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Foreign policy/Iran/Mali/Greece/Ukraine/fight against terrorism/migration issues/COP21/economic diplomacy/Quai d’Orsay of the 21st century/Ambassadors’ Week

Published on September 1, 2015
Closing speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development (excerpts)
Paris, August 27, 2015


This Ambassadors’ Week has provided us with an opportunity to discuss major subjects, the major subjects, in a useful way – that’s its purpose –, in particular COP21, which, without being arrogant, we’ll call the Paris conference. (…)

A year ago, in this same place, I broadly outlined our “omni-crisis” world. I emphasized the violence and concomitance of those crises: security, political, economic, climatic and health crises. Together with the French President and Prime Minister – who spoke to you on Tuesday and Wednesday – I set out to you the guidelines of our diplomacy, as the President and Prime Minister have done this year. One year on, what’s the situation?

First of all there are – we mustn’t hide the fact – several positive aspects. They’re not the most numerous, but there have been several positive changes, particularly thanks to France’s efforts. They prove that diplomatic action – I mean our mission – can actually, unfortunately not always but often very significantly, change the course of things.


The Iran nuclear issue, first of all. For the past 12 years this issue has occupied and preoccupied the international community. For the past 12 years it’s been the focus of doubts, fears, negotiations and equivocations. An Iran equipped with an atomic bomb would not only have been a considerable danger in itself, we’re also convinced it would have triggered a deadly nuclear arms race, in an already explosive region.
Given these risks, France, with a really outstanding team of negotiators alongside me, adopted a position of “constructive firmness”: yes to an agreement, but an agreement which removes Iran’s access to a nuclear weapon in a certain – i.e. a verifiable – way. This firmness, which is legitimate given what’s at stake, governed our stance through to the very final hours of negotiation in Vienna. It enabled us to achieve a robust agreement on 14 July. If it’s approved, then honoured – and we’ve provided ourselves with the means to verify that it is –, it may potentially facilitate more peace and stability in the Middle East. That’s the message I sent during my visit to Tehran at the end of July: for once, the term “historic agreement” isn’t overused when it comes to the 14 July agreement.


Another major international step forward was the agreement on reconciliation and peace in Mali. Let’s not have too short a memory. Less than three years ago, the interim authorities were under threat of death, with terrorists moving around freely and just a few hours away from harshly appropriating the whole of Mali. The French intervention of January 2013 put a stop to that. We didn’t make the mistake of believing that the solution would be solely military and that the “follow-up” didn’t concern us. From experience, we knew political, military and development support was necessary. Hence our support for the efforts by Mali and the Africans to organize democratic elections. Hence our mobilization of the international community – Europe first and foremost – for the necessary funding for Mali’s reconstruction and, beyond that, the Sahel’s development. We supported peace efforts between the government and the northern groups, which led, with the skilful support of the Algerian mediation team, to the June 2015 agreement. Not everything has been resolved, and acts of violence, sometimes serious, continue and must be combated, but in Mali – as in the Central African Republic, where elections are due to be held in a few weeks’ time –, France, its diplomacy, i.e. you yourselves, and its armed forces – let’s be clear – did its duty as a power of security and peace.


In another context, I want to talk about the Greek crisis: thanks in particular to the personal involvement of the Head of State and the Chancellor, we were able, over recent months, to get the Euro Area countries to take the necessary difficult decisions with that country, in line with the principles of solidarity and responsibility that must govern the European Union. The French government was aware of the considerable risks – not only economic and financial but also geopolitical – that a Grexit would have posed. By getting our partners to share this analysis – with Michel Sapin and Harlem Désir at the forefront in efforts to achieve this –, and even though we’re still being vigilant, because uncertainties remain, we contributed greatly to preparing a European compromise. And we’re drawing more general lessons from this by suggesting the necessary ways to consolidate the Euro Area.


Still on the subject of successes, I also want to emphasize the discreet but determined and tremendously effective action to release our hostages and, in an entirely different vein –again, quickly engulfed in the great river of oblivion –, our initiatives against the scourge of Ebola in West Africa. In a very short period, under the impetus of Minister of State Annick Girardin, we supported care staff and the establishment of treatment centres, thus saving many lives. We’re still there alongside our African partners, to help them overcome a crisis whose consequences are considerable, including on development itself.

