Q. – Alain Juppé, thank you for joining us this morning. Your schedule is extremely busy: you’re catching a plane just after Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, bound for the Middle East. First you’re going to Rome, where you’re meeting Mahmoud Abbas for talks, and then you’re travelling to Ramallah.
Is the purpose of your trip to Palestine to seek a resumption of the negotiations, when not that long ago – a few days ago – you were saying: “ultimately we’re aware of the slim chance of achieving a resumption of the negotiations”? Can France still make her voice heard and resolve something we’ve always known is very difficult to resolve?
THE MINISTER – On the latter question, I have no hesitation. The answer is yes. What’s more, it’s enough to visit these countries or meet their leaders to see the importance they attach to France’s position.
The purpose of the visit is to seize every chance to relaunch the peace process. The chance is slim, but it exists, because at least two very significant things have happened in the course of recent weeks: first of all, Obama’s speech in New York, where for the first time the United States President mentioned the 1967 borders as a parameter for negotiation, offset by mutual land swaps; that’s an important development. (…)
Q. – The Palestinians will be happy with what you tell them, but not the Israelis.
THE MINISTER – I’m not sure there’s total enthusiasm on the Palestinian side or total refusal on the Israeli side. We must try things out. I’ve told you the chances are slim; we must try them out. And of course we must try them out not just on France’s behalf but on the international community’s behalf. And what we envisage is a declaration by what’s called the Quartet – that is, the Americans, Russians, Europeans and United Nations – telling the different sides, I repeat: the status quo is impossible. Everything around you has changed; Egypt isn’t what she was just six months ago. Events are taking place in Syria that will doubtless be talked about. So you must take into account this new international scenario and get back round the table. And if nothing happens, I think it’s a strong message, and the Europeans are ready to send it in the same terms as us. So in September, when the United Nations General Assembly meets to discuss a possible recognition of the Palestinian state, France will shoulder her responsibilities, as President Sarkozy has said. (…)
LIBYA/AU/GADDAFI/PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS
Q. – Why have there been such differences [over Libya] between the African Union countries and the countries rallied behind NATO? The differences seem to be decreasing by the day, despite the failure of Jacob Zuma’s mediation process.
THE MINISTER – We must distinguish between the situation in Europe and among the African countries. In Europe, as I’ve told you, there’s agreement about the goal but disagreement about the methods. To be very clear about it, certain European countries – not least of them Germany – weren’t in favour of a military intervention.
Q. – Nor was the African Union.
THE MINISTER – On the African Union, it’s more complicated, because we must remember that Gaddafi posed as African head of state and even as leader of African unity. That enabled him to create special relationships with many African heads of state, relationships also supported by his economic interventions – which were frequent – in favour of certain African states. This creates a political context that’s different from that of Europe, and it’s perfectly legitimate for there to be a debate within the African Union.
What I’d like to say is that we want to work with the African Union. I’ve said so several times to the Chairperson of its Commission, Mr Jean Ping: we think we need a close relationship, precisely to promote this political solution, which involves what? First of all a ceasefire: a real ceasefire, not just a status quo on the ground but a withdrawal of Gaddafi’s troops to their barracks and a monitoring of the ceasefire by an international authority – i.e. the United Nations. Secondly, Gaddafi’s departure from power. Thirdly, the beginning of a national reconciliation process led by the Transitional National Council, whose credibility and indeed legitimacy is today recognized by everyone, or almost everyone. (…)
Q. – Should Gaddafi be shot, tried or given asylum?
THE MINISTER – Certainly not shot: we’re not killers. It’s for the international courts to make a judgement on that. You know, being a dictator has become a high-risk profession. The International Criminal Court does its work and we’ll respect it. And as for Gaddafi’s fate, it’s up to the Libyans themselves to decide. The purpose of this whole process, I repeat, is to help the Libyans make their own decisions. The national reconciliation process, the Transitional National Council’s road map, the evolution towards elections, towards a new constitution, are decisions for the Libyans; they’re not decisions for the international community, let alone NATO. (…)
Q. – With Libya in the news, ever more questions are being asked in the press about the French presence in Libya, particularly that of private security companies like Secopex. What’s the role of private contractors on the ground? Are we talking about unofficial, extra logistical support for air operations? Is it a step forward in the undercover war?
