France-Russia – Iran/Middle East/G20/G8/European security/South Ossetia – Russia/EU/visas – Gas supplies – Mistral-class LHDs – Visas/EU/European security architecture – Middle East/Iran
IRAN/MIDDLE EAST/G20/G8/EUROPEAN SECURITY/SOUTH OSSETIA
THE PRESIDENT – I’d like to say how happy I am to welcome President Medvedev for the first time to the Elysée. I welcome him as a friend.
France considers Russia a strategic partner. Russia is a friend of France. I’ve had many opportunities of working with President Medvedev and want to say that I trust him. Together we’ve had to resolve difficult, painful crises, and we’ve done so. So it’s a great friend of France who is here.
I’d like to say a word about our discussions. Firstly – and President Medvedev will correct me if I’m wrong, but he’ll be speaking just after – Russia and France have very much the same views on the major issues. On Iran, President Medvedev told me he was ready to consider sanctions so long as they don’t create a humanitarian tragedy. On the Middle East, where Russia and France will work together, with both of us convinced that inertia can lead only to disaster. On the G20 – and France will assume its presidency along with that of the G8 at the end of this year – we and President Medvedev will take initiatives to lay the foundations of a new international monetary system. On the climate, where in Copenhagen we worked, I think I can say, absolutely hand in hand. On Nagorno-Karabakh, where Russia and France will work together to urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to work together and understand each other. On European security, where we’re convinced we have to think differently, not as adversaries but as partners. I even told President Medvedev how important it was on sensitive issues, such as [South] Ossetia, for the agreement we signed in August 2008 to be strictly enforced. On this point, President Medvedev told me he was totally ready for us, France and Russia, to work together to make headway on resolving the problem.
At bilateral level, the three agreements we have signed are extremely important. Let me make it clear that France is arguing – Pierre Lellouche and Eric Besson will correct me if I’m wrong – for the European Union to abolish the visa requirement for Russia. This is a commitment I had made with President Medvedev. Commitments must be made publicly and not privately. It’s France’s position: we want to move to a common area with Russia.
As regards the agreements between Alstom and its counterpart, they are extremely promising. The same applies vis-à-vis Gazprom and GDF-Suez, whose chief executives I welcome here.
We have decided, as regards the Mistral-Class LHDs [amphibious landing ship], that, starting today, France and Russia would begin exclusive negotiations on four Mistral-Class LHDs, with the first being built at Saint-Nazaire, which does not mean the others won’t be – this is under discussion.
You see it’s an extremely frank, extremely easy dialogue. This doesn’t mean that we absolutely agree on everything. We can have points of disagreement but it’s very easy to discuss with President Medvedev. And it’s in Europe’s interest that we don’t go back to that extremely difficult Cold War period. It’s very important. I must say that we have to support the efforts President Medvedev has put in train to modernize the Russian Federation. (…)
VISAS/EU/EUROPEAN SECURITY ARCHITECTURE
Q. – The question is to both presidents. President Sarkozy says that when it comes to European security Russia and France have to be partners. What can the content of the partnership be and what is France’s position on the Russian proposals and the Treaty? The second question concerns the visa-free regime. M. Sarkozy had told you that you are going to monitor the process and wait for its conclusion?
THE PRESIDENT – On the visa-free regime, France will endeavour to persuade her partners to bring it in for Russia. Naturally, we’ll request reciprocity. If there aren’t visas in one direction, there mustn’t be visas in the other. This is a very clear, official position for France and she’s endeavouring to persuade her partners.
Secondly, I was one of the first to consider the proposals President Medvedev made in Evian a year and a half ago on a new security architecture. So what stage are we at and what can be done? France has returned to the NATO integrated command, France is the United States’ ally, but I told President Medvedev that Russia had nothing to fear from NATO. We will be true to our alliance. Even so, shouldn’t we think about what the security architecture of the European continent and Russia has to be? Don’t we face common threats? I’m thinking for example of terrorism. Isn’t it in our interest to think about how, in a period when regrettably all our budgets are in deficit, with all the problems of our public finances, instead of working against each other, we work together? Isn’t that what people expect of us? And if we don’t do it, why did we end the Cold War?
We are no longer in the Cold War. I want to express my conviction that Russia isn’t the adversary, that Russia is the partner. I’m well aware that there’s a history, the continent has a history. I’m well aware that there’s a need for a shift in ideas on the European side. Some people are more enthusiastic than others. There’s a need to shift them on the Russian side too, some people are more enthusiastic than others. But at the end of the day, if we, the presidents, don’t push for an alliance, understanding, mutual respect, then what use are we? There are a lot of things we can work for together having due regard for our reciprocal alliances.
And this brings me to say a word about the Mistral-Class LHD. It’s a command ship, helicopter carrier which we will build for the Russians without military equipment; but I’d like someone to explain to me how we can say to the Russian leaders, “we need you to build the peace, we need you to resolve a number of crises in the world, particularly the Iranian crisis which is a very important one, but we don’t trust you, we’re not working with you on the Mistral, on the LHD”? How consistent is that? Can we say to President Medvedev in the morning: “I trust you, vote with us at the Security Council, let’s draw up the resolution together”, then in the afternoon tell him: “no, sorry, since we don’t trust you, we’re not working together and we’re not supplying you with the LHD”. How inconsistent is that for a position? We want to turn the page of the Cold War.
You know, a lot of people have written and talked about the discussions President Medvedev and I had during the August 2008 crisis. I haven’t spoken in detail on the subject. I think he acted in Russia’s interest by asking the Russian army to stop. I think that France defended the interests of Europe and Georgia’s independence by doing what we did. We did it without using our armed forces, we did it without threats, and we did it through diplomacy, through dialogue. It wasn’t at all easy, but we have learned to get to know each other and move forward. Because, underlying this, in our continent, is a whole history, it weighs heavy. The time has come to turn the page. I think I can say – President Medvedev will correct me if I’m wrong – that we are keen to involve Mrs Merkel and Germany in this debate on the continent’s security. President Medvedev told me about the conversations he’s had with Angela Merkel and we’ll very certainly take initiatives together on the subject. (…)
Q. – (…) Are France and Russia going to present a joint initiative on the Middle East?
THE PRESIDENT – Our initiatives on the Middle East complement each other. On Iran, President Medvedev is talking about smart sanctions, I’d say smart and effective ones. Our positions are extremely close and it’s extremely important.
NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION/NUCLEAR WEAPONS REDUCTION
Q. – The Iranian issue leads to the subject of non-proliferation. Russia, you know, is negotiating with the United States and has made a lot of headway on the new strategic arms treaty. What’s your view of this work? What are this treaty’s prospects? How could France, a European country, contribute to this work on non-proliferation. Did you talk about this?
(…) To expand my Russian colleague’s question, is France in favour of the zero nuclear weapons option which President Obama is defending today and is the subject of discussions with President Medvedev?
THE PRESIDENT – First of all, France welcomes the discussions between President Obama and President Medvedev. These are moving in the right direction and this is extremely positive. As regards France, she had paved the way on nuclear arsenal reduction. I’ll just say one thing: as I said to President Obama, before reducing the level of our nuclear weapons we’ll wait for the United States and Russia to come down to the same level as us. They are so dear to us that we’ll move forward when they are at our level, i.e. at a few hundred, not to be too specific. Then we’ll show the way for the following stage. But both have a few thousand (…). The path we take is important. Being responsible for the security of the French, I won’t abandon the French deterrent without being certain it’s done everywhere. I think that any responsible leader has to react this way. I will also be taking part in New York in the major conference President Obama has convened on reducing nuclear arsenals, which I’d add is so very necessary. (…)./.