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Iraq/Syria

Published on August 26, 2014
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to RMC/BFMTV (excerpts)
Paris, August 22, 2014

IRAQ/SYRIA/ISLAMIC STATE/US AIRSTRIKES

Q. – The Pentagon declared last night that the threat from Islamic State is well “beyond anything that we’ve seen”. Do you agree?

THE MINISTER – That’s right; it’s a point I myself made some time ago. Islamic State has considerable resources, including financial ones. The 11 September 2001 attacks in New York cost $1 million. Today it’s estimated that the terrorist group has several billion dollars. It’s unbelievably cruel, and its cruelty is a propaganda tool, in particular to terrorize the population and attract jihadists, including from Europe.

We have to be clear: its goal is not only to create a caliphate – i.e. to control Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine all at once – but also to kill, to eliminate all those who don’t think like it. It’s a threat to the whole region, to Europe and to the world. And it’s the reason why we’ve committed ourselves, of course.

Q. – I’ll come back to the issue of financing. It’s interesting, but I see that the Chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, also says that in order to defeat Islamic State it will be necessary to deal with it in Syria too. What does that mean? Does it mean the United States is preparing strikes against Islamic State in Syria?

THE MINISTER – I don’t know exactly. I’m due to talk to John Kerry about this subject and a few others, but we must clearly look at what the problem is, and Mr Dempsey has said what it is.

Islamic State – which separated from al-Qaeda, because it found al-Qaeda too soft – was originally created in Syria. Bashar al-Assad helped to create it, because a number of Islamic State’s leaders are people who were prisoners and whom Bashar al-Assad released. They were created in Syria, and in particular they developed in a town named Raqqa.

Then, by virtue of their caliphate theory, they went to Iraq and routed the Iraqi army. But they believe their “empire”, as it were, is both Syria and Iraq. If we want to confront Islamic State, we must of course confront it in Iraq, but you can’t get rid of the Syria issue, as you well understand.

Q. – Why not attack Islamic State directly in Syria, since the Americans are bombing Islamic State in Iraq?

THE MINISTER – In Iraq, the Americans are bombing at the request of the Iraqis themselves; clearly it’s not at all the same problem in Syria. In Syria, the person currently governing is the dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Q. – Are we in favour of airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria?

THE MINISTER – No. What we’ve supported from the outset is what’s called the moderate opposition in Syria. On one side you have Bashar al-Assad, who is a dictator; on the other you have the terrorists; and you can’t tell the people, “you choose: either it’s the dictator or it’s the terrorists”. That’s why we’ve said from the outset that the moderate opposition must be supported.

So I’m not giving you the solution today, I’m simply saying the problem is there.

SYRIA REBELS/WEAPONS SUPPLIES

Q. – We’ve supplied weapons to the Syrians, to the moderate Syrian rebels.

THE MINISTER – Yes.

Q. – Those weapons may have fallen into the hands…

THE MINISTER – No, because…

Q. – Islamic State has recovered American weapons from the Iraqi army.

THE MINISTER – We’ve supplied weapons – in line with what’s permitted by Europe, let me be clear. I’m not going to go into the technical details. We’ve also ensured that no misuse or confiscation is possible on the part of those we’re supplying.

Q. – When did we supply weapons? In what period?

THE MINISTER – It was a few months ago. And I have to say – because François Hollande, in his interview with Le Monde, discussed these issues – that it was done in line with what Europe allows. It was in 2013 – I don’t think I’m mistaken – that there were two discussions by Europe enabling what are called non-lethal weapons to be delivered.

IRAQI KURDS/WEAPONS SUPPLIES

Q. – Has France supplied weapons to the Kurds in Iraq?

THE MINISTER – Yes, we’ve said it; there’s no mystery about that.

Q. – When?

THE MINISTER – Recently, but in agreement with Iraq.

Q. – What weapons?

THE MINISTER – I won’t tell you that.

Q. – Ammunition, equipment… but I saw, I saw that members of the Defence Committee…

THE MINISTER – The question was asked.

Q. – …the Foreign Affairs Committee, gave details: rockets, rocket launchers, heavy artillery, missiles.

THE MINISTER – Perhaps they know some things I don’t know.

Q. – It was socialists who said that!

THE MINISTER – Yes, perhaps they know things I don’t know? That’s a question. We’re not going to hand our adversaries the details of what we’re supplying to our friends.

Q. – We agree about that. But having said that, it’s understood that it’s those weapons.

THE MINISTER – The problem was quite simple, if I may say so. I went to Iraq a short time ago, and in particular I saw Iraq’s leaders and the Kurdish leaders.

I talked to President Barzani, who said “bravo to France”, because we were the first to deliver humanitarian aid. But he said to me: M. Fabius, the weapons we have are weapons mostly dating back to the conflict between Iran and Iraq. And on the other side is Islamic State – what I’ve called the “caliphate of barbarism” – which took weapons from the Iraqi army, which had been supplied by the Americans. And so if you’d like there to be a balance – it’s what we’d like – you must help us. And so France is doing this.

