Skip to main content

European Council

Published on March 29, 2011
Press conference given by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Brussels, March 24, 2011



Q. – The NATO Secretary-General has announced this evening that NATO is now going to take charge of running military operations in Libya. What exactly does this handover mean, and what are its consequences on the role of the coalition and the contact group?

THE PRESIDENT – (…) There’s the NATO machinery, which will put all the coordination in place, particularly via its Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, on which I agreed with President Obama in a telephone conversation I had with him on Wednesday evening. We agreed on that, as well as with David Cameron. But as you can clearly see, there’s political coordination between the member States of the coalition, not all of which are NATO members – the Emiratis and the Qataris for example – and there’s also the need to coordinate I don’t know how many countries in total: 11 countries and dozens of planes.

The operational, technical coordination will take place at NATO level, but the political coordination – as M. Juppé, the Ministre d’Etat and Minister of Foreign Affairs, has indicated very clearly – will occur at coalition level. That’s something that was agreed by Mr Obama, Mr Cameron and myself. (…)

Q. – You’ve talked about dialogue among all Libyans; that’s what the [European Council] conclusions say. So does that mean this dialogue is possible not only with the National Transitional Council but also with figures linked to the current Gaddafi regime? (…)

THE PRESIDENT – Of course we’re appealing to all Libyans of goodwill who realize Mr Gaddafi is leading Libya into deadlock and tragedy. So all those who want to abandon Mr Gaddafi and his mad, murderous plans can take part in building a new, democratic Libya. It’s perfectly clear. And we’re not blackballing anyone. There’s the extremely brave National Transitional Council, which we’re calling on to broaden out; there are the tribal chiefs; and there are also the figures who’ve been associated with Mr Gaddafi’s regime, who are clear-sighted and must believe the Gaddafi system’s continued existence is leading Libya into deadlock.

We’re not there to build the new Libya in the place of the Libyans. It’s up to the Libyans to build the new Libya; we’re there to do a job that consists in protecting the population. If the coalition hadn’t acted – it was a matter of hours, very few hours indeed – the population of Benghazi would have been the victims of a massacre. (…)

Moreover, we’ve stepped up sanctions to ensure, in particular, that Mr Gaddafi doesn’t continue to exploit oil revenues for his own benefit. So the purpose of what we’re doing is the United Nations resolution, the whole United Nations resolution and nothing but the United Nations resolution, and it’s very clear in our minds. (…)

Q. – Regarding the embargo or the freezing of oil funds for Libya that’s been decided upon today, can you explain to us what’s actually been decided and what the purpose is? And if you’ll allow me, I’ll go a little further and ask you a question about Syria, because it’s the day before a demonstration announced there for tomorrow. There have been very serious events in recent days, and today the talk is of about 100 deaths. I’d like to know if you’ve discussed it at Council level and if you, the Europeans, or you, the French President, have a message to send President Assad about it?

THE PRESIDENT – On the financial sanctions, as you know Mr Gaddafi’s assets have been frozen all over Europe, and we’ve decided to step up the sanctions, increase the number of people subject to sanctions and ask every country in the world to stop paying for Libyan oil, to ensure Mr Gaddafi doesn’t pay his mercenaries with oil money. I think we must be consistent and cut off his financial opportunities, because we know what he does with that money. It’s a global effort to ensure the Libyans’ money isn’t diverted.


On Syria, we’ve been informed of the latest events and we express our great concern about the rise in violence and our appeal for no violence against the civilians who are demonstrating. It’s their choice and their right to demonstrate. Every leader, including Arab leaders, must understand that the reaction of the international community and Europe will now be the same each time. We’ll stand alongside populations demonstrating without violence; they mustn’t undergo violent crackdowns. In all democracies there are demonstrations and unfortunately there may be violence, but in no democracy can we agree to the army being deployed to fire real bullets on demonstrators. That’ll be France’s position and it won’t change, whatever countries are concerned. There’s no reason to make any distinctions in that respect.


Q. – Is one of the aims of the current operation in Libya still to bring Muammar Gaddafi before a court, possibly the International [Criminal] Court or a Libyan court? And in addition to Colonel Gaddafi, are there any other Libyan leaders you would like – (…)

THE PRESIDENT – It’s not up to us: if he’s convicted of crimes against humanity, Mr Gaddafi will be put before an international criminal court like all the leaders in the world who are violating certain international principles, but it’s not up to us to decide what the future Libyan government must be and what Mr Gaddafi’s political fate must be. (…)

Q. – You told us at the beginning, in fact, that the military operations would end when the goals were met in terms of protecting civilians. But have you been able to tell your counterparts what the ultimate timescale is – the deadline – and can you envisage ending the military operations one day with Mr Gaddafi still in power?

THE PRESIDENT – First of all, I don’t have a deadline and you know that very well; it would be too simple. And if I did have a deadline, do you think it would be wise to give it out, so that Mr Gaddafi and his henchmen could say to themselves: “OK, right, we’ll hang on till that point, and then they’ll go”? Would it be reasonable, in your opinion? It wouldn’t be. So I won’t do it.

Also, would it be reasonable for us to leave with Mr Gaddafi still there? There’s only one scenario in which we’d do so, namely if Mr Gaddafi’s forces return to their barracks and the civilian population is no longer under threat. At that moment, UNSCR 1973 would be achieved, which in my mind goes beyond a mere cease-fire. Sorry, what 1973 says is very specific: it’s not enough to announce a cease-fire, as occurred last Saturday, after which he took advantage to build up his troops and massacre people. I’m giving you a very clear answer: if Mr Gaddafi’s soldiers return to their barracks and stop besieging the cities and threatening people, then it’s a problem for the Libyans themselves and the Security Council mandate would be superseded. (…)

Q. – Do you think UNSCR 1973 would make it possible to send ground troops?

THE PRESIDENT – No. I’m not the only one to think that. It actually rules it out. So there’s no ambiguity about it: it actually rules it out. I think this is very important; the context of this is an international law forged through a lot of tough negotiation on our part and upheld by us. If we do less we won’t be measuring up to our historical responsibilities, and if we do more we won’t be measuring up to our historical responsibilities, because the coalition could then be denounced for going beyond its mandate for other motives. (…)./.

      top of the page