Did Obama push Sarkozy into Russian arms?

The Times's France-blogger Charles Bremner speculates about the motivations behind France's recent overtures to Russia, which include an elaborate state visit to Paris by President Dmitry Medvedev, a gas deal between GazProm and France's GDF Suez, and the planned sale of four Mistral warships to Russia:

Sarkozy's calculations are simple, they make sense for France and they are being welcomed by both left and right. Sarkozy's overtures to Barack Obama  have failed. The American leader looks down on him -- though he has finally invited him for his first White House visit later this month. Sarkozy received nothing from the Americans for resuming full Nato membership. Germany has so far beaten France hands down in reaping benefit from trade with Russia. So France is reverting to the old Russia card that was first played by President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s.

A longtime Sarko-watcher, Bremner also suspects the president finds Medvedev easier to deal with than the pricklier Vladimir Putin. 

For a very different take on the Mistral sale, see Georgian National Security Advisor Eka Tkeshelashvili's inverview with FP from last week. 

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images


Seven arrested in Italian-Iranian smuggling sting

Though Iranian-Italian relations don't often make the headlines, trade between the two countries is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $9 billion. That makes Italy Iran's largest trading partner in the EU.

But perhaps the $9 billion figure should be revised upwards in light of some of the most recent news to come out of Rome: on Tuesday, March 2, Italian police arrested seven people -- five Italians and two Iranians -- on suspicion of engaging in illegal arms trafficking to the Islamic Republic. After making the arrests, police seized a variety of equipment, including rifle scopes, military scuba-diving jackets, flak jackets, mobile phones, and life vests.

While few details have been made publicly available, what has been released makes "Operation Sniper," the code name for the police investigation that ultimately led to the seven arrests, sound like something out of one of the Bourne movies.  

According to Italian police, the dealers began their smuggling operation in 2007. After buying arms in Europe, the dealers would then launder the arms by transporting them to the U.K., Romania, and Switzerland before selling them to clients in Iran. Although Italian authorities haven't released any information regarding the identity of these clients, some have speculated that based on the nature of the equipment that was seized, the intended recipients were probably members of the Iranian secret service.     

Though the smuggling operation was initially a success, it hit a snag in Romania when a customs official seized 200 gun sights that were illegally headed from Italy to Iran. Details remain sketchy, but this seizure appears to have tipped off police in other countries, as related arrests and seizures were soon made in Switzerland and Brtain. Thanks to the information gathered from these maneuvers, Italian police were able to successfully identify the smugglers in Italy and arrange a sting operation against them.