Q. - What new diplomatic initiatives do you expect from the Obama administration?
THE MINISTER - We are pinning great hopes on the positions declared by President Obama, who seems more inclined to multilateralism than his predecessor. We, at any rate, are staunch multilateralists. We firmly intend working closely with our American allies. But France didn’t wait for President Obama; for nearly two years, a new French diplomacy has been at work. We have never waited for American approval and won’t do so before deploying our own diplomacy, but we’re happy when we agree. France’s method is to speak clearly, keeping an open mind, and try everywhere to take the path of peace. We proved this in the Middle East, Georgia and Latin America. Which doesn’t prevent us, completely independently, from warmly welcoming Russian President Medvedev’s proposal to open discussions on European security. We are developing an autonomous, independent, appropriate foreign policy, but we’re endeavouring to act collectively. We have often been trailblazers. And we have often been followed. (…)
Q. - France was a trailblazer on Syria. Why wouldn’t you be one by talking to Hamas, who, after all, won the only free elections ever organized in Palestine?
THE PRESIDENT - (…) What’s necessary is peace in the Middle East. For this there has to be a viable Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel, whose long-term security it will, by its very existence, guarantee. We shall always fight for the existence of the State of Israel, just as we shall fight to the end for the creation of the Palestinian State. Hamas is an important component of Palestinian society, but today it hasn’t yet taken the path of peace. It isn’t for us to decide what type of agreement there needs to be with Fatah to form a government representing all the Palestinians. We are supporting the current Egyptian mediation. As soon as Hamas has formed a government with Fatah and is complying with the principles of the peace process, we’ll have no more problems in talking to it. It has to accept the Saudi peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League (recognition by all Arab States of the State of Israel in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders).
Q. - Late in December, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, had a meeting at the Elysée. President Sarkozy advised her to show moderation on Gaza. Is Israel fated never to heed France’s advice?
THE MINISTER - What followed showed that the Israeli military offensive in Gaza was counter-productive and resolved nothing. But, in diplomacy, you always have to try everything and never get discouraged. And don’t forget that we have also had meetings with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Q. - By pursuing her settlement process in the occupied West Bank, isn’t Israel making the future constitution of a viable Palestinian State impossible?
THE MINISTER - Without any doubt. In his speech to the Knesset, President Sarkozy was very clear on this point. I regret that the Americans have never joined us in a firmer condemnation of the Israeli settlements. No peace will be possible so long as the settlements go on expanding. But France is persisting.
Q. - The history of the last decade in Gaza can be summed up as bombs financed by Americans destroying Palestinian public installations financed by Europeans. Isn’t it time to halt this cycle?
THE MINISTER - It’s the war which has to be halted. But in the mean time, we must also rebuild. At the Sharm el Sheikh conference, the international community - including the United States - pledged over $4 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction. But the urgent need today is to lift the Gaza blockade and the Israeli military roadblocks in the West Bank.
Q. - On the Iranian nuclear issue, isn’t France being more Catholic than the Pope by clamouring for new sanctions, when the new US administration is advocating unconditional dialogue with Tehran?
THE MINISTER - We have always been in favour of dialogue with Tehran and we continue to be so. (…) It hasn’t been crowned with success. (…) The Iranians have to fulfil the requests of the IAEA (Vienna International Atomic Energy Agency) to prove that there is nothing military about their nuclear programme, which they still haven’t done. Here too, we are persisting, since we don’t think all the diplomatic paths have been exhausted.
Q. - Isn’t it unrealistic to demand that Iran totally abandon her production of enriched uranium?
THE MINISTER - It’s necessary, essential. It’s very suspicious to see Iran not fulfilling the IAEA’s requests. We can’t accept Iran having an atomic bomb on the pretext that other countries, like Pakistan, possess one. Do people want all the region’s countries in turn to get an atomic weapon? Obviously not! Those not capable of manufacturing one themselves will buy it. This would be extraordinarily dangerous! But I haven’t forgotten that the Persians are a great nation and that nothing can be settled in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia if they are ignored.