But obviously, for the sake of clear-sightedness, I must also mention several areas where, despite all our efforts, the situation remains extremely difficult and the prospects of a solution uncertain.


First of all, a few words on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Our strong belief is that the status quo would mean running the twofold risk of conflagration and deadlock.
France – sometimes too alone in this stance – refuses to stand idly by. That was the purpose of my visit in June to the region, where I pressed the case to everyone for a change of method, proposing that an international support group, bringing together in particular the Europeans, the Arabs and the permanent members of the Security Council, should support the necessary resumption of negotiations, and then – let’s hope – their completion, by incorporating them into a credible framework and timetable. When the time comes, we’ll need a commitment from the Security Council. I want to repeat here that France will abandon neither the demand for security for Israel nor that of justice for the Palestinians.


On the Syria tragedy, where the difficulties are huge, the French President has spoken clearly. The solution, as we know, is political. It’s imperative to find an agreement between, on the one hand, regime elements – without Bashar al-Assad,
who can’t be his people’s future, precisely because of his crimes – and, on the other, what I’ll describe as the non-terrorist opposition. The agreement will have to respect every community and every inhabitant. This approach isn’t intellectual stubbornness on France’s part. But to enable Syria to be saved and the terrorists to be defeated, if there’s still time for it, it’s the only solution, if there’s still time for it. We’ve discussed it, we’re discussing it, particularly with the Arabs, the Americans, the Russians, the Turks, the Iranians and the United Nations Special Envoy, Mr Staffan de Mistura.


The fight against Daesh [ISIL], too, is a subject of extremely serious concern, with repercussions on our own soil. For the past year, our armed forces have been taking part in the international coalition’s airstrikes in Iraq. This action is necessary but not sufficient. Additional efforts are essential at not only military but also political level, with an increase in “inclusive” gestures by the Iraqi government to rally, as far as possible, the Sunni and Kurdish populations. In June, at the international coalition’s meeting in Paris, we set out everyone’s responsibilities. We were very clear during the Security Council debate in March, devoted, on our initiative, to the minorities persecuted by Daesh, particularly Christians. On 8 September in Paris, in the presence of the French President, I’ll be chairing a conference with my Jordanian colleague to draw conclusions and propose an action plan: again it’s a matter of urgency, and again France, despite these difficulties – indeed because of these difficulties – won’t stand idly by.


It’s the same determination that drives us in the fight against Boko Haram, those religious fakes and genuine criminals. The African countries which are victims turned to France first; we were the first to be spurred into action, organizing a summit at the Elysée as early as last year. We drew in the international community, and some progress has been made: exemplary elections in that great country, Nigeria, and military operations against Boko Haram. We’re supporting cooperation between Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin. The terrorists still hold sway; with our international partners, we must strengthen support for the countries affected and for the African force that is being deployed. The President of Nigertia brings a lot of hope; he’ll be in Paris in mid-September, and we welcome that. Looking away would be an unforgiveable mistake, given our commitment to human rights and peace. And we won’t make that mistake.


This disorder in the world, combined with the poverty of many African countries, is behind the serious migration crisis Europe must confront. Only today, an appalling tragedy occurred in Austria, and once again it rings the alarm bell of inhumanity.
We’ve started providing responses, but let’s acknowledge that they’re still very insufficient and, above all, poorly implemented. In Libya, we’re supporting the efforts of the UN and Special Representative Bernardino León to establish a national unity government, combat terrorism and bring stability. On European territory, regarding migration issues, solidarity must be applied towards the migrants’ countries of first entry. Solidarity and firmness: the European Union has resolved to combat people traffickers; implementation must be speeded up, with support for transit countries and more support for the source countries’ development. Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors, when your country of residence is concerned, I’d like you yourselves to strengthen the coordination of services and take personal charge of this difficult issue.


Finally, in Ukraine, to halt the spiral of war and create the conditions for a return to peace, we proposed the Normandy format with Germany last year, then took action in February 2015 for the Minsk 2 agreements to be signed. Thanks to intense diplomatic efforts, they enabled a certain de-escalation, but the situation on the ground remains unstable, and the implementation of the political part of the agreements has yet to be improved. The withdrawal of weapons is essential. A timetable has been set: elections in the autumn, including in Donbass, and the completion of the process at the end of the year, with the return to full control of the border by the Ukrainians. We remain firm on these goals, recalled in Berlin at the beginning of the week. If they’re achieved – and they must be –, it will finally make the desirable lifting of sanctions possible, and this will be largely due to the diplomatic action of Germany and France.


