Nuclear summit in Washington
Washington, April 12, 2010
Katie Couric speaks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Washington, D.C. / CBS - April 12.
Q. – Let me start by asking you about the so-called loose nukes issue. Clearly it’s impossible to predict precisely that many experts believe the chance of a terrorist getting a hold of and exploding a nuclear device in this device is anywhere between 30 and 50%. Can you describe the most likely scenario that concerns you the most?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, I believe that President Obama was entirely right to convene a summit, bringing together some 40 heads of State and government to address the issue of nuclear terrorism. There is a risk. Now, whether it’s 30 or 40 or 50% risk, what does that matter. The fact of the matter is that there is a risk. And we have to contend with the issue, and we have to address the issue of nuclear terrorism together.
Now, it could be that the countries that have nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terrorists, or that a country that supports terrorist organizations helps them to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. But whatever the formula and however it happens, it is the entire international community that must react in order to combat this type of terrorism, which is one of the reasons why I, together with other heads of State are here today in support of the summit organized by President Obama.
Q. – Many point to Pakistan as a country in which a nuclear facility could conceivably be penetrated by a militant. What needs to be done to ensure that nuclear material does not get into the wrong hands? How can you prevent this from happening?
THE PRESIDENT – Now, what we’re doing is that we are supporting the Pakistani regime in its struggle against, its fight against terrorism, its fight on the Taliban. Now, we need the Pakistanis, we need Pakistan in order to root out the Taliban issue and the Taliban in Afghanistan. And we need to support Pakistan so that Pakistan may develop, may create jobs for its citizens. It has a nuclear weapon, and it’s unthinkable for us that one day, in any event, Pakistan should fall into the hands of terrorists.
Q. – But how do you ensure that these nuclear materials in any country are, in fact, secure? Is it possible to do that totally?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, there’s no such thing as zero risk. Let’s face it. But we are going to talk about nuclear fuel, fuel security. And that we’re talking about military nuclear fuel. We’re going to talk about the security ministry installations, even though these responsibilities are primarily national. In other words, they come under national sovereignty.
Nonetheless, together, we have to address these issues in order to make the world a more secure place. And a safer place. I’ve been also very interested to note the American doctrine as regards the use of nuclear weapons as a use in last resort, in self-defence, which is very close to the way France sees things. But the very fact that the entire international community should be putting its head together to address this issue is the best way of ensuring safety and security, nuclear security.
Q. – The US and Russia signed a treaty as you well know last week to decrease their number of nuclear stockpiles, and the US announced a new policy on how and when atomic weapons should be used. Some are concerned that this will weaken the United States. Do you believe the goal of the nuclear free world is realistic?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, President Obama a year ago in his Prague speech said that he aspired to, he dreamt of a nuclear free world, as we all do, together with him. But he also considered that nuclear weapons for those who have them should be handled in a reasonable, cautious manner. And he laid down a new strategy for the use of nuclear weapons. President Bush had lowered the conditions under which the United States could resort to using their nuclear weapons, but President Obama has raised that level, and specified that it was only very specific instances of legitimate self-defence and the defence of American interests or the interests of its close allies.
And I fully recognize my, our own thinking in this doctrine. You know [inaudible] France is the first country in the world, in fact, the only country in the world that actually said how many nuclear warheads it had. I gave the figure, around 300. We are the country that has most drawn down its number of nuclear warheads, which is why I support the START treaty, because it’s excellent when we put the Cold War behind us.
And that the world’s biggest power, the United States, should sign a treaty with Russia is a good thing. So, to put behind us the Cold War once and forever. Now, we have a military nuclear doctrine whereby we can only use weapons, nuclear weapons as a last resort, and I think it’s a very wise position.
Q. – Under what circumstances would France agree to give up its nuclear weapons?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, France, I said – and I want to say this to American friends who probably don’t, in fact, they don’t know this. We’ve stopped nuclear testing. We ratified a treaty. (…) So, we closed our, the sites which we used for launching. As a matter of fact, for launching nuclear weapons. We’ve announced how many nuclear warheads we have, which has been considerably drawn down.
