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Published on September 29, 2014
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to Charlie Rose on PBS Television (excerpts)¹
New York, September 26, 2014
Watch the video of the interview



Q. – Laurent Fabius is here; he is the French Foreign Minister; he also served as Prime Minister of France from 1984 to 1986. He’s in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. On Wednesday an Algerian based jihadist group released a video showing the execution of a French tourist. The group claims solidarity with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also called Daesh by some people, including the Foreign Minister. France joined the United States airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq last Friday; it has not yet participated in strikes in Syria. I’m pleased to have Laurent Fabius back at this table. Welcome.

THE MINISTER – Thank you.

Q. – We, as so many people around the world, and certainly the United Nations, extend our sympathy for the loss of this French citizen.

THE MINISTER – It’s a terrible day because he has been not only assassinated but beheaded. It was a terrible cruelty and these people, affiliates of what we call Daesh...

Q. – Daesh is the term for Islamic State, because you object to using “Islamic State”.

THE MINISTER – Yes, because they want to be a state but they are not, and they say that they represent Islam but it’s not true.

Q. – Yes, no Islamic leader that I know says that they represent Islam.

THE MINISTER – You know they want to have this sort of bloody blackmail on us, but it will not work, we shall not surrender because we are defending freedom and these people, we cannot accept the way they behave. You know, it’s a fight not only for France but for all of us, and we have to stand very firm, very firm.

Q. – So what does France do with respect to the United States and the other countries who are participating in this?

THE MINISTER – As you said, in Iraq we have decided to bring our air support, and the Iraqis have asked us to do that, and we are doing that. We have given weapons; we are giving humanitarian aid as well, in Iraq. In Syria, we are directly helping the moderate opposition in terms of humanitarian aid, in terms of weapons as well, and training. But the two things are inter-related because this Daesh group is transnational, and the Americans have decided with some Arab countries to be present in Syria. It’s good, but we cannot do everything, and for the time being we are concentrating on Iraq.

Q. – I don’t understand why you can’t order airstrikes into Syria?

THE MINISTER – You don’t understand? We could, obviously we could.

Q. – Then why do you refuse to?

THE MINISTER – We didn’t refuse, we don’t want to do everything, and our view is that OK, we are supporting what the Americans are doing, but we have to pay attention, because Daesh has to be fought, but the problem in Syria is that it must not be used by Bashar al-Assad in order to gain ground. And right now, unfortunately, the moderate opposition is strong in some parts but weak in other parts. Therefore it will take time. We are sharing the same goals – the Americans are doing some part of the job, an excellent job, we are doing another part of the job. Maybe in the future we shall evolve, but for the time being we are concentrating on Iraq.

Q. – I still don’t understand why there’s a difference.

THE MINISTER – It’s a different story, because in Iraq, we have been asked by the Iraqi government to support them. In Syria, it’s not the same story.

Q. – Because you do not want to be involved in something that supports the Syrian government, is that the reason?

THE MINISTER – It’s obvious. In Syria, we have not only one adversary – Daesh – but another one also, Bashar al-Assad. You know that we don’t want to support them, by no means. In fact, if you remember, Bashar al-Assad is at the origin of Daesh. You know that Bashar al-Assad has liberated inmates from prison, and they are the leaders of Daesh. Maybe you know that over the years, Bashar al-Assad has not fought Daesh, and today, Daesh is having a lot of oil and part of this oil is sold to Bashar al-Assad.

Q. – By Daesh?

THE MINISTER – Yes, by Daesh. It has been decided, and it’s excellent, by the UN recently to cut the financing, because there are people, maybe states, who finance Daesh, through oil and different means, and we have to cut that. But back to your question, we have not only one adversary, in Syria, but two. And we have to organize ourselves – I mean the United States, France, Arab countries, and the coalition – in order to fight against the two.

