Syria’s ambassador to France, Lamia Shakkur, invited a TV crew to her office Wednesday morning to forthrightly deny she had resigned her post, after another French TV station broadcast a talk show last night in which a woman purporting to be Ms. Shakkur resigned on air.
The event remains a mystery that may now focus attention on possible dissent within the Syrian embassy in Paris. A producer for France 24, Renee Kaplan, went on the air today saying it booked the ambassador through all normal embassy channels.
The supposed resignation last night was then confirmed by Reuters in a phone call to the embassy, a Reuters official here told the Monitor, although initial reports said the information was retrieved via the embassy website.
Ms. Kaplan said the station contacted Ms. Shakkur via “a series of conversations and e-mails with the Syrian embassy,” to participate in an evening English-language program called “The Debate." A woman, believed to be Shakkur, then phoned the station, purportedly using a number she had been contacted on before. The woman then went on a French-language France 24 program to repeat her claim of resigning over the “cycle of violence” that has gripped the nation, resulting in the deaths of at least 1,100 protesters.
"I recognize the legitimacy of the people's demands for more democracy and freedom," the woman said in a slow and pained tone.
Syrian state TV immediately called the resignation a hoax as the story spread quickly in the late hours here.
The alleged departure also came a day after French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe in Washington gave a speech at the Brookings Institution arguing that the Syrian regime had lost its legitimacy in the wake of the deaths of protesters. Later he said it was inconceivable that there would be no UN vote against the regime’s behavior. France was also the first country to recognize a new government in Libya.
This morning, Shakkur invited BFM TV, a Paris station, to her embassy office and said she “condemned France 24 for its acts of disinformation” and said she planned to sue. She stood in front of a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and used strong and forthright language.
Shakkur has been ambassador to France since 2008, a post once held by her father. Immediate speculation centered on whether the France 24 caller was an impostor, or whether Shakkur had been threatened or changed her mind.
But images of her in her office this morning have doused much of the speculation and have centered questions on possible dissent within the embassy. The speaker with France 24 had a thicker French-Arab accent than Shakkur had this morning. For instance, the ambassador does not roll her r’s as did the voice on air last night.
Kaplan said the news station has invited Shakkur on air tonight. France 24 issued a statement saying it was possible the station had been manipulated and said it would sue those responsible if so.