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French press review 5 March 2012

Cabbage, China and and polar bears in the French papers today...a fascinating read. 

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While the world watches events in Moscow, or Damascus, or Dakar, the future of world peace is perhaps going to be decided later this Monday in Washington when Barack Obama meets the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

The purpose of the meeting is to try and find a common policy on the question of Iran's nuclear programme. Both Washington and Tel Aviv want to prevent Teheran joining the list of nuclear armed nations, but are divided on the best means of prevention.

According to Le Monde, Obama wants to wait and see what impact the latest round of western sanctions will have; Netanyahu has to worry about the opinions of electors who live within range of Iran's Shahab 3 missiles.

The Jewish state will want a promise of muscular military aid from the Americans, especially since only the US air force has the bunker busters necessary to destroy some of the key parts of the Iranian nuclear chain.

Barack Obama has an election to win this year. He won't want to antagonise the American Jewish vote. Neither will he want to plunge his nation into another war like Iraq or Afghanistan.

And then there's the probable impact on the world price of crude oil of upsetting Mad Ahmed and the beardy boys in Teheran.

Expect a final statement of agreement between the two leaders, with smiles and handshakes at the end of it all. But the divisions are likely to remain just as wide as before the meeting.

And Netanyahu is likely to insist on his right to take military action whenever the time seems right, without having to ask Washington's permission. But that will necessarily drag the US in behind him, whether Barack Obama likes it or not.

Who's who in 2012 Senegalese presidential election

Click to see the profiles

Le Monde's front-page editorial is headlined "Senegalese democracy heading in the right direction". The paper salutes all parties for the calm and efficient way in which the first round of the presidential election was run.

Le Monde quotes the incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, as saying that the election has proved that Senegal is a serious, adult, peaceful, democratic state.

Wade didn't mention the riots on the streets of Dakar and elsewhere, or the deaths of at least six of those protesting against the fact that Wade, despite his advanced age and two previous mandates, still wants to be president.
And would like to adjust the constitution, again, to make sure that his son, Karim, takes over when he is carried out of the presidential palace, feet first.

Le Monde goes on to warn that the second-placed run-off contender, Macky Sall, is well placed to win this month's second round, because he's managed to regroup the majority of the anti-Wade vote.

And that's going to be the real test of Senegalese democracy. Let's hope Wade remembers his vision of Senegal as a serious, adult, peaceful and democratic state.

Quote of the week goes to Dominique de Villepin, former French Prime Minister, currently a distant candidate in the presidential battle. Asked if he was serious about continuing his campaign right up to the first round, he said, and I assure you I'm not making this up: "I did not put on my cabbage knickers in order to have the arse eaten off me by a bunch of little rabbits."

Villepin is currently credited with around 2% of first-round voting intentions, which suggests that the rabbits are already well into his highly original underwear.

The rest of the front pages are a mix of Putin's change of hats in Moscow, a surge in technology share prices on the New York stock exchange, and the flight of the rich from France to the tax-havens of Switzerland and Belgium.

This last has been accelerated by Socialist presidential contender, François Hollande's, suggestion of a 75% tax rate for those earning more than one million euros per year.

On inside pages, the weekend edition of Le Monde looks at Chinese ambitions inside the Arctic Circle.

Who cares, you might be inclined to say. An inhospitable place, home to a few scruffy polar bears, the penguins they have for lunch, and lots of snow and ice - the Chinese are welcome to it.

You'd be wrong.

According to the American Geological Institute, nearly one quarter of the world's remaining crude oil and natural gas lies under all that snow, ice and penguin crap. There's copper and gold under there too. To say nothing of billions of tons of frozen fish.

Perhaps even more importantly for the Chinese, currently responsible for more than 45% of global maritime transport, the distance from Shanghai to Rotterdam is nearly cut in half if you slip through the famous North-East Passage between Alaska and Siberia, thus avoiding the Panama Canal.

Global warming means that the ice-bound Arctic Ocean could soon be open to commercial shipping for much longer periods each summer, turning the realm of the polar bear into a major strategic concern.

A Chinese military analyst is quoted in Le Monde to the effect that "the struggle for control of the Arctic is the sole remaining issue of planetary rivalry," and the same dude goes on to say that an armed conflict in not impossible.

Chinese companies are currently negotiating with the authorities in Greenland to secure mining and exploration rights. On the diplomatic front, Beijing is waiting to be told if its second application to become a permanent observer at the Arctic Council will be more successful than that rejected in 2009. A rejection described as "dangerously stupid" by one commentator.

Because, whether we like it or not, the Chinese are currently the only players with the cash necessary to finance the infrastructural and other developments required to open the Arctic Circle to exploitation.

Those polar bears better start learning Chinese, like all the rest of us.

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