Skip to main content
Libya/EU/Côte d'Ivoire/Saudi Arabia/Arab movements...

Libya/EU/Côte d’Ivoire/Saudi Arabia/Arab movements...

Published on March 25, 2011
Interview given by Alain Juppé, Ministre d’Etat, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, to the “American Press Club” (excerpts)

Paris, March 24, 2011


Q. – Hillary Clinton has said the United States has already had contacts with highly-placed people in the Gaddafi regime to seek a way out of the crisis. Has France had the same contacts?

THE MINISTER – I can’t answer that question precisely. By definition, contacts of this nature are not made in the public arena. What I can tell you is that we’re already thinking about a way out of the crisis. The military operation isn’t set to last indefinitely. For us it’s a question of preventing Gaddafi from attacking the civilian population and of putting those Libyan players who yearn for freedom and democracy in a position to act. As soon as that’s done, the military intervention will be set to end.

So we must think about the following phase, the political phase, which is up to the Libyans. For them, it’s a question of regrouping and initiating national dialogue to determine their country’s future.

In our view, the National Transitional Council will obviously be part of this national dialogue. There may be traditional authorities that we must involve; we know the role of tribes is still very important in that country. There are figures belonging to what I’d today call the Gaddafi regime who will realize, as time passes, that the dictator is no longer acceptable. To a certain extent, this is what happened in both Tunisia and Egypt. So it’s important for us to identify the figures in Tripoli or elsewhere who are ready for this evolution and this national dialogue.

Q. – You were talking just now about the National Transitional Council, which has just transformed itself into a transitional government, with a former Gaddafi justice minister. Are these people really credible? What does it mean to be a justice minister under Gaddafi? Are these really trustworthy people?

THE MINISTER – Are you aware of a single revolutionary process in the world or in history – we could even go back to the French Revolution – in which the revolutionaries didn’t include figures who had belonged to the previous regime? That was the case at the outset in Tunisia, even if it’s true things have evolved since then. It was the case in Egypt.

We can’t make inappropriate comparisons, but look at what happened in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall: a lot of people later reappeared who had been part of the former regime.

This idea that there are former Gaddafi ministers in the National Transitional Council isn’t a valid objection. It’s a question of whether they’re capable people who have today made a clear choice, and I think I can say this is the case for many of them. (…)


Q. – What’s the situation regarding command of the military operation over Libya? Has France agreed to NATO only playing a supporting role? Does the command lie with NATO? Or with the United States?

THE MINISTER – It seems fairly clear to me. I said so in the National Assembly yesterday and I’m telling you again today: this operation wasn’t decided upon by NATO. It’s an operation under a United Nations mandate, and let me also remind you that all the contributors must first declare their contribution to the United Nations Secretary-General. It’s then conducted by a coalition of countries, some of which aren’t NATO members, like Qatar for example, and there may be others in the coming days. The political leadership of the operation must be conducted at that level.

That’s why we expressed the wish – and it’s a suggestion I made to William Hague – for a meeting to be organized in London next week of all the coalition members, whether they be militarily participants or not. The Arab League and the African Union will be there. Yesterday evening I met M. Jean Ping [Chairman of the African Union Commission] and asked him to attend or be represented at the meeting. Those Alliance or European Union countries wishing to take part will also be there.

A sort of contact group, so to speak, will emerge from this meeting and will, I repeat, oversee compliance with the operation’s broad political and strategic orientations: no troops on the ground, for example.
Then there’s the executive arm. When you conduct a military operation, you have to use soldiers and not diplomats. This coordination was initially done by the United States, in close liaison with France and the United Kingdom, because they’re the only three countries which have been flying planes since last Saturday.

Today the United States no longer wants to take on this responsibility; it strikes us as natural for the only organization capable of taking over the planning and operational leadership of the operation – namely, NATO – to be involved, but within the structure I’ve reminded you of: the United Nations, the coalition, with a contact or leadership group, and NATO for the operational command. (…)

Q. – It’s clear that, in the case of Misrata for example, the air intervention alone was insufficient, because people are still dying. Snipers placed around the city are still gunning down civilians. In precise terms – to expand on what you’ve already told us on this subject – what are the ends of the war and what are the means? How far can we go?

THE MINISTER – I was on a radio station this morning. On announcing my arrival, they said “Alain Juppé, the Defence Minister”. I’m not the Defence Minister; that was a while back. I suggest you put questions about military planning, the use of resources and the targets to Gérard Longuet and the Defence Ministry.

On the war goals, I repeat, it’s extremely clear: it’s not written in either UNSCR 1970 or UNSCR 1973 that the United Nations is going to establish a regime in Libya in the place of the present regime. The goal isn’t regime change; that’s not the mission we’re entrusted with.