THE MINISTER – Those companies are private, as you’ve said: in other words, they have no relations with the public or in particular the French government. They intervene – you’re right to say so – all over the place: many in Afghanistan, from where President Karzai even decided to expel them recently. What we hope is that there’ll be an international code on how these companies operate.
Q. – They’re often likened to mercenaries. We know they are indeed present in Afghanistan. Are they on a mission mandated by the Quai d’Orsay?
THE MINISTER – No, I’ve replied to you about that: the answer is no. They’re sometimes contacted by the local authorities, who use them to guarantee security conditions. And I repeat: international regulation would be welcome, to prevent any reprehensible practices on their part. (…)
FRENCH FOREIGN POLICY/LEADERSHIP
Q. – Regarding Srebrenica, you say there wasn’t such a rapid intervention. Isn’t this rapid reaction one of the current strengths of French foreign policy? We saw it regarding Georgia; we’re seeing it in the G20’s agenda. Isn’t being ahead of the game sometimes a bonus, regardless of the balance of power?
THE MINISTER – Undoubtedly, it often works; you’ve given a few examples. We were criticized for not doing it with regard to Tunisia; perhaps we were surprised by what happened; but this capacity for initiative on the part of French diplomacy is one of its strengths.
And we must recognize – and I do so enthusiastically – that from this viewpoint, President Sarkozy has an exceptional capacity for initiative that is praised by his peers. I was present – because he wanted me to be there: there were no other foreign ministers – at nearly all the G8 meetings, and I can tell you that what in the common parlance of international life is called French leadership is recognized on a number of issues and interventions.
YEMEN/FRENCH HUMANITARIAN WORKERS
Q. – What’s the news on the French humanitarian workers missing since Saturday in Yemen? Is it looking increasingly like a kidnapping, [and if so] by whom and why?
THE MINISTER – I said a few words on this earlier, in your news bulletin. To begin with, we’ve noted their disappearance; we still haven’t got any evidence of their kidnapping, but, as time goes on, it’s highly likely this is a kidnapping. As you know, over there, groups which are sometimes terrorist groups and sometimes also mafia groups carry out this type of kidnapping. So we immediately contacted the Yemeni authorities to launch the necessary investigations and meet all the conditions of their release.
Q. – Are all French people in Yemen being asked to leave the country?
THE MINISTER – Yes, we’ve asked French people to leave Yemen, which has become a high-risk country. We’ve evacuated a large part of our diplomatic staff and are of course advising tourists not to go to Yemen. (…)
EGYPT/TUNISIA/ECONOMIC CRISIS/ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM
Q. – The fear of a revival of Islamic fundamentalism, including in Egypt and Tunisia, depends a great deal on [whether there is] a Marshall Plan. In other words, what interaction is needed between you and your finance minister colleague and at European level? What are the chances of this Marshall Plan being managed effectively yet without appearing to undermine the independence of the beneficiary countries?
THE MINISTER – First of all, your analysis is extremely pertinent. Let me take Egypt and Tunisia as an example: the political democratic transition processes could fail if the economic crisis continued to get worse. The economic crisis is there: the drop in tourism, the return to Egypt of hundreds of thousands of people who were working in Libya, high expectations from people who want to benefit from the revolution and are calling for salary increases in companies in difficulty, investors playing a waiting game – so all the factors of an economic crisis are there. And if the economic crisis gets worse, I’m convinced that the political process will deteriorate. Hence the international community’s very strong commitment. President Sarkozy, as G8 President, invited Tunisia and Egypt to Deauville, and I assure you that the foreign affairs and finance ministers are today working to put together action plans reflecting Egypt and Tunisia’s priorities, in order to mobilize the huge resources which have been announced. $40 billion has been announced; we’re now going to try and make this a reality. (…)./.