Q. – You’ve just come back from Vienna. On the Iranian nuclear programme (…) yet another failure, yet another postponement of the deadline. Is this a disappointment?
THE MINISTER – I take a less pessimistic view. (…) I’ve been taking part in the negotiations of course; the deadline for them was set for midnight last night. The negotiations were speeded up in the final period, and I must say, having taken part in this for quite a while, that the tone was rather positive, even though the agreement couldn’t be concluded. That’s why we decided to extend [the deadline], with a new period: until March and possibly June.
Q. – What was lacking?
THE MINISTER – You’re aware of the purpose: Iran has every right to have all the civilian nuclear energy it would like, but not the atomic bomb; that would clearly be very dangerous for security in the region and the world.
I’m not going to go into all the details, which are very technical, but there were three main discussions. First of all, on limiting enrichment capabilities – a very complicated discussion, but I noticed some movement nevertheless. Secondly, on the transformation of a number of sites: the site known as Arak, which uses heavy water, where technical solutions were sketched out that may enable us to resolve the problem, and the underground site at Fordow, where I also saw a few signs of progress. The final point is the whole issue of verification, so that we can be sure we’re not being cheated about this. There again, I noticed some movement.
So let’s be clear: in the first interim agreement we signed, we said – and it’s been confirmed – that until everything is settled, nothing is settled; so a comprehensive agreement is necessary. However, the tone – and this plays a big role – was more positive than last time.
Q. – So does this leave you hope for the coming months and allow you to think Iran might accept what the country’s been refusing for years?
THE MINISTER – We’re not at that stage yet. As you know, the devil is in the detail, be it in Iran, the United States, Europe or France… But there’s nevertheless a desire to try and find an agreement; I didn’t feel in the previous negotiations. Having said that, I’m remaining cautious.
Q. – So there was a lack of time but not of political will. Overall, is that what you’re telling us? Is that your feeling?
THE MINISTER – Yes, you could present things that way. “You’ve already been negotiating for a year; the issue’s been dragging on for 10 years; are there only a few days to go?” You have to understand clearly than in negotiations like these, there’s an acceleration at the end of the negotiations, because the technicians argue and the politicians, who take the decisions, make concessions on either side. So there you are: a rather positive tone, but no agreement concluded.
Q. – There could be an outcome perhaps in the coming months, unless the Republicans, who are a majority in the American Congress, decide to get serious and impose new sanctions on Tehran. Is that a risk?
THE MINISTER – It clearly is a risk, in the same way as there may be a parallel move on the Iranian side.
Now, when you go into the technicalities, the United States President has powers to lift or not lift certain sanctions himself, and Congress has other powers. I think there’s perhaps an opportunity to be grasped, but let’s be very careful: it’s so complex, so subtle, that we must nevertheless remain very cautious. (…)
Q. – What gives us Western countries the right to judge whether or not another country can have a nuclear programme? We have other examples like Pakistan and India, which aren’t necessarily commendable countries. How can we say: no, you haven’t got the right to the atomic bomb, for example?
THE MINISTER – It’s not just us, it’s a decision of the international community, because the sanctions were decided by the United Nations Security Council. It’s not just France, it’s also China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the others.
Why? Because we think the military nuclear programme in that region – I’m leaving civilian nuclear energy to one side – would be a considerable danger. Nuclear weapons may have afforded protection when four or five major powers in the world possessed them. People then talked about deterrence. If Iran possesses nuclear weapons, then the neighbouring powers like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and others could also obtain nuclear weapons. In an already explosive region, you see how dangerous all that would be. That’s why it’s not directed against one country.
Turning that region of the world nuclear – and it’s already a very troubled region – is a risk no one in the international community wants to run. (…)./.