The mission is to ensure Gaddafi can’t use military means against the civilian population. We achieved that in Benghazi; we haven’t achieved it everywhere; you’re right, and we’re going to continue.

Beyond this protection of the civilian population, it’s about enabling all those who want to achieve freedom and democracy in Libya to do so and escape the military pressure they’re being subjected to.

After that, it’ll be up to the Libyans themselves to change their regime, if they so wish, not us. It seems clear to me. (…)


Q. – There are worries about the European Union’s solidarity in terms of foreign policy.

THE MINISTER – There are no cracks at all in European solidarity on this point. I told you just now that the difference among us is that the majority of European countries fully adhere to UNSCR 1973, which envisages the use of force, and others don’t.

But on the role of the National Transitional Council, there’s no division in Europe. The European Council declaration on 11 March is absolutely categorical. It was approved by every single Member State and sets out clearly in black and white that this National Council is a valid political interlocutor. So there was no wrong move in that regard. There’s complete agreement among the European States on the attitude to take towards the Council.

What we can add, though, is that maybe the Council doesn’t have a monopoly and that other political players will perhaps have their say. I’ve talked about the traditional authorities; I’ve also talked about those in Tripoli today who still belong to the regime but who will realize, I hope, one day or another, that there’s no future there and that they must change sides. (…)


Q. – Does the action now being conducted in Libya serve as a warning to all those regimes that might be tempted to use the same means as Colonel Gaddafi to crack down on their populations? And secondly, are there any plans for Libyans to attend the foreign ministers’ meeting in London next week, to prepare for the next stage?

THE MINISTER – On the first point, yes, I hope it will be a signal. I sometimes say being a dictator has now become a high-risk profession. When I say that, I’m referring in particular to the International Criminal Court’s involvement. Milosevic died in prison – before the trial ended, but he died in prison. Taylor has just undergone his trial; we’re awaiting the verdict. Other dictators are facing International Criminal Court proceedings, including Gaddafi. I think this is a big change and may make them think. It’s also true in Côte d’Ivoire for Gbagbo. Let’s hope all this will serve as an example.

On your second question, I can’t answer it. I don’t know if the National Transitional Council has been invited. That’s a point I’ll have to check. (…)


Q. – For a few days now, we’ve been hearing France say there’s disquiet in the Arab world with regard to NATO and that the command should be separated for this very reason. There’s something ironic about the fact that France, which has just rejoined NATO, is now distancing herself from the NATO label. We’re well aware that labels change. Isn’t it time to change this label?

THE MINISTER – On the latter point, it’s always France that’s in the spotlight. Maybe we deserve it; maybe we’re more active than others. But what’s currently blocking the North Atlantic Council? It’s France to a slight extent – because we wanted to clarify things – it’s Germany and it’s Turkey. So let’s not place the full burden of responsibility on France again.

For us it’s quite clear, and I’ve said it to you: to suggest to the whole international community that what we’re doing in Libya falls under the sole political and military responsibility of NATO is a mistake. It’s a mistake because the Arab countries don’t take it that way. We have the Security Council resolutions to show them there’s a political reference point; for political leadership we have this whole group that’s being created; so I think we can get them to agree to there being an executive arm, namely NATO, and many are ready to do so.

But let’s show a little diplomacy – that goes without saying here, of course – and a sense of proportion and balance. And let’s not give this operation the NATO label in an effort to sell the NATO label in every situation and out of context. That would be counterproductive, not because it’s unsettling for France but because I don’t think it would be a good thing in relation to the Arab world. I hope our partners will understand that.

Let me remind you too, conversely, that we were repeatedly told that when we joined NATO’s integrated structure we’d be completely under the heel of the Americans. I would point out that, at NATO, everything requires unanimity. (…)


Q. – From the outset France has envisaged the Arab countries’ participation in the operation, but we’ve had a slightly contradictory position from the Arab League and direct participation by just one Arab country. Are you perhaps a little disappointed in the conduct of those Arab countries? (…)

THE MINISTER – I’m not disappointed. In Paris we had the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Morocco, Jordan, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The summit sent a very clear message. Since then we’ve been in permanent contact with the Arab League. Those statements are unequivocal. Words were attributed to Mr Moussa which he corrected the very next day; he’s continued to support the Security Council resolutions and their implementation. He is of course very keen to ensure there are no civilian casualties, and we fully share that sentiment. On Tuesday there will be representatives of the Arab League and perhaps of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia – we invited her – or others. From that standpoint, there’s no disappointment. We’re very committed to ensuring that the League, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab countries are fully associated with the operation, and the same goes for the African Union. (…)


Q. – Your German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, says frequently in private that France is “warmongering” to make up for being slow off the mark in relation to Tunisia and Egypt. Do you get the feeling French diplomacy has gained a second wind? Two days ago Laurent Wauquiez almost waxed lyrical in front of the senators, saying “I’m proud of French diplomacy.” Has there been a change?

