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New Year’s greetings to the press

Published on January 26, 2012
Speech by Alain Juppé, Ministre d’Etat, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs

Paris, January 24, 2012

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JOURNALISM/DANGER

Last year, 106 journalists died while doing their work, a third of them while covering the events of the Arab Spring. These tragedies remind us that your job – of reporting and explaining the world as it is – is a dangerous job, particularly in countries torn apart by war or violent conflicts.

They also remind us that this profession is central to the functioning of any democracy. In 2011, the call of freedom rang out in many countries. You were its first witnesses. Thanks to you, our fellow citizens were able to get a sense of that irrepressible momentum of peoples towards democracy. And everyone knows that the instinctive reaction of freedom’s enemies, all over the world, is to muzzle the press and that the first allies of freedom fighters are the free media.
I hope you can practise this magnificent profession under the best possible conditions in 2012. You can count on my personal commitment, as well as on the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs’ active role in defending the freedom to report and the safety of journalists worldwide. (…)

2012/ EURO AREA DEBT CRISIS

2012 will also be a year filled with key decisions as regards the world’s stability and international peace and security.

For France – as for several other large countries – it will be a year of elections. But there will be no pause in our country’s diplomatic activity. The coming months will require total mobilization and a constant ability to act. Whether it’s about the success of the democratic transitions in the Arab world, the European debt crisis, change in Africa, maintaining peace in the face of the behaviour of countries like Iran or building a more stable, mutually supportive world, we’ll remain on the front line, taking the initiative. (…)

2012 will be the year of strengthening Europe and the Euro Area, in order to resolve the debt crisis, rejoin the path of growth and restore full meaning to the European project.

My firm belief, that of the French government, is that this crisis, however painful, may be the opportunity for very great progress by Europe. The negotiations on the treaties are moving forward well and we’re confident that the timetable of the Franco-German agreement of 9 December will be kept to. In this context, France is working to ensure the essential discipline and budgetary responsibility mechanisms are adopted, as well as a system of democratic political governance in the Euro Area and a credible commitment to reactivating growth on sound foundations.

That’s how Europe – more integrated, more united and stronger – will overcome the crisis and regain full control of its destiny and choices. In a now multipolar world, it will confirm its fitness to maintain its place as the world’s leading economy, alongside its lifelong partners and the new powers.

ARAB SPRING/SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST

My second observation concerns our Mediterranean neighbourhood. Supporting the profound democratic changes in the Arab world is, for us French, a necessity as much as a duty. Let’s not forget it: it’s our future, too, that’s being played out on the other side of the Mediterranean.

The most urgent thing is for the Syrian regime to put an end to the crimes against humanity it is continuing to perpetrate against its people. We won’t relax the pressure and we’ll do everything – along with our European partners, the Arab League and our partners in the international community – to help the Syrian opposition and people finally get their rights respected. We can’t resign ourselves to the Security Council’s silence on the Syrian crackdown. And we want a swift solution, for the sake of the Syrian people and the security of Lebanon and the region. That’s why yesterday in Brussels we adopted new sanctions against the regime and examined several measures that could extend to freezing the assets of the Central Bank of Syria. That’s also why we’ve continued to provide our support to the latest initiatives of the Arab League, which is now seeking to resolve the crisis through a political transition, in liaison with the United Nations and the organization’s Secretary-General.

Were continuing a trustful and clear dialogue with the countries in transition. As I told the Libyan Prime Minister and the new Tunisian President, we’re here to provide them with our support in whatever way they wish.

And throughout the region, from Yemen to Morocco, we’ll promote the same message and the same demand, including the search for new forms of engagement by the international community to support peace and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

IRAN

The search for peace is the sole aim of our policy towards Iran. Some people fear or pretend to fear that what we’re doing is motivated by a desire to change the Iranian regime. Let’s be clear: the sole purpose of both France and her partners is to make the regime understand that it’s at a dead end, that we’ll never accept an Iran with a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency has again condemned her programme because its sole purpose is to develop a nuclear weapon. The United States and Europe have just decided on unprecedented financial and oil embargos, in order to persuade Iran that this is a dead-end street. Let me point out, by the way, that this is a diplomatic success for President Sarkozy, who floated the idea in a letter he wrote to all his European Union partners, the United States and other countries a few weeks ago. After a long month of negotiations with our partners, we agreed on these sanctions, which I repeat are unprecedented. And we’ll continue appealing to all countries committed to non-proliferation to support us. The sooner the Tehran regime understands the message it’s being sent, the sooner it gives up its illegal programmes and warlike rhetoric, the sooner we’ll be able to resume normal relations with it. The risk, for the time being, is that exasperation and anxiety might lead certain people into a military solution with unpredictable consequences.
That’s precisely what we want to prevent, by applying the sanctions I’ve just talked about.

AFGHANISTAN

The other burning issue for peace and international security will be Afghanistan. France will welcome President Karzai on Friday, and President Sarkozy will sign with him an ambitious friendship and cooperation treaty covering a long period of 20 years, with an initial five-year action plan. We’re committed alongside the Afghans to the first phase of Afghanistan taking necessary ownership of her security responsibilities. We want to support her, as we’ve been doing since 2001, despite the heavy losses our forces are suffering – and in your presence I want to pay tribute to the French soldiers’ commitment, courage and professionalism. We want successful national reconciliation, the strengthening of democratic institutions and the consolidation of the social progress made since the departure of the Taliban. But the tragedy that occurred last Friday is unacceptable. We can accept the risk of losses in combat, but this was a cowardly murder perpetrated out of treachery. We need strong assurances that everything will be done to ensure it never happens again; that’s the purpose of the visit the Defence Minister and the Chief of Defence Staff have just paid to Kabul. It’s in the light of their reports and the meetings President Sarkozy will have with President Karzai on Friday, and depending on the credibility of the guarantees that are provided, that the President and the government will take their decision.

AFRICA

Finally, for France, 2012 will be marked by a strong commitment to Africa. Africa, which tomorrow will account for a quarter of mankind, is undergoing profound change:

Profound democratic change – while significant progress was made in 2011 in Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan, Niger, Guinea and Madagascar, let’s not forget the many challenges of 2012. I’m thinking particularly of the election in Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s future.

Profound change in the security equation, with Islamic terrorism, piracy and all kinds of trafficking taking root; these call for greater regional cooperation.

Profound change in the development equation, when countries with impressive growth rates exist alongside threats of food shortages and famine, in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

Finally, the environmental challenge – we all know Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change and desertification. The Rio+20 conference will be an important milestone. We’re determined to do the utmost for it to provide the opportunity to decide, among other things, on the creation of the world environment organization, which France is insistently calling for.

France stands alongside her African partners. Over the past few years, she has thoroughly revamped her Africa policy. The relations she maintains throughout the continent bear witness to the strength of her commitment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You can see that, in this time of quickening change, French diplomacy is forging ahead with strong convictions, clear priorities and unshakable resolve. It will continue to make France’s voice heard in the service of freedom, justice and democracy; in the service, too, of moderation and common sense. I don’t doubt that there are questions on all your lips about the topic of the day, i.e. relations with Turkey. I’ve already spoken about this on many occasions. Here again, French diplomacy will go on playing its role: a role of calming things down and reaching out.

This voice of freedom is yours too. (…)

I hope that 2012 is a year of great progress on press freedom, which goes hand in hand with progress on democracy and freedom, full stop. Thank you./.

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