Q. - Why is it in France’s interest to rejoin NATO’s integrated command, a cumbersome bureaucratic structure, unsuited to conducting the modern asymmetric wars, as we have seen in Afghanistan?
THE MINISTER - That’s your view. We are founding members of the Atlantic Alliance. General de Gaulle withdrew us from the integrated command in 1966 since he didn’t want, in the Cold War era, foreign troops stationed in France not under French command. Today the situation has changed. The Warsaw Pact and communist danger no longer exist. We have participated in all the NATO operations, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, yet we haven’t been involved in developing the plans. France can no longer go on being the only film director not invited to contribute to the screenplay! This in no way calls our independence of decision-making into question. I remind you that Germany’s full membership of NATO didn’t compel her to participate in the invasion of Iraq. On the other hand, we are going to get some significant NATO commands and, above all, contribute to drawing up the plans which we are supposed, if we accept them, to apply. We are in favour of NATO’s Europeanization! On top of this, it will be easier for the Europeans to decide to conduct external operations, without American agreement or participation.
As for Afghanistan, there won’t be any solely military solution. We have to give more responsibilities to the Afghans, including at the security level. There’s no question of making it a Western-style democracy. We shall have to respect the result of the forthcoming elections whatever it is. We shall stay as long as it takes Afghan civil society to be capable of taking its destiny in hand. If nationalist Talibans achieve power through the ballot box and abide by the Constitution, that’s the Afghans’ business. What we reject is support for international Jihadism.
Q. - Isn’t there a contradiction between the desire for Western humanitarian action in Sudan and the International Criminal Court issuing a warrant for her president’s arrest?
THE MINISTER - No, since we have tried everything. There has been a constant massacre in Darfur, hundreds of thousands of victims, millions of displaced persons. Who other than the President can be held responsible? I have had many meetings with General al-Bashir and President Sarkozy has had two. He has been asked to make a gesture; he hasn’t made a single one and, worse still, he had no hesitation in appointing as minister for humanitarian action in his country a man close to him who is already the subject of an ICC arrest warrant! On our initiative, Europe has succeeded in bringing security to Eastern Chad. Thanks to the 3,000 Eufor troops (coming from 17 European countries) a quarter of the displaced persons have been able to go home and the attacks by Janjaweed Arab militia against the Darfur refugees have stopped.
REALPOLITIK/RIGHT TO INTERFERE/MACEDONIA/SOMALIA
Q. - What dose of realpolitik ought to temper the "right to interfere" so dear to you?
THE MINISTER - I don’t much like the Bismarckian term "realpolitik", but, yes, in the world we have to take on board the local, human and religious realities. This right to interfere is the responsibility to protect people in danger. The United Nations General Assembly has adopted it. I am proud to have contributed to it and, as France’s foreign minister, to be continuing the battle. All human life is precious, regardless of latitude, religion or skin colour. But the main thing is for this responsibility to protect to be exercised preventively. The good example is Macedonia where the thousand NATO and then European Union troops prevented the tension between the Slavs and Albanian speakers to degenerate. Today, there would obviously be no point in sending more troops to Somalia, a vast territory with no State structure, without fighting poverty there. Very recently, the country got a moderate Islamist as its new president. We must support him. In the region, the fight against piracy and for the freedom of the seas is essential. Europe is committed there too, with the Atalante operation, under British command. What a fine symbol!
Q. - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao openly cold-shouldered France during his last visit to Europe. How do you intend re-establishing good relations between Beijing and Paris?
THE MINISTER - Through patience and determination. We said in December that it wasn’t up to China to dictate the President of the French Republic’s schedule: I don’t see anything abnormal in the Head of State meeting the Dalai Lama, a great religious figure and Nobel Peace Prizewinner. But, also, our Chinese friends know perfectly well that we’ve never called China’s territorial integrity into question or encouraged Tibet’s secession. Admittedly, we have wondered why the Chinese were criticizing us more than the others. Is it because they have always held France in higher esteem than the others? Is it because they also expect a lot from us? At any rate, we expect a lot from them. And we will be patient./.