THE MINISTER – I’m quite proud of it too; I won’t hide it from you. I’d like to say first of all that President Sarkozy has constantly been taking the initiative, particularly in his contacts with heads of State, and that our diplomacy has projected all that. I’d particularly like to pay tribute to our permanent representation in New York, which has done a tremendous job. Don’t expect me to make unpleasant remarks about my German counterpart. I like Mr Westerwelle very much and hope to work closely with him. He takes his own stance and I take mine; that happens in life, and it’s not the first time it’s been so in Franco-German relations.

I’d also like to remind you that the Libya question mustn’t obscure everything else. The European Council was a very great success on economic and monetary issues, and France and Germany worked entirely hand in hand. The Franco-German partnership is still an absolutely decisive factor.

As for whether France is a warmongerer, I can tell you I couldn’t look myself in the mirror if we hadn’t done what we’ve done, and if we had hundreds of deaths in Benghazi on our conscience today. (…)


Q. – On Côte d’Ivoire, you said recently you wanted to see the international community playing a greater role in Côte d’Ivoire. What would you like the manner of the outgoing president’s departure to be?


THE MINISTER – What’s happening is unacceptable: there are dozens of deaths every day. The violence doesn’t stop rising; we must end this process of violence. I simply meant that it’s not for the European Union, or France within the European Union, to settle all the world’s problems.

There are other organizations that must shoulder their responsibilities. For Côte d’Ivoire, there are two: the United Nations and the African Union.

There are 12,000 Blue Helmets in Côte d’Ivoire, 10,000 of them in Abidjan. We can’t let them stand back and watch what’s happening in Côte d’Ivoire today. They’re governed by Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. They have the right to use force, not only to defend themselves but also to stop the fighting. So I’m asking the United Nations Secretary-General, just as I’ve asked the head of the UN’s military operations, to ensure UNOCI plays its role.

There’s a second organization that has a crucial role to play, namely the African Union. I spoke about it to M. Ping again yesterday; France isn’t going to replace the African Union. France won’t intervene in Côte d’Ivoire to install the President elected by the Ivorians in the last elections: it’s up to the African Union to do that. It’s taken an extremely clear position: it’s asked Gbagbo to leave and recognized Alassane Ouattara as the only legitimate President. It’s now up for the African Union to use the necessary means: political pressure, sanctions and – if need be, as ECOWAS envisaged – the threat of force, to ensure the law prevails and Gbagbo goes. (…)


Q. – With regard to this [Libya] contact group, how will it be organized?

THE MINISTER – The invitations have been sent; it will meet in London on Tuesday and it’s an idea William Hague and I had. I thought it would be good for the group to meet in London. The idea would also be for it to meet periodically, so it could continue playing its role. So its organization will be very flexible, but it’s purpose will be to ensure political oversight of the operation and respect for the spirit of the Security Council resolutions. (…)

Q. – You spoke just now about the NATO command. Can you separate the operations? I’m referring in particular to Article 4 of the UN resolution: will authorization to fire at troops on the ground be part of NATO’s responsibility? (…)

THE MINISTER – Things are under discussion. I’ll tell you my feelings, which are those of a non-soldier: I don’t see how you can separate the planning of a no-fly zone from that of ground strikes, when there are planes and missiles. If there’s no unity in the command chain, it would strike me as a bit difficult. It’s not a difficulty for us [to have a no-fly zone and ground strikes under NATO command]. (…)


Q. – You said just now that the movement affecting the Middle East, the Arab countries, was irreversible. Do you think it will also affect Saudi Arabia, and does that worry you? (…)

THE MINISTER – What I said applies to all the countries in the region. All the countries will have to realize that the people’s aspirations must today be taken into account. It’s a very difficult region, because you also have to bear in mind the specific characteristics of each country, the community problems and the relationship between Sunnis and Shiites, which is a key factor.

We’re always told oil is behind everything. That’s not true: this idea we do it all for oil is simplistic. In order to have a regular and cheap oil supply, the best thing would have been to change nothing in Libya. So it’s not oil that drives us in all this.

It’s not oil that’s at stake, it’s the relations between Sunnis and Shiites that’s a difficult subject, and I want the Quai d’Orsay to organize an in-depth study with experts from the North and from the South – Arabs – of what’s happening, these profound transformations, these democratic developments.

What can we do? How can we support them? How can we respect the Arab world’s unique characteristics? We’re currently organizing in April, probably at the Arab World Institute, a big meeting on these fundamental issues, which can’t be resolved in a press briefing but deserve very thorough examination./.

      top of the page