I feel that if I were to go any further, I could in fact jeopardize the security of my country, and as Head of State, I am the guarantor and guarantee of that security. Now, of course, with the United States, we are combating proliferation, the Iranian question just as the North Korean question is very worrisome. We will do everything we can to avoid and prevent nuclear proliferation. We support the drawdown of nuclear weapons, but we need what we need in order to ensure the safety of our country.
Q. – Having said that, let me just ask you the question I asked you a few minutes ago. Not now, but down the road, maybe in many years, can you conceive of a nuclear-free world?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, a virtual world where there would be no nuclear weapons, I think everyone would applaud that. But I cannot jeopardize the security and safety of my country. You have to realize, we’re a country of 65 million inhabitants. We have fewer conventional weapons than the US and Russia and China, for that matter.
Now, I have inherited the legacy of the efforts made by my predecessors to build up arms as a nuclear power. And I could not give up nuclear weapons, insofar as I wasn’t sure that the world is a stable and safe place. What is the role of a head of State? To ensure the safety of his country and the fate of the citizens that have entrusted him with the task of being president. Which is why I entirely recognize my thinking in that of President Obama’s. I believe that President Obama said he probably wouldn’t be around when the world has divested itself of its nuclear weapons.
Q. – But do you think it’s a realistic goal? And I won’t ask you this again.
THE PRESIDENT – It’s a dream. An awesome dream that can turn into reality. But I will not give up that nuclear weapon because it underpins my country’s security. I will not do so on a unilateral basis, in a world as dangerous as the one which we live in today.
Q. – What about a multilateral basis?
THE PRESIDENT – The US and France are both democracies. We will never use these weapons in order to attack anyone. (…) We need to put our heads together, we need to talk to one another, we need to be cautious. And that is my duty as Head of State.
Q. – Let’s move to Iran. You have very passionately advocated stronger sanctions against Iran. What exactly do you mean by stronger sanctions and to what end?
THE PRESIDENT – I consider the fact that Iran should get its hands on a nuclear weapon, a military nuclear weapon, together with the many statements made by Iranian leaders against the democracy of Israel, is dangerous and unacceptable. Unacceptable, quite simply. President Obama has wanted to stretch out his hand in order to show clearly to the Iranians that it was not they who were the target, but their leadership.
He extended his hand in order to guarantee the unity of the international community in particular, but also the Security Council, which I endorsed, but patience has its limits. And we have come to a time now where we need to vote sanctions. Not against the Iranian people, but against the leaders who are leading the country to the wall. The very idea that the existing leadership should get its hands on a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.
Q. – So, what kind of sanctions?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, there’s a range of sanctions we could be thinking about. For the time being, what we’re trying to do with President Obama is to get the Security Council, the majority within the Security Council together to vote on the strongest, firmest possible sanctions. If we manage this, all the better. If we don’t manage to get a majority of the Security Council, then the United States, Europe and others will have to shoulder our responsibilities.
Now these sanctions can be manifold. They could be financial in nature.
(…) They can be decisions that we could take, for instance, to no longer purchase Iranian oil. But there’s a range of possibilities of options in order to get it across to the Iranian leadership that this strategy that is their strategy, in other words, wanting to get their hands on an offensive weapon and saying offensive things, are unacceptable.
Q. – Are you optimistic you’ll be able to do that within the purview of the UN Security Council, or do you believe that they’ll significantly weaken the sanctions so they’re not effective?
THE PRESIDENT – I’m a realist. I’m down to earth. The best solution is the unity of the Security Council, but not at any price. Not at the price of a resolution that is so toothless that it would achieve nothing. You know, I would not want the world to wake up to a conflict between Israel and Iran, quite simply because the international community has been incapable of acting. And the question, the issue of sanctions, and we totally agree with President Obama, is a question that will arise in the next few days or next few weeks.
We cannot stand still when confronted with what’s going on. The United States have done everything they could conceivably do in order to stretch out their hand in order to bring peace (…). Now the time has come for sanctions.
Q. – Were you frustrated that you had to, or did you feel as if you had to pressure the United States to get a little tougher on Iran?
