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Foreign affairs

Foreign affairs

Published on July 9, 2009
Interview given by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, to "France Info" (excerpts)

Paris, July 8, 2009

(…)

IRAN/CLOTILDE REISS

Q. - (…) You have asked for Clotilde Reiss’s release, the Head of State has demanded it too. "The accusations of spying are fanciful" Nicolas Sarkozy even said yesterday. What’s Tehran’s response today?

THE MINISTER - I had a long discussion with the Foreign Minister yesterday. It’s always the same question: what was she doing in that demonstration? But she wasn’t in that demonstration. Everyone could see the demonstration. She took photos, yes, on her mobile, just as hundreds of thousands of people were taking photos, and moreover, putting them on the Internet. (…)

Q. - Do you consider her today a political hostage, as the IFRI [Institut français de Recherche en Iran] Director is saying this morning?

THE MINISTER - You will understand my remaining discreet. What I want is for her to get out. It’s what I am trying very hard to achieve, really, every day, stubbornly. I want Clotilde to get out and rejoin her family, since you remember that she was at Tehran airport when she was arrested. She was being made to go through a lot of bureaucratic hassle; otherwise she would have left the country a fortnight ago.

Q. - There have already been precedents with Britain. Is this the sign of a particular tension with the Western countries?

THE MINISTER - Without any doubt - that’s the least one can say. But in fact, the tension is coming above all from the clashes and conflicts between Iranians and the protests, as you’ve seen, even inside the regime and at the highest level.

ALGERIA/TIBERINE MONKS

Q. - Yesterday the Head of State asked for the top military classification to be removed from documents in the case of the Tiberine monks in Algeria [murdered in 1996]. He had, we remember, gone over there during the election campaign. This morning some people are saying that the affair was deliberately buried. Can that precisely have implications, consequences for our relations with Algeria today?

THE MINISTER - I don’t believe so, I hope not. Nicolas Sarkozy has asked for full light to be shed on the event, i.e. that the investigation follow its course. If a request to lift the secret classification comes through the normal official channels, as the Head of State said, the classification will be lifted.

In fact people have for a long time been talking about this grim event, the murder of those seven admirable monks. This time, we’re going to talk about it until we get to the bottom of it.

GAZA STRIP/MIDDLE EAST

Q. - Since Sunday a humanitarian mission [a team of French surgeons] (…) has been stuck at the gates of the Gaza Strip. (…) Are you going to summon, perhaps, the Israeli Ambassador in France to try and get a clearer picture of what this is about?

THE MINISTER - That’s pointless, as you very well know. The problem has to be settled politically. It isn’t the first to get stuck, and then they let someone else through: it’s like that the whole time.

What’s necessary is for the Gaza problem to be settled through the establishment of a Palestinian State, through the (…) dogged effort to build a Palestinian State: this is France’s policy.

As you know, there have been a lot of efforts to get [medical help] into Gaza, even during the war. There was a French field hospital which couldn’t get onto Gaza territory, and many others such as the Qatar hospital team… that’s how it is. For the time being, things are moving slowly - during Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Paris, we got the feeling from his conversation with President Sarkozy that things were moving slowly - the US position is very important. There has to be a return to politics, a halt to the settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian State, and then all the surgeons in the world will be able to get through.

Q. - The Middle East, precisely, a topical issue. There was what was nevertheless a very important Franco-Egyptian initiative early in the year, which moreover led to a ceasefire in Gaza. What’s the situation vis-à-vis this peace initiative? There’s talk of a peace conference in Moscow at the end of the year and I know you are going to Lebanon and Syria at the end of the week; are things moving?

THE MINISTER - Yes, things are moving. People who haven’t been talking to each other, and hadn’t been for years, are meeting and talking! There’s talk of a visit to Syria by the King of Saudi Arabia. Also some while ago, there were contacts between Iraq and Syria in particular. Our ongoing discussions with the Egyptians sometimes bear fruit. For the moment, things are hamstrung, there hasn’t been much progress following the discussions between the Palestinians themselves. Last week it was hinted to us that things could progress, there was talk of participation not apparently by a government, but at least between Hamas and the PLO. We are heading in this direction and one can talk of the spark of hope Lebanon offers. The government is being formed, I am going to talk to our Lebanese friends, everyone, I’ll also be meeting Hezbollah. In Syria, I believe that France’s policy is significant, I think the fact that Syria is starting to open up is a welcome development and I congratulate the protagonists.

CHINA/UIGHURS

Q. - Last question, it concerns China and the current disturbances in Xijiang province. Hu Jintao was scheduled to take part in the G8 summit in Aquila, he has had to turn round and take the plane back to Beijing. What do you think about these disturbances? Is the international community entitled to have its say on these inter-ethnic clashes? Are we in a way experiencing a second Tibet?

THE MINISTER - The international community can express its shock; it is condemning the violence; it has a contribution to make certainly, but not a wish to interfere - and yet used by me the word is extremely positive. It’s a Chinese province, but one which the Uighurs have always considered theirs. I hope the clashes will cease. They are intra-community clashes. The police are trying to stop things, I hope, but these are almost traditional clashes. You know the Uighurs are Muslims, actually rather liberal Muslims and in no way sectarian. Yet the Chinese consider that a number of terrorists or terrorist activities are fomented in that region populated by Uighurs. The situation has to calm down. China is a big country and when there are clashes of this kind, there are a lot of injured people and deaths./.

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