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Middle East peace process – Syria – Iran – Abu Dhabi/French base – Afghanistan – European integration/emerging countries

Published on February 7, 2012
Excerpts from the interview given by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, to “Politique Internationale” magazine

Paris, February 5, 2012

(…)

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS

Q. – In your view, is the Arab Spring an opportunity or a risk as regards Israeli-Palestinian relations?

THE PRESIDENT – The Arab Spring showed that the aspiration for freedom and democracy was no less strong in the Arab world than elsewhere. This appetite for freedom makes it more necessary than ever for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be resolved: at a time when the Arab peoples are taking back control of their destiny, why should the Palestinians go on waiting indefinitely for a state? The solution of two states living side by side in peace and security is the only valid one, and it is obviously Israel’s best guarantee of real, long-term security.

And let’s not underestimate the Arab world’s growing awareness of this issue, to which governments – democratically elected from now on – will of course give greater consideration.

The economic, social, administrative and security reforms which President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad implemented to build the foundations of the future Palestinian state show that the Palestinians are legitimate, serious, reliable interlocutors, and partners for peace.
But these efforts are still fragile; they will last only if their goal – the advent of a Palestinian state – is swiftly achieved. The peace negotiations must be restarted, and fast. (…)

Q. – Don’t you think that if the Palestinian organizations recognize the legitimacy of the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine it would be easier to ask the Israelis to make real concessions?

THE PRESIDENT – Even though the diversity of Israel and her people is an asset, France understands and upholds the idea of a solution based on two “nation-states”: the State of Israel for the Jewish people – who have the right to a state, with due regard for the rights of non-Jewish Israelis – and a State of Palestine for the Palestinian people.

Q. – In the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, what role do you assign the United States, the Quartet, the European Union and France?

Would you say that the current negotiation method is wrong? In what way? What, in this respect, is the ideal formula?

THE PRESIDENT – Today, the process is at a standstill. I’m not blaming anyone. Barack Obama has made genuine, determined attempts. He convened the parties in Washington in September 2010 and gave an important speech on the 1967 borders in May 2011. The United States has a key role to play. That’s obvious.

But we have to be pragmatic and realistic: neither the United States, acting alone, nor the Quartet will manage to get the peace process going again. Too many major players have been left out so far – Europe and its major nations in particular.

A change of method also means recognizing that laying down preconditions for the negotiation doomed us to failure. Clearly there can’t be any lasting peace without an end to Israeli settlement activity – and, from this point of view, France has always unequivocally condemned settlement activity because it is illegal and reduces the chances of peace. But to make ending settlement activity a condition of the negotiations was to make what should have been a key issue of the discussion a precondition. There must not be any preconditions. What is necessary is an agreement on the negotiation’s terms of reference. Those in the roadmap are still valid and have the advantage of having been unanimously ratified by the Security Council.

SYRIA

Q. – Ultimately, do you believe the fate of Bashar al-Assad’s regime is sealed? Do international sanctions seem to you sufficient to finish it off?

THE PRESIDENT – By persistently scorning his people’s aspirations and by forging blindly ahead with a brutal crackdown, the Syrian regime has lost all legitimacy. It is doomed to disappear, sooner or later. That is my conviction and it’s also the experience of recent months, from Tunisia to Yemen, from Libya to Egypt. That is why – along with our American, British, German and many other partners – we’ve said Bashar al-Assad must stand down.

IRAN

Q. – Must we automatically rule out a military intervention against Iran’s nuclear facilities?

THE PRESIDENT – If Iran continues her senseless race for the bomb and persists in threatening her neighbours, we do indeed run the risk of a military intervention. We know some people in Israel are thinking about it seriously, because the country’s very existence is at stake.

Let’s ask the question: would a military intervention settle the Iranian nuclear problem? No! It would do the opposite, and it would be worse: war, chaos in the Middle East, an unleashing of hatred. France will never encourage such a scenario. (…)

Q. – As a regime, does the Islamic Republic of Iran strike you as having a long-term future?

THE PRESIDENT – The Iranian people deserve better than the isolation to which this regime is condemning them and the crackdown still being inflicted every day on the opposition. I remember the tragic images and accounts of the crackdown of summer 2009, a year before the start of the Arab Spring. The Iranian people are a great people; their desire for freedom, justice and dignity is legitimate. The Iranian authorities must heed it.