THE PRESIDENT – No. No. I talked about it extensively with President Obama. And no one holds the absolute truth. (…) But we talked about it. And I understood his position, which was to do everything he could to persuade one and all that we were acting in good faith. And he did so, and I think he was right to do so. But I think we must safeguard the unity of the international community, and of course, we have to convince people, the Russians are going in the right direction, of course the Chinese as well. (…)
Q. – The Chinese?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes. Yes, the Chinese also, because they are permanent members of the Security Council. They have a veto right. (…) I’m a realist. It’s difficult, it’s tough, but it’s worth trying, because it’s now that we have to decide.
Q. – How concerned are you, Mr President, about a potential Israeli military strike against an Iranian nuclear facility?
THE PRESIDENT – That would be disastrous. It would be a disaster. I don’t even want to think it possible. And the best way to avoid this disaster scenario is to take measures in order to get Israel to understand that we are determined to ensure its security. And Israel, furthermore, must equally make the necessary effort in order to bring about a fair and lasting peace with their Palestinian neighbours.
Q. – Do you think stronger sanctions will actually work? Because the Iranians seem very insistent upon building this nuclear capability.
THE PRESIDENT – I believe in the effect of sanctions, because I’ve been very impressed by the courage of the Iranian people. Those young kids, those women who went down into the streets of Tehran and major Iranian cities. What a fantastic example of courage they gave us. We cannot be, we can’t afford to be less courageous than they were. (…) We have always said, and all of us have said that we are prepared to help Iran achieve [civilian nuclear energy]. So, if Iranian leadership is in good faith, if it’s civilian nuclear energy they want, there’s no problem. We won’t stand in their way. The problem is that up until now, every attempt to engage in dialogue has led to a failure. So, we have to move on now to sanctions.
Q. – One more question about Iran, and then I’ll move on. You believe that stronger sanctions will embolden the unrest in the streets. But what if it emboldens the government against the very protestors you so admire?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, you can take targeted sanctions, which are targeting the Iranian leaders, and that will not make the Iranian people suffer. Equally, it’s important that those who are bold enough and courageous enough to say what they think nowadays in Iran feel the eyes of the world trained upon them. It is not up to me to meddle in the internal affairs of Iran. (…) [But let’s not be] indifferent to the suffering of all these people who are thrown into jail, who are living in the conditions we know of now, when we see how brutal some of the repression has been. (…) Even though it is up to the Iranians to choose their leadership, and certainly not up to a few foreign States.
Q. – Let me ask you about Afghanistan, Mr President. When President Obama announced the surge in Afghanistan, he was hoping that France would commit an additional 1,000 combat troops. Instead you have said you will send 80 more military trainers in addition to the 3,750 French troops currently in Afghanistan. If you strongly support the NATO mission in Afghanistan, why not send more combat troops?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, you say that with a charming smile, but what you said is very tough. You know, since I became French President I’ve increased twofold the number of our troops in Afghanistan, and I did so at a time when even the US’s closest allies were withdrawing their troops or considering withdrawing their troops. [I’m thinking of] our Canadian friends. This was at the Bucharest summit.
I believe that we have enough French troops in order to take on the duties and responsibilities we’ve been entrusted with in the two regions where we are working together within the framework of NATO, where our troops are doing remarkable work, where every day they’re fighting with huge bravery. So, that’s the first point I would make.
We’ve increased twofold our troop presence. Now, of course, I totally support the orientation adopted by President Obama. We cannot pull out of Afghanistan. We cannot afford to lose. This is not an occupation army in Afghanistan. We are there to help the people of Afghanistan to take over their own destiny, and to live in freedom.
We cannot let those who cut off young girls’ hands simply because they were wearing nail varnish return to power. We cannot allow to return to power those who have condemned 6 million little girls to not go to school. So, we are clearly there for a reason. We are there, and where we still have to make an additional effort with respect to trainers, via, for instance, our base in Abu Dhabi, or strengths in police, Afghani police training, we would do so. I’ve already discussed this with President Obama, and frankly, on that subject, there’s no problem.
Q. – Would you consider sending more additional combat troops though? Not just military trainers?
THE PRESIDENT – No. I said what I thought on the subject with respect to combat troops. We have what we need in order to do the task we’ve taken on. With respect to training, trainers, and police, training the police, we are prepared to make an extra effort. We discussed it with President Obama. We’re on the same wavelength. There’s no problem.