But what’s important – and I want to point this out and really welcome it – is that for the first time the Germans have decided to do it, because they rightly believe their security is also under threat. The Italians are deciding to do it, and the British are also moving in the same direction.
And as you know, it was France that set this ball rolling, and I think it’s essential.

POLITICAL/DIPLOMATIC PROCESS

Q. – Must we go as far as intervening militarily on the ground?

THE MINISTER – No, we’re not being asked to do that, and we won’t do it. It’s up to the Iraqis themselves to wage the war. And that’s where the political and the military meet. It’s possible only if there’s a united government in Iraq. Until now, the government of Mr Al-Maliki has marginalized so-called moderate Sunnis and Sunni tribes, which therefore gave the terrorists a helping hand. Now there’s a new Prime Minister, whom we support, and we’re asking for a so-called inclusive government.

Q. – Even Iran has reportedly agreed to give [the new government] a helping hand…

THE MINISTER – Yes, but Iran is very influential there. (…)

Q. – France is calling for an international conference on security in Iraq; will it take place?

THE MINISTER – We hope so. When you’re up against the danger – which is different in nature from other dangers – represented by the “caliphate of terror”, Islamic State, everyone who doesn’t accept it must play an active role. That means the countries in the region – obviously, this hinges on Iraq –, it means the permanent members of the Security Council, and others. We’re currently preparing this, obviously, but it firstly hinges on Iraq.

ISLAMIC STATE/FUNDING

Q. – Germany accuses Qatar of having funded Islamic State’s army. Do you make the same accusations?

THE MINISTER – No! I don’t enter into that. What’s certain is that…

Q. – Has the terrorist organization been funded?

THE MINISTER – Of course!

Q. – Saudi Arabia, Qatar?

THE MINISTER – Certain sources, it’s said, come from Arab countries.

Q. – Shouldn’t an inquiry be launched to find out? Because it’s all very well fighting militarily…

THE MINISTER – Yes!

Q. – But finding out where the funding comes from…

THE MINISTER – Yes! But we must firstly take measures to ensure it stops. In this overall plan we’re considering, with the conference, there are of course intelligence aspects and military aspects, but there are [also] aspects about cutting off all possible funding. At our request, the United Nations issued a resolution a few days ago outlawing, with a whole series of consequences, anyone who directly or indirectly finances Islamic State.

Q. – But ultimately, an inquiry is necessary to find out. Do you know? Does France know and not want to tell us? Does France know who funds Islamic State?

THE MINISTER – We have a few indications and we’re not naïve!

Q. – Private funding?

THE MINISTER – Yes! There is some, of course.

Q. – Yes?

THE MINISTER – People who are completely mistaken, who believe they’ll be able to protect themselves by helping terrorists like Islamic State. (…)
Yesterday I welcomed 40 Iraqi refugees. I listened to what they told me – absolutely heartbreaking stories –, and in particular one woman, who was from Karakoch, told me, “this Islamic State arrived and the fighters said to me, convert or tomorrow you’ll be dead.” (…)

JAMES FOLEY/FRENCH RANSOM POLICY/DOMESTIC TERRORISM

Q. – We’ve learned that James Foley’s kidnappers sent a message to the family demanding a ransom of $130 million; the United States, as we know, doesn’t pay – it’s US policy, it says; moreover, there’s no debate in the United States, even among the American people and even among the family – you saw this, as I did – of James Foley. This isn’t the policy we’re following?

THE MINISTER – No [it is]! I must take issue with you. I’ve already used this microphone to tell you – and I confirm this – that the French state pays no ransom.

Q. – Ever?

THE MINISTER – No!

(…) We’ve got to bear two things in mind: first, the nature of this terrorist group, this caliphate of terror, is, so to speak, even more frightening than the other terrorist groups, because what they want, what they’re calling for, what they’re demanding, is for everyone to be subject to their laws, otherwise we – you, me, the others – are dogs and must be killed. So it’s a war.

Secondly, killing the American James Foley in that way, and probably using a Briton, signifies – and I thought this phrase apt, it’s been used – that it’s a terrorist attack against the United States, against Britain, i.e. it has significance. In one newspaper there was a comparison with Daniel Pearl. I draw the following conclusion from this: you can’t say to yourself, “but listen, Iraq is complicated, it’s far away, we’ve got enough problems, let’s not get mixed up in that”. We’re involved because we’re the ultimate targets in the battle.

Q. – Will they turn against us? In our country?

THE MINISTER – Don’t use the future tense, use the present.

Q. – Are they turning against us in our country?

THE MINISTER – All those who don’t want to be subject to their laws of terror are, in their eyes, dogs who must be killed. (…)./.

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