Criticized by some in recent weeks, including his predecessor, for foot-dragging on Syria, French President Francois Hollande suggested one way to raise the diplomatic stakes today:
"France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government - inclusive and representative - that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria," Hollande said in a speech to France's corps of ambassadors.
"We are including our Arab partners to accelerate this step," he said at the presidential palace, without elaborating. "France will recognize the provisional government of Syria once it is formed."
France, along with Italy and Qatar, was one of the first countries to recognize the Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of LIbya last year. This may turn out to be harder in the case of Syria, where the opposition leadership seems more divided.
The U.S. government says Hollande's comments don't represent an international position and that the United States will not be making a similar declaration any time soon. Last summer, I wrote that the U.S. government probably wouldn't recognize the Libyan rebels while Muammar al-Qaddafi was still in power as it traditionally avoids wading into recognition battles when the situation on the ground isn't settled and there's no international consensus on legitimacy. That turned out to be completely wrong.