Q. – Are you pleased that the Americans are using their air power in Syria to attack ISIS?

THE MINISTER – It’s quite okay, and we have said, and I say, today, that we are supporting the US.

Q. – What’s it going to take in terms of “boots on the ground” to dismantle and destroy ISIS? And are the Syrian moderate forces from the free Syrian army sufficient, and can they be made sufficient?

THE MINISTER – First, there is a lesson to draw from recent past conflicts. You cannot win a victory without the people themselves. In Iraq, Iraqis. In Syria, Syrians. In Iraq, we think that, thanks to our support, the Iraqis, step by step, will grow stronger, and they can beat Daesh, and we are bringing our air support. In Syria, it’s a bit different, because as you pointed out, the moderate opposition, which has been fought both by Bashar al-Assad and by the terrorists, is sometimes in a strong position, sometimes in a difficult position, and it will take time in order to get stronger.

Q. – Can they do it in the long run? Do they have sufficient ground forces to do it?

THE MINISTER – Yes, we shall help them – not only us, but the Americans too. You know it has been decided by the Americans to give training, to give $500 million, Saudi Arabia as well, Jordan as well, different countries as well. We had a meeting today, this afternoon, of what we call the core group – all the people supporting the free Syrian army, the moderate opposition, and we have decided to support them, but we agree that it will take time. In the meantime, we have to strike Daesh but avoid Bashar al-Assad taking advantage of this. Therefore it’s a bit difficult, you know, and we have to be very well coordinated.

Q. – Under no circumstances should there be any kind of relationship with Bashar al-Assad to defeat Daesh?

THE MINISTER – No, no, no. Bashar al-Assad wants to take advantage of this situation. Maybe you’ve seen, there have been proposals where he says “Well, I am part and parcel of the coalition”, but Bashar al-Assad is at the origin of Daesh and terrorists. Things are going so quickly that we have forgotten the origin. You remember, Charlie, three years ago with the so-called Arab Spring, at the beginning, it was maybe 10 youngsters in the countryside in Syria who wanted to be freer. And Bashar al-Assad has reacted in such a way – it’s unbelievable – that today you have 200,000 people that have been killed – and refugees by the millions. And he is a dictator: remember the chemical weapons, and some people say that today he is still using chemical weapons…

Q. – Of a different kind.

THE MINISTER – Yes, a different kind, but chemical is chemical. And therefore, by no means shall we support him. By no means.

Q. – Did ISIS get money from Arab countries?

THE MINISTER – Today, I hope not.

Q. – (…) This is the charge that President Rouhani said to me yesterday: he found it interesting that the countries who had helped build up ISIS because they were opposed to Bashar al-Assad are now fighting ISIS. Is that true?

THE MINISTER – Well, I think that there has been financing. It may be states, persons, private foundations. What I think is that some people thought it would be possible to have an agreement which would protect them if they were giving money. But it was completely foolish, because Daesh, their idea – and it’s new if you compare it to Al-Qaeda, which did not want to have a state – is to have a so-called “caliphate” in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine. And if they have that, afterwards it will be Saudi Arabia, Turkey and then Europe, and then why not the United States?

Q. – That’s why it is argued it is essential to stop them there with everything you can!

THE MINISTER – Yes, and we are defending ourselves, all of us.

Q. – But shouldn’t it be all out to do that, everybody in, in every way?

THE MINISTER – Yes, I think that now these people and these states have understood that they themselves are threatened.

Q. – What threat?

THE MINISTER – By Daesh. (…) Now there is a UN resolution adopted by unanimous vote saying that the financing must be completely cut and that every single country must take some precise steps in order to prevent foreign fighters going there, under what we call Chapter VII, which means we can react and adopt sanctions if they don’t do it. But my guess is that there has been an evolution, because all the countries have understood that these guys were dangerous for everybody.

