toppled by Hitler in 1933, expressing worry that a skillful right-wing demagogue could take power.

 Europe, he said, is far more racist than America's "immigrant society," while recalling, for example, that in the 1950s, Harvard's limits on Jewish faculty explained how the MIT could become a great institution, thanks to willingness to hire people like Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson and himself.

 The Association's increasingly frequent format of such no-cost, informal interchanges with newsmakers, with drinks and snacks brought along by members, seems to be drawing growingly enthusiastic participation.

 -By Rony Koven


Harriet Welty Rocherfort

french-toastAfter more than ten years in hardcover, Member and former Officer Harriet Welty Rochefort's first book, "French Toast," (St. Martin's Press) is being published in a paperback edition with new introduction in June 2010. Meantime, she reports her son, David Rochefort, has written his first novel, "La Paresse et l'Oubli," which was published in January 2010 by Gallimard in the nrf collection.


Angel Gurria

Providing colorful, detailed and newsworthy responses to questions, Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the OECD, met once again with a dozen of us over breakfast at his Paris headquarters May 19, focusing mainly on the world economic crisis, and notably Europe.

 Gurria noted that, while China and the U.S. were experiencing recovery, China growing by 11%, the outlook for Europe was mediocre, marked by continuing high unemployment and government deficits, amid prospects for growing protectionism worldwide.

 Commenting on speculation that the euro might be abandoned by Greece and possibly other EU members, he praised the euro's role among EU members as "positive." But he warned that the euro zone still lacked effective mechanisms for surveillance and control over governmental behavior on economic and financial fronts, and credible capacity for anticipating future crises. New models for economic growth, notably for Greece, are also needed, he urged.

 Gurria also explained why and how membership of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development now stood at 34 governments; and that six were partners seeking full membership: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa.

 Providing insights to upcoming world economic meetings, including the next G20 summit in June, Gurria said that he would be raising these and other points at the upcoming meeting of the annual OECD forum and ministerial council meetings in Paris May 26-28. Details for those interested in attending are available at www.oecd.org/oecdweek

 Axel Krause


Finance Minister Makes News At The AAPA

L1000573Finance Minister Christine Lagarde made headlines when she talked to over two dozen AAPA members on April 13 in an annexe of the Finance Ministry. The timing was excellent, as Lagarde had spent the previous weekend on the phone with her euro-zone counterparts to hammer out details of a  recovery package to help Greece out of its debt crisis. Lagarde told us  the Greek plan could serve as a template should it ever become necessary to come to the aid of another euro-zone state.  She talked about her proposal to better regulate trading in exotic financial instruments that she said are causing volatility in commodities markets, and gave us the low-down on discussions among the Group of 20 countries on taxing banks.  

-By David Pearson


Florence Aubenas brings passion to prison reform

fa3It was one of those rare, friendly, informal meetings with a top French journalist: Florence Aubenas, the prize-winning war correspondent and former hostage in Iraq, whose best-selling book Quai de Ouistreham, recounts her six months living as a lower-class cleaning lady, notably on an English ferry boat.

A dozen members spent two hours with her at Member John Morris' Marais apartment March 15, talking about her book, the realities and risks of being a foreign correspondent, and what it's like being both a journalist at Nouvel Observateur and president of France's leading NGO promoting reform of the nation's prison system.

The French media largely ignore the day-to-day lives of those living in constant jobless precarity, she explained, which inspired the idea for the book.

Regarding the delicate issue of paying ransoms for hostages, and without providing details of her own release in 2005 after several months of captivity in Iraq, Aubenas said that France's policy is the opposite of U.S. policy and does in fact pursue negotiations.

The final phase of the evening, graced not only by John's hospitality but the beverages and snacks volunteered by those who attended, covered a wide range of questions related to the reform of French prisons and her ability to be a journalist and an advocate.

"My position at the OIP, the Paris-based International Observatory of Prisons, is not political,” she said, “and involves being devoted to improving human rights...a devotion I apply in journalism and in my writing."

---Axel Krause


Renault's P. Pelata talks to AAPA

Renault COO Patrick Pelata
Renault COO Patrick Pelata

Renault's Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata spilled a few beans and created news when he met with the AAPA over breakfast on Dec. 17 at the auto maker's headquarters. Pelata disclosed that Renault is talking to other companies including Germany's Daimler AG and some in China about possible collaboration in making key car components.. He explained how Renault is trying to emerge fit and healthy from the unprecedented crisis that hammered  the global automobile industry over the last 18 months. "We're trying to understand what went wrong, and to identify our weak spots," he said.

-David Pearson

AGM elects a dynamic new management team

Our Annual General Meeting, held Nov. 12 and once again hosted by Member John Morris Nov. 12, elected a new slate of officers and committee for 2009-2010.
Virginia Power was unanimously elected president, pledging to lead actively and creatively, following a successful tenure of the co-presidency of Georgina Oliver and Gregory Viscusi, who will remain as ex-officio members for the new term.

