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Foreign policy

Foreign policy

Published on July 22, 2009
Press conference given by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs (excerpts)

Paris, July 21, 2009



THE MINISTER – Yesterday evening, during its session of 20 July, the National Assembly unanimously passed the Act ratifying the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which France is greatly committed and on which she worked very hard. I emphasize this, because in Oslo nearly 100 nations signed this text. France worked very hard on it with our Norwegian friends. (…)

Most especially – and I want to highlight this – we worked with the NGO Handicap International from beginning to end, which is very rare. (…) I really want to thank this NGO. And I also want to point out that not all countries have signed (…). Those who didn’t sign will not ratify it, and some of those countries are important ones: the United States, China, etc. More than 120 countries have now signed the Convention. It’s a success for French diplomacy, as well as for other countries, and no minor one.


It had been accepted in Tehran that our excellent ambassador, M. Poletti, would today, Tuesday, visit Clotilde Reiss. So far this hasn’t happened, the visit has apparently been postponed perhaps to tomorrow, at least this week, but our embassy was able to talk to her on the phone. It’s always Clotilde who calls. The last telephone conversation was fairly long, detailed and took place in a satisfactory atmosphere. She said she was finding the detention weighing her down, but that she was being well treated, had been brought books and was coping. I salute this young French academic’s courage. Her family, her brothers as well as her father, are having regular meetings at the Ministry’s crisis centre.

The last British [Embassy] prisoner was released on bail from prison two days ago. It’s excellent news. I thank our British friends, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Minister David Miliband, since they stressed, when this detainee was released, the importance they attached to the release of our national, this young teacher at Isfahan University.
There will be a démarche by the Swedish European Union presidency. There have been coordinated démarches, but I stress that these coordinated démarches involved diplomats. And Clotilde Reiss isn’t a diplomat. I would like there not to be these different treatments. Admittedly, diplomats are governed by the Vienna Convention which facilitates joint protests by the European Union and its 27 member countries.



I want to underscore France’s support for Sheikh Sharif’s government. We had a meeting in Paris with the Somali Defence Minister, Mr Gandi. We have met the Foreign Minister and many other ministers who in many cases have studied in France and taught at French universities.
We decided that, as she did for AMISOM soldiers, France should train and would offer to train soldiers from the Somali army in Djibouti. This has begun, I believe, with 150 – there will perhaps be another 350 – who have arrived and whose training is starting. We’ve asked our EU friends to do likewise. A number of countries have volunteered, and this seems to us the best way at last to ensure security in Mogadishu. We have to pay tribute to this determination and courage, we were the first to do this and we’ll continue doing it. (…)


Q. – You visited Lebanon and Syria last week. What were your impressions and do you think that a Lebanese government will probably be formed in the near future?

THE MINISTER – My impressions are good, firstly with respect to the general atmosphere. For someone who’s a bit familiar with Lebanon, the atmosphere isn’t bad and I have the feeling – but once again, this analysis may be proven wrong – that the government will be formed and will be a national unity government. (…)

Does this mean the government will be formed in the coming days? No. If a government is formed at some point – the date is imprecise at the moment, in a few days, weeks or perhaps a few months – it will be the first government of this type formed in Lebanon, and that will be a major step forward.

Even though President Bashar al-Assad was very positive, as I told Saad Hariri, there are also disturbances in South Lebanon. The protagonists have not disappeared, but all the Lebanese groups, all the political groups including Hezbollah, agreed on these elections taking place. They did, and they agreed not to contest them. This is a positive development. (…)

Q. – Is France thinking about a change in UNIFIL’s mandate, after the latest developments?

THE MINISTER – The mandate was carefully considered, it is extremely solid (…). We are in favour of renewing UNIFIL’s mandate. It’s scheduled for August. In any case, no changes in the mandate are being considered. (…)


Q. – With regard to the French position on the situation in Iran, does France still consider Mr Ahmadinejad’s election illegitimate? Do you have any material evidence of probable fraud?

THE MINISTER – Let me remind you that we didn’t count the votes. What we’ve sadly followed has been the people’s reactions and the crackdown on them. You don’t have to be a human rights activist to notice that.

France has traditionally and for a very long time had a very clear policy. She doesn’t recognize governments, she recognizes States. No one is asking us to recognize or not recognize Mr Ahmadinejad’s future government.

As I said earlier, and I think it’s one of the aspects we are reflecting on the most, there’s now a whole debate going on about religions that wasn’t there before. The [French Foreign] Ministry is changing and the thinking is changing because the world is evolving extremely fast. (…) There are now at least six people headed by Joseph Maïla – and there will be more – who are reflecting on religions. We are thinking a lot about the Shiite religion. It was high time, and those of you who are here and with whom I’ve had the opportunity to travel know the importance given to the Shiite/Sunni divide.

