Inside File: French to twin up at Naples

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The Independent Online
PARTOUT, the problems of cohabitation. In a week's time, President Francois Mitterrand arrives in Naples for his last summit of the world's leading seven industrial democracies. With him, the ministers of the non-socialist government. In a normal world, France would be represented by president, foreign minister and in finance minister, and their respective sherpas; French prime ministers do not, in the main, deal with foreign policy.

But here is the oddity: the ususal foreign affairs sherpa from the Quai d'Orsay, Claude Martin - known to his European counterparts from their work at the European Union summit in Corfu last week - will not be going to Naples to do the groundwork on the foothills for Alain Juppe, the Foreign Minister. Instead, Edouard Balladur's man from the Matignon, Yves de Silguy, will be in attendance - even though no official decision has been made for the Prime Minister himself to go. His office yesterday pleaded uncertainty in the issue.

Does it matter to the outcome who goes to a G7? Hardly. Unlike European Union summits, where the conclusions drafted by the presidency are brutally shoved under the doors of the other 11 at dawn, the G7 declarations and communiques are cooked up six months in advance. Another difference for, say, Britain, is that a British Prime Minister knows that once he gets home he will have to win parliament's approval of those EU conclusions shoved under the door.

Attendance at a G7 summit, on the other hand, is a question of publicity and showmanship. Last year, when embarrassment loomed over a Gatt world trade deal, Mr Balladur chose not to attend. This year, it seems almost certain he will - especially at a time when Messrs Juppe and Balladur are busy robbing Mr Mitterrand of his remaining foreign policy prerogatives ahead of the presidential election next spring.

It will also be Jacques Delors' last summit. The battle over his replacement is likely to be fought on the margins of Naples, with the Franco-German axis and the Anglo-Italian overture both in evidence. But, British diplomats insist, it cannot be resolved there, in the absence of other key players. One argued: 'What do you think Gonzalez would say?'

It may be Mr Mitterrand's last summit, but it is unlikely to be the final one for the other doyen of the Seven, Helmut Kohl, who is expected to win his election this autumn. How time flies. Few realise that were he to go, the new doyen would be none other than John Major.

A SAUDI diplomat has fled his post in Houston, Texas to seek asylum in London, regarded by many in the Arab world as the city of freedom. Ahmed al-Zahrani, a deputy consul, alleges he was followed and harassed by Riyadh's American allies for having written a book about 'Saudi politics', publication of which he claims was banned in the Kingdom.

He has enlisted a London lawyer specialising in asylum cases to lodge his application with the Home Office. His lawyers say that were the case to be weighed purely on its legal merits, it ought to be a shoo-in. They worry that Britain's dependency on its Saudi ally might allow politcs to skewer the consideration.

Not at all, say the Foreign Office. Only the strictest Home Office rules will apply. But, as one diplomat pointed out, it is always the problem when a foreign envoy defects on your doorstep. 'Except, of course, when it's an Iraqi. Then it's a triumph for British diplomacy.'

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