Q. – What are the Iranians doing?

THE MINISTER – In Iraq, they have said – we have met President Rohani, and you know that Iran is close geographically to Iraq and its Shias, where the Prime Minister is Shia – and they have said that they were not accepting that Daesh could take Baghdad or Arbil.

Q. – And they fought against that?

THE MINISTER – And they have surely helped the Iraqis to prevent that. Now for Syria, it’s different because as you know they are supporting Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah has been present in the Syrian case, we don’t agree with them, at that point. But the idea is that, at the end of the day, we shall have a political agreement. And the idea is to have an agreement between the moderate opposition and some elements of the regime without Bashar al-Assad.

Q. – So Bashar leaves, and –

THE MINISTER – Well, in a way – I don’t know exactly what will be the process.

Q. – But that’s the hope, a political settlement in which Russia and Iran, as friends of Bashar al-Assad, will be part of building some kind of agreement in which he will give up the presidency.

THE MINISTER – Yes, it was the idea when we signed the Geneva I agreement, and it is still true. But in between we have to have a stronger moderate opposition.

Q. – Is America leading this coalition?

THE MINISTER – Yes, they are leading the coalition.

Q. – Conceived and run by the Americans?

THE MINISTER – Yes, the next question is what about France? We are part and parcel of this coalition, this coordination, but you know that we are paying great attention to our autonomy; it has always been that way. We are coordinating our efforts and actions with the US and there’s no problem.


Q. – Let me turn to the UNGA. This is Climate Week, here. And I think in 2015 you’re going to chair the Climate Conference –

THE MINISTER – Yes, in December 2015, in Paris.

Q. – What progress is being made?

THE MINISTER – Well, I should say that in terms of practical steps, there has been some progress, maybe not enough. For instance, we have to capitalize what we call the Green [Climate] Fund, because we need money. And there are some countries which have announced some money, but not enough. There have been a lot of speeches and all of them are going in the same direction, saying we have to have an agreement, because this question of – I don’t speak about climate change, I speak about climate disruption, because it is a complete disruption – and every single country…

Q. – Change is too soft a word?

THE MINISTER – Yes it’s too soft. And warming, it’s not true, because in some parts it’s warming, in some parts it’s cooling, and in every part it’s an extreme phenomenon. There have been some practical steps, but the most important things are not the steps. The most important thing is that the private sector has decided to step in this new direction – that’s brand new. Local government – I mean, towns, regions – have decided to go in the same direction, and there is a very strong movement saying that we have to take this decision.

Q. – The decision to…?

THE MINISTER – To stop this situation, because otherwise it would be impossible to live on our world. Ban Ki-moon, who is very involved in that, has a great formula – I asked him and he said I can use it so I use it – “There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B”. That is the best summary. Because if we don’t do it, and do it quickly – because it is not a question for within 40 years, it’s right now, and we are the first generation to be aware of that and the last generation to be able to act.

Q. – There is a window of opportunity?

THE MINISTER – A window of opportunity and necessity. Next year.

Q. – My impression is that China is better than it’s been before, in its commitment?

THE MINISTER – Yes, you’re completely right. There is a major shift, both in the US attitude and the Chinese attitude. President Obama and John Kerry are completely dedicated. Obviously, it is difficult for them to announce things now because you have the mid-term elections, but I hope that they will do it by the beginning of next year.
And as far as the Chinese are concerned, they are fully aware. It is not a question of international pressure; it is a question for them, for their own lives. Last time I was in Beijing, the same day in Paris we decided to have alternate traffic because the pollution was 10% more than the average. But the same day in Beijing, it was not 10% more, it was 18 times the norm. People couldn’t breathe in the street, and children couldn’t go to school. Therefore, it is an absolute necessity.
It’s very difficult for the Chinese because it is a complete shift in their economy and they need growth. But the new element you were asking about is that now people understand it is not only a constraint, it can be an opportunity that is offered: green growth, job creation, it’s a new big thing, and particularly for big businesses./.

¹M. Fabius spoke in English.

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