So we consider important not just the crackdown on the demonstrations, the number of deaths, the prisoners – that’s our job, we have to do it and try to help people – but also the fact that at the top, it isn’t customary for the Supreme Leader – who is there while awaiting the Hidden Imam, according to the Shiite religion – to take a position. This is a first, and it explains why a number of important ayatollahs are expressing differences. They are upholding the right of the crowds to demand correction of the frauds, if there have been any. That is what we are observing, that’s what we heard in the latest speech by Mr Rafsanjani, who’s not just anybody in the Shiite hierarchy. We are following this very closely. It also explains why a number of demonstrators who are neither secular nor atheist are noting that developments aren’t what they expected at the highest level of the State.

We are also following this with our European friends, with the European Presidency and with the Americans. Don’t ask me to calculate the chances of success of a movement like this one which, in my opinion, is a large-scale movement that will continue. (…)


Q. – What’s your position on the dispute between the US administration and Israel on the settlement freeze?

THE MINISTER – As regards the Americans and settlements, France’s position, pre-dating that of the Americans, is very clear. We absolutely must achieve a halt to settlement activity, otherwise there will be no chance of obtaining what’s essential: a democratic Palestinian self-governing State alongside Israel, whose existence we are committed to – we have made this clear – thus guaranteeing the existence and security of the State of Israel.

There are other questions about Jerusalem and refugees. All this was discussed in the Annapolis process. Now there’s very clearly a change in the American attitude, a conflict between American and Israeli attitudes. The Americans have demanded a halt to work on a settlement in East Jerusalem in a very specific neighbourhood and on a very specific number of homes. The Israeli Ambassador was even summoned in Washington. I should add that the Israeli Ambassador has also been summoned to the Quai d’Orsay and will be received this afternoon or tomorrow.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position was repeated, and he is not in favour of freezing this specific settlement. There is a difference of assessment and a clear political difference that we are aware of and are also facing, and which we discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu during his visit to Paris.

The Israeli Ambassador has been notified and will come and talk to us about settlements and freedom of movement. I would nevertheless add that we had a meeting with Ehud Barak not long ago and he told us that outposts, i.e. illegal settlements, would be dismantled. They will be removed, and I think that yesterday or today there was confrontation on the ground. But that is completely different, they aren’t the same settlements. They [those Ehud Barak was talking about] are illegal under Israeli law and will, I believe, be removed. As for the rest, we are in frequent contact with our Israeli friends and our Palestinian friends, and I’m not just saying that for effect, it isn’t diplo-speak, on both sides they are our friends. Is that possible? It has to be. (…)


Q. – Following your visit to Damascus, what are the chances of the resumption of Israeli-Syrian negotiations?

In the immediate future, I don’t see them as very good. I know that not everyone in Israel agrees, given that there are several different trends within the government. I think some would like to resume these negotiations faster than others. On the Syrian side, I didn’t feel a lot of enthusiasm. I know these negotiations will take place someday, just as everyone knows that Middle East negotiations will lead to peace. But when, and after how many victims? No one knows. I didn’t ascertain an urgent need to negotiate on the part of the Israelis and Syrians. But some people are still talking about it – the French, the Turks, even some Israelis. On our side, we’re used to being impatient, and in the Middle East they’re used to things taking a long time. (…)


Q. – Are the chances of resolving the nuclear dispute now based on the hope for regime change in Tehran and for a political transformation in that country, knowing that all your approaches have failed and that the effort to strengthen the sanctions has broken down and seems very difficult?

THE MINISTER – It is very hard to answer you. First, the sanctions haven’t broken down. There have been three UN Security Council resolutions instituting sanctions which have delivered results. Because it is not possible to negotiate and because the Iranians aren’t responding, other than by sacking the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency – whose sole error was to present the IAEA’s demands – and replacing him by someone more docile, we are continuing our efforts. We will step up our study of new sanctions that, I hope, will be understood by the Iranian people as not targeting them. We are targeting banking channels, travel, investments. We have respected the freeze on investments.

Could the nuclear negotiations resume or are they connected with the new government? I am not sure. I think it would be easier to talk to a government that reflects the people’s aspirations more than the current government does. Does Iranian nationalism no longer exist in this great country which was the meeting place of two important regions, Asia and the Middle East? I don’t believe so. I think there’s also the feeling of double standards in Iran, as elsewhere. I think there is high regard for a man who, for other things, may be criticized, but who for the Shiites, for the Arab world, is someone who has resisted pressures they feel could be unbalanced. But I’m not sure that means the problem would be resolved with a new government. And then there are also problems with a country that is helping many movements whose political stances or activities, such as bombings, we disapprove of. (…)./.

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