And COP21? It’s the key diplomatic challenge. We devoted our whole working day yesterday to it and you’ve devoted many days and nights to it. As French presidency,
we’ve already helped make progress on major COP21 issues: the need for an agreement which is both lasting and dynamic, the equal importance – you’ve all become experts – of adaptation and mitigation, and the strengthening of the financial and technological aspect. Several points still need to be settled, but I for one have high hopes. The President is at the forefront on this and as future president of the conference, I’m devoting a major part of my activity to it. The ministers concerned are all mobilized. Our diplomatic network is powered up. The challenge, I want to emphasize, is even more enormous than all the others I’ve mentioned previously because, if you think about it, firstly this is a problem which of course has no limits in either space or time. Secondly, because these aren’t conventional negotiations which can be put off until later if they fail, but rather a race against the clock, since every year which goes by without results or negotiations means the emission of further greenhouse gases accumulating for decades, centuries or even millennia. Finally, climate disruption is a problem on whose solution life itself on our planet and the solution to all the other problems depend. When you talk to your interlocutors, ask them to think about what a temperature rise of 4 to 5 or even 6ºC would spell for migration, with consequences for droughts, famines and floods. It wouldn’t be hundreds of thousands of people who would be tragically affected by migration, like today, but hundreds of millions. In reality, it’s perhaps the greatest trigger for future war or peace. For all these reasons, on the evening of 11 December 2015, following the negotiations, it is so important for me to be able to utter these six words on France’s behalf: “The Paris agreement has been adopted”. If we manage it, obviously not everything will be resolved, but it will be a genuine historic turnaround, a turning point. It will probably be the greatest diplomatic step forward of the early 21st century.


What lessons are to be drawn from this picture which each of you could add to, nuance, enrich, particularly our parliamentary friends – whether they represent Metropolitan France, Overseas France or French nationals abroad –, to whom I particularly want to pay tribute because they’re really supporting us in what we’re doing in a huge way.

I draw at least three lessons from this. Firstly, without being naive or blindly optimistic, we must always have in mind the prospect – even if it’s distant – of diplomacy’s successes. Your occupation, the difficult occupation of diplomat, by definition comes up against the disorder of the world. But diplomacy’s raison d’être is precisely the idea that war, nuclear proliferation, poverty, climate disruption and human rights violations aren’t inevitable. This isn’t about naïve hope, but a firm belief we share based on experience and which probably motivated you to get involved. I’ve talked about subjects which are a stumbling block for us, crises we aren’t managing to resolve. But I’ve also deliberately mentioned magnificent successes. The difficulties mustn’t discourage you, us, but, on the contrary, encourage us never to give up, despite the obstacles. Jean Jaurès, as he often did, summed it all up in his famous Discours à la jeunesse [Speech to the youth] over a century ago when, talking about courage, he wrote: “courage means taking action and getting involved in the great causes without knowing what reward, if any, the deep universe has in store for us”. A fine definition of diplomacy!

Another lesson concerns, more mundanely, diplomatic formats. Because of the number and variety of the groups France belongs to, we enjoy a favourable position of influence and vice versa. Some traditional frameworks, such as the P3, the P5, the Eurogroup, La Francophonie [international Francophone organization], the G7 and G20, are obviously very useful, but we must also contemplate and develop ad hoc forums, adapted to circumstances, modelled on the “Normandy format”, created to deal with the Ukraine crisis. By acknowledging the special power, in these circumstances, of the Franco-German duo, we must increase diplomatic solidarity in Europe. We must also be creative in building new strategic structures which don’t undermine the United Nations but add to existing set-ups, with the emerging countries. I’m thinking particularly, however bold it appears, of India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Nigeria. We must make sure we don’t let ourselves be overwhelmed by competing formats, in which we don’t feature.

A final lesson focuses specifically on French diplomacy. Given this difficult, dangerous world, France is a power which holds its own. In a time when our fellow citizens have doubts about their leaders and, more broadly, are losing confidence in the ability of the government to produce results, I think that the concrete action of our, your diplomacy, is likely to restore a good deal of confidence. (…)./.

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