Q. – India and China, as you know, are taking a bigger role on the world stage. At a time when many see the United States and Europe declining in their power and influence. How do you believe you and France and the United States can reassert their importance in an increasingly competitive global environment?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, that China and India are growing is only a good thing. They have a lot of poverty. And for the peace and security of the world we can only applaud that development. And might I add that as they develop, so the conditions on which we compete with one another will become fairer.
Let’s stop comparing China’s growth rate with that of Europe or the US because we haven’t started from the same starting point. (…) But let me come back a bit. Europe and the United States share so much, so many values, the same aspirations, the same levels of development, the same history. And we should be working hand in glove not against Asia, but together. Europe and the United States.
And that works. What we have to ensure above all is that we are competing in a fair manner. I am against protectionism. I’m in favour of free trade, however we cannot let monetary dumping, environmental dumping and social dumping go ahead unbridled. We also have our problems to deal with. And I’ve been watching with close interest what’s been voted in Congress, namely the carbon tax, border adjustment mechanism. And I would like us to be in step with the United States on this. Not in order to turn down competition, certainly not to adopt protectionist measures. That’s something we will never adopt, but simply to ensure fair balanced competition.
Q. – Your popularity in France hovers around 30% depending on which poll you look at. Why do you think you’re facing such a challenging time in the court of public opinion?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, all heads of State and governments of State have been facing a major crisis. We’ve seen the worst crisis in the century. It’s only understandable that people shouldn’t be happy.
What do you want them to say? Unemployment figures are on the up, and they are suffering, and they say to us “get us out of the crisis”. We don’t get them out of the crisis as fast as they would wish, and it’s only understandable that in all countries there should be difficulties.
We’re always following other people’s elections. I watched the Massachusetts election, however great President Obama’s qualities may be, because there is suffering, because the people are disgruntled. And when there is suffering who do you turn to? The head of State and head of government.
But we were elected in order to implement the necessary reforms to bring our countries out of the crisis. And that’s what we’re endeavouring to do as best we can. But at the time of the next wave of elections, people will choose whom they will.
Q. – We’ll get to that in a moment. But first, have you and President Obama commiserated about your standing, your respective standing in the polls?
Q. – I might disappoint here, but, you know, when we meet, we don’t really talk about that. We talk about the difficult choices we have to make. When we dined together at the White House, together with Michelle Obama and Carla, it was very friendly, it was very warm, it was very interesting. It was a very free-ranging discussion we had. The Obamas are people that are easy to talk to, easy to understand. We talk, we compare our difficulties, but look, it’s not easy to be Head of State. If it were easy, we’d know about it. But at a time of crisis, a crisis unparalleled since the 1929, 1930 slump [it’s even more difficult].
But yes, it’s nice, it’s reassuring to talk with people who face the same difficulties to see how they’re reacting, what they’re deciding to do. It was the moment which will remain a very fond memory, both for me and for Carla, the time we spent in the private quarters in the White House.
Q. – Last year, you reportedly said, reportedly, that President Obama was inexperienced and badly briefed on issues like climate change. Did you say that, and do you still believe it?
THE PRESIDENT – First of all, I didn’t say that. But certainly, I don’t remember having said it, and quite simply because I didn’t say it. What I said was something else. I said that I admire the fact that President Obama was one step ahead of American public opinion on this matter.
And it’s very important that the United States should understand that you are the world’s number one power. And that we cannot maintain environmental balances throughout the world without you. And to see a US President who comes on stage and says, "I’ve understood the issue, and how important the environment is," is great news.
Now, I would’ve liked us to have gone further in Copenhagen. I was disappointed with the results in Copenhagen, but I understood that President Obama went as far as he could, vis-à-vis Congress, vis-à-vis even his own public opinion here in the United States.
Q. – But didn’t you yourself renege on the much lauded carbon tax?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, what is the carbon tax? Why would we want to carbon tax? Let me explain this very briefly. Because we want to help our consumers to change attitude and behavioural patterns. We feel that it’s not right that to buy a clean car should be more expensive than to buy a more polluting car. So, via tax measures, we want to help people to change attitude and change the way they spend in order to save energy, to consume in a greener manner. That’s what the carbon tax is.