Eleanor Beardsley and Anne-Elisabeth Moutet were elected Vice-Presidents; John Davidson was re-elected Treasurer and yours truly Secretary General. John Keating was elected Syndic.

The incoming committee appointed by election is: Crispian Balmer, Charles Bremner, Mildrade Cherfils, William Diem, Steven Erlanger, Vaiju Naravane, Catherine Nolan and David Pearson. And, amid a round of applause, Maria Vincenza Aloisi was confirmed as our hard-working coordinator.

The Association’s finances “are in much better shape than they were a year earlier,” the Treasurer said in his report e-mailed to the membership. Our investment nest-egg remained intact, and expenses have been significantly reduced. The sound financial situation has enabled the committee to vote a budget for the professional design of a new Web site, which should be on-line by the end of the year.

We gained and lost members in roughly equal numbers during the 2008-2009 term, and our roster of active and associate members now stands at 127.

Introduced and welcomed were new members who briefly explained who they represented: Millie Cherfils, Global Post; William Martz, Paris Magazine; Francois Picard, France 24; Brent Gregston, Radio France International; Mary Papenfuss, Newser and Eleaine Cobbe, CBS News.

The outgoing committee organized 14 events over the past year, compared to 16 a year ago and 20 in the previous year. Costs to members were reduced significantly by, for example, preferring breakfast events to lunches, and by meeting our guests in locales such as embassies, ministries, the OECD, UNESCO and the CAPE, the foreign press center.

The incoming officers and committee members are gearing up for another active year of activities, with some events already in the pipeline, including a meeting with a top executive of Renault.

------- Axel Krause


Une Grande Dame De La Chanson Française

Committee Member Bill Diem Basks In The Starlight
Committee Member Bill Diem Basks In The Starlight
Eager to meet a 1940s existentialist icon turned grande dame of la chanson française up-close, a group of AAPA members gathered Oct. 28 in an ideal Left Bank setting: the plush red velvet-armchaired Empire-style bar of L'Hôtel on the rue des Beaux-Arts (where the Association celebrated its 100th anniversary in December 2007). Our guest? Juliette Gréco. About to embark on a tour of Japan, Gréco confirmed that she had been "living in the present for six decades." Topics of discussion ranged from memory lane descriptions of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and nods to absent friends – including Jean-Paul Sartre and Miles Davis – to the current controversy surrounding Roman Polanski. Paris arts correspondents will be keen to pitch festive stories focusing on her December 14 concert at the Versailles Opera.

--- Georgina Oliver


AAPA Members Meet New Head Of UNESCO

Credit photo: UNESCO/Michel Ravassard
Credit photo: UNESCO/Michel Ravassard

Some thirty members had a first-hand chance to probe Irina Bokova’s background, experience and plans for UNESCO following her successful election as Director General of the Paris-based agency, in a newsworthy, lively event on Oct. 7.

Our breakfast meeting with Bokova, still at that time Bulgaria's ambassador to France, took place at UNESCO headquarters, following a heated behind-the-scenes battle in which she narrowly defeated the controversial, Egyptian culture minister, Farouk Hosny.

Relaxed, forthcoming, and on-the-record, the 57-year-old diplomat told us about her background: how she had once wanted to be a foreign correspondent; why she supported and respected the role of her father, former editor of Bulgaria’s then-leading Communist Party newspaper, and who had proven a strong, anti-Nazi resistant leader during World War II; and how, over the years, as a trained diplomat, she came to actively support Bulgaria’s membership in the European Union and NATO.

Responding to many questions, Bokova outlined her plans for UNESCO as she prepared to take over from Japan’s Koichiro Matsura, who was our guest, nine years earlier. She pledged to address such key, global issues as climate change, gender roles, the financial crisis and said she plans to decentralize the organization with its 2,800 employees. Some thirty members had a first-hand chance to probe Irina Bokova’s background, experience and plans for UNESCO following her successful election as Director General of the Paris-based agency, in a newsworthy, lively event on Oct. 7.

Our breakfast meeting with Bokova, still at that time Bulgaria's ambassador to France, took place at UNESCO headquarters, following a heated behind-the-scenes battle in which she narrowly defeated the controversial, Egyptian culture minister, Farouk Hosny.

Relaxed, forthcoming, and on-the-record, the 57-year-old diplomat told us about her background: how she had once wanted to be a foreign correspondent; why she supported and respected the role of her father, former editor of Bulgaria’s then-leading Communist Party newspaper, and who had proven a strong, anti-Nazi resistant leader during World War II; and how, over the years, as a trained diplomat, she came to actively support Bulgaria’s membership in the European Union and NATO.

Responding to many questions, Bokova outlined her plans for UNESCO as she prepared to take over from Japan’s Koichiro Matsura, who was our guest, nine years earlier. She pledged to address such key, global issues as climate change, gender roles, the financial crisis and said she plans to decentralize the organization with its 2,800 employees.

---- Axel Krause