But let me make this clear: the goal of France and the international community isn’t regime change in Tehran, it’s for the regime to change [course] and finally fulfil its international obligations, for it to abandon its illegal proliferation activities and choose to cooperate with the international community.

ABU DHABI/FRENCH BASE

Q. – What is the real purpose of our new military bases in the United Arab Emirates? To counter an Iranian threat? To secure our crude oil supplies?

THE PRESIDENT – With the joint base in Abu Dhabi – the first one created outside national territory for 50 years – our strategic engagement in the Gulf has taken on a new dimension.

Of course, we were already involved in the area: in the wake of the Gulf War, France signed defence agreements with the main countries of the region. But I repeat: with that base we’ve really launched a new era in our relations with all our allies in the Gulf. France is showing she is ready to commit herself fully alongside her allies and intends to participate fully in the stability of the area, which is strategic for world stability.

Strategic by virtue of its geographical position in the Middle East, between the Arab world and Iran, in a region marked by opposition and rivalry between Sunnis and Shi’ites; strategic, too, because a large proportion of the world’s energy reserves are concentrated in it; and strategic, finally, because it is a troubled region where the number of threats is increasing. You were talking about the challenge presented by the fight against proliferation; you could add that of the fight against terrorism…

In the face of these threats and challenges, France stands more than ever alongside her Gulf partners thanks to the Abu Dhabi base, just as our Gulf partners – in particular the Emirates and Qatar – stood alongside us to protect the Libyan people. (…)

AFGHANISTAN

Q. – More than 10 years after the 11 September attacks, why is France still involved in Afghanistan? Is there still a purpose to it?

THE PRESIDENT – I hear the calls for withdrawal, and my answer is simple: we and our allies and our Afghan friends have a clear policy, which we are following, and clear responsibilities, which we are shouldering.

Our allies are the NATO countries and the United States in particular. No one in France has forgotten – at any rate, I hope not – the barbaric attacks of 11 September and the help the Taliban provided to that madman Bin Laden. We’ll leave Afghanistan militarily only with the assurance 1) that al-Qaeda can no longer make her a base for launching terrorist attacks on the West, and 2) that the Afghans are capable of ensuring their territory’s security by themselves. With Bin Laden’s death and the weakening of al-Qaeda, that goal has become entirely realistic and attainable. (…)

EUROPEAN INTEGRATION/EMERGING COUNTRIES

Q. – Because of the crisis the Euro Area is going through, there’s often talk of going “further in European integration”. Is that possible and, if so, how far must we go without risking a loss of sovereignty?

THE PRESIDENT – In the face of the crisis, we must choose between going backwards – which would be disastrous for everyone – and an effort to move towards greater integration between the Euro Area states. That is essential in order to prevent such a crisis from recurring. (…)

So a real radical reform of the Euro Area is under way. That is what France and Germany proposed to their European partners, and it is what was decided by 26 of the 27 member states at the European Council of 9 December 2011. We’ll need a new treaty, which will have to be signed in March. That treaty, which will be intergovernmental, will enable us to mark another milestone in the European enterprise: namely, Euro Area integration.

This agreement gets political Europe moving – where the heads of state and government shoulder their responsibilities and set the course. So we’re moving towards more integration, but not less sovereignty: on the contrary, real sovereignty in our world can’t be exercised in isolation, but rather together, with our European partners.
So Europe isn’t less sovereignty. Europe is more sovereignty, because it’s a greater ability to act.

Q. – In a world dominated by the continent-states of China, India, Brazil, Russia and the United States, is [working at] the European level still relevant?

THE PRESIDENT – Of course! More than ever, even. Let me remind you that the 27 European Union countries together make up the world’s leading economy.

The emergence of new major powers like China, Brazil and India certainly isn’t in itself a threat for Europe: on the contrary. But it must lead the Europeans to strengthen their cohesion and competitiveness. (…)./.

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