Brazil/Rafale – Côte d’Ivoire/military intervention – Afghanistan/troops – Attacks on Coptic Christians
Q. – You represented France at the investiture of Dilma Rousseff. She’s succeeding Lula as leader of the emerging Brazil. Was it confirmed to you that Dilma will stick to Lula’s promise to order Rafale planes?
THE MINISTER – I obviously talked about it to the officials I met. It’s entirely natural for the new president to want to take personal charge of the matter; a decision should be taken in the coming weeks.
Q. – What kind of decision?
THE MINISTER – I think we can be confident, but I remind you my code of conduct is never to announce things before they’re decided upon. It’s a decision for Brazil.
Q. – But shouldn’t the building of Rafales, which is so costly, be spread out and their number perhaps further reduced?
THE MINISTER – I’d like to say that the sale of the Rafales comes in the context of considerable strategic cooperation between France and Brazil. They’ve bought submarines and helicopters from us. We’re currently working on their surface fleet. So you see this is only one aspect of a relationship which is extremely important on the strategic and industrial level.
Q. – So you’re saying to them: “carry on, buy Rafales from us”?
THE MINISTER – I went over there to tell them that among other things.
COTE D’IVOIRE/MILITARY INTERVENTION
Q. – Now the important subjects: Côte d’Ivoire, the African States. Mediators have failed to persuade the defeated President, Laurent Gbagbo, to go; he’s digging in. Does that make Gbagbo more legitimate?
THE MINISTER – Persisting with your mistakes doesn’t make you more legitimate. Things are completely clear: there was an election under the United Nations’ supervision; the result was validated; a president was legitimately elected; and France, together with the whole international community, sticks to that.
Q. – Is Côte d’Ivoire a French “deal”, as they’re saying in Abidjan?
THE MINISTER – Who’s taken a stance? The United Nations Security Council, the African Union, the European Union, ECOWAS – in other words, all Côte d’Ivoire’s neighbours and virtually every State on the planet. Now, France isn’t…
Q. – So is Gbagbo falsely accusing Paris?
THE MINISTER – It’s always easy to pick a scapegoat. Of course France won’t take the initiative of military intervention. Our troops are only there in the framework of the United Nations. Obviously the only case where we’d intervene is if our nationals – and there are a lot of them: nearly 15,000 – were threatened in any way whatsoever.
Q. – Yes, but do the French soldiers on a mission with others, for the UN, have the right to respond in self-defence if there’s an attack?
THE MINISTER – Of course: UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire] was entrusted with a mission by the United Nations, and UNOCI must accomplish that mission.
Q. – This morning, is there any other solution than force or pressure?
THE MINISTER – I think the international community mustn’t give in: it’s an extremely important challenge for Africa. If we were to accept that, because of the stubbornness of someone who’s been defeated, democracy should be treated with contempt in an African country, it would concern the whole continent. So we’ve got to hold firm.
Q. – I repeat my question: is there any other solution than force or pressure?
THE MINISTER – If President – self-proclaimed President-elect – Gbagbo doesn’t give in, we must go further with the use of sanctions; that, moreover, is the position…
Q. – Including military sanctions?
THE MINISTER – I know that ECOWAS – that is, Côte d’Ivoire’s neighbours – is thinking about it. I think it’s up to the Africans to take a decision on this.
Q. – The African army too?
THE MINISTER – I think it’s up to them, and certainly not the French army.
Q. – 1,200 French soldiers are engaged in opening up one of the Afghan economy’s two strategic routes. The Taliban have reportedly called for a ceasefire; can that in itself be described as an initial result?
THE MINISTER – I hope so; in any case, I can tell you I was in the region fewer than eight days ago, at France’s forward base, which is on the Tora site, and I was really filled with admiration and pride when I saw how our soldiers are working there. They’re true professionals; they’re well equipped, well organized and courageous, they have a sense of their mission and they’re also concerned for the Afghan people. When they launch this kind of operation, they take every precaution to ensure there are no civilian victims, even if it means taking extra risks themselves. So we’re progressing. This area, which is called Surobi, is safer today than some time ago and we hope to be able to hand over to the Afghan army in the course of 2011.
Q. – To leave…
THE MINISTER – To redeploy our troops nearby, first, and then, you know the date all the allies have set: around 2014.
I’d also like to highlight one thing: the outstanding job our trainers, our soldiers are doing to train the Afghan soldiers and police. This is highly valued by the whole coalition and the Afghan government itself.
Q. – Won’t these Afghans who have been well trained by the French and the allies end up one day rallying to the Taliban?
THE MINISTER – I think they’ll end up making sure the Afghan people win back their freedom.
Q. – NATO’s spokesman in Afghanistan is German Brigadier-General Blotz. He’s just said that the heavy losses suffered in 2010 aren’t a sign of failure, but of a sadly necessary phase. And Brigadier-General Blotz adds: before it gets better, unfortunately, it’s going to get worse.
THE MINISTER – I hope it doesn’t get worse, but clearly it’ll be tough.
ATTACKS ON COPTIC CHRISTIANS
Q. – A word on the Copts and what they’re being subjected to: the attacks in Alexandria, Cairo, Baghdad, etc. Throughout the West, Christians find common ground with Muslim communities. Is Islamic fundamentalism fated to turn Eastern Christians into martyrs?
THE MINISTER – I’m deeply appalled by what’s happening in certain areas of the Middle East – in Iraq, where Christians have been victims of attacks, and just recently again in Egypt; it’s unacceptable. I appeal to the leaders of those countries – political but also religious leaders – to end these acts and attacks. The Christians are on soil – I don’t need to say this – where their legitimacy is strong, and they must be respected.
Q. – And here, they’ll be protected.
THE MINISTER – They’ll be protected./.