That being said, I cannot slap on a carbon tax in France, for instance, on steel manufactured and produced in France, if in China, at the same time, there is no tax on steel produced. (…) So, what we said is that we in France will adopt a carbon tax when Europe has adopted a carbon tax on its orders. And we would wish that carbon tax to be similar to the one or comparable to the one adopted in the United States. This is not protectionism. It re-levels the playing field.
Q. – It was quite unpopular, was it not?
THE PRESIDENT – When you’re Head of State, you have to do things that are fair but that are not necessarily popular. You know, if only popular measures were implemented, a lot of people could be head of States or government, and this job wouldn’t be as difficult as it is. (…) Our duty as heads of State is to take painful decisions sometimes, that commit the lives of our troops, that are not necessarily popular, but to pave the way for the future. That’s what it means to be head of State.
Q. – The European Union has offered Greece an aid package, if it needs it. Are you worried about the precedent this might set for other countries that may be in a precarious financial situation?
THE PRESIDENT – (…) It wasn’t Greece that was under attack, it was the euro. With 16 of us, 16 countries with the same currency. Now, when one member of the Euro Zone comes under attack, then the others must rush to its rescue. Otherwise you will see the damages of speculation. (…) It was our duty to do what we did. We availed ourselves of a mechanism whereby we could lend Greece the money it might or would need. We have the money. We have the technical conditions, in other words, the interest rates levels. We have agreed with the IMS and Europe to step in when the time comes, and I know that since we took that decision [inaudible] the spreads have started lowering, dropping, and things are tending to stabilize. All the better.
Q. – When will you decide if you will in fact run for re-election in 2012?
THE PRESIDENT – Well, probably between the end of the summer and beginning of autumn of 2011. But you know, for people, that’s not the real issue. People ask of me one thing, and one thing only. “Get us out of the crisis which we are in.” Get us out of this crisis. And that is what drives every minute, every second of anything I do.
The rest, it’s a matter of detail for them. It’s irrelevant to them. What they want is to get out of the crisis. Less unemployment, more growth, more security. More purchasing power. That’s what they ask of me, and that is what motivates me. That’s what’s driving me, and I am sure that we will succeed. I believe that we are coming out of the slump. I am convinced that we’re going to come up with the goods. I see that things are beginning to improve in the United States, likewise in Europe. Now, of course, it’s difficult, because of things like what’s going on in Greece. There’s a lot of heat on. But we heads of State and government have to be level-headed, cool-headed, strong, and bold in an overheated world. That’s what I try to do.
Q. – You also have to have a thick skin. I am not going to ask you any personal questions. But I would like you to just talk a little bit about your reaction to some rumours that were spreading around. I know members of your inner circle went out publicly to dissuade people of this notion. And your aide suggested it was a political plot. An investigation was launched. In retrospect, do you feel as if your actions prolonged these kinds of stories, and really caused them to be too much of a distraction from what you’re really trying to accomplish?
THE PRESIDENT – No. You know, Carla and I have a very quiet, calm life. We’re very close. And all of this is totally blown out of proportion. I must say, I was very proud of the way she spoke on radio. In a very dignified, calm manner. (…)
Q. – At the same time, it must get slightly annoying?
THE PRESIDENT – You know, if you don’t want to be annoyed, then you have to choose another job than my job. Having said that, it’s a wonderful job, with so many responsibilities but also constraints. And I think we have to accept them serenely. And let the torment and the tempest rage well outside of our lives. When we were both here recently in New York and in Washington, we were very happy. We’re delighted with our trip and all these wavelets don’t get to us. It’s part of modern life, it’s part of the system. That’s the way it is. It’s not really worth wasting one’s time on or one’s breath on. In any case, there’s nothing much we can do about it, so we try and deal with it as calmly as possible.
Q. – Monsieur le President, merci beaucoup. And thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT – [in English:] Thank you very much. You speak French very quaintly.
Q. – Un petit peu. Merci. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT – Merci, Madame. Merci beaucoup.
Q. – Appreciate your time very much, thank you./.
¹ President Sarkozy spoke through an interpreter. The English text is based on the “CBS News” website’s transcript.