Fight against terrorism/Sahel/Libya/Syria/Iraq/New Year greetings to the diplomatic corps
I’m very touched by the words His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio has just uttered in the name of all of you. After the ordeal France has been through, international solidarity has been expressed powerfully and symbolically. Many heads of state and government were present at the march on 11 January, and where they could not be present, you were at the very heart of that expression, one of friendship, fraternity and also dignity. The very words chosen by you, Your Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio.
It was undoubtedly an ordeal to suffer an attack by terrorists on our soil. Seventeen dead, 17 victims, our country’s worst attack for 40 years. Journalists killed because they were journalists, police officers killed because they were police officers and Jews killed because they were Jews. All the victims, all these men, all these women, were all united by one and the same idea: that France is a country of liberty. That is, alas, the only explanation to be found for their murders. The attackers set out to murder liberty.
The murderers committed their crimes in the name of a barbarous ideology. Whether it was al-Qaeda or Daesh [ISIL], it is the same ideology, the ideology of hate. Faced with that attack, France was capable of demonstrating the best possible reaction – first, it kept its dignity, and it remained united. Our response was also effective. The perpetrators of the atrocities were rendered incapable of doing further harm thanks to the exemplary action of the security services, police and gendarmerie. Additional arrests were made last night in order to identify possible accomplices. Similarly, we are acting in close conjunction with our neighbours and notably, at this very moment, with Belgium.
Those odious crimes aroused a response from the French people that was commensurate with its history and its values, and the scale and force of the demonstrations of 11 January were exceptional. Solidarity, as I have said, was expressed – national solidarity and international solidarity. I wish to say to you how deeply moved and proud we were, even in a time of such unhappiness, by the emotion felt in every quarter, by the demonstrations of friendship towards France. My fellow countrymen and women will never forget the tragedy that has struck them and their ability to stand up and express their dignity and mobilization. Nor will they forget what the countries of the international community expressed during that time.
Whatever opinions we may hold, and indeed whatever our disagreements, we demonstrated the unity of the international community facing a common enemy, one that has a name, a name to be spelled out: terrorism. We are at war with it. It is not a war against a religion; it is a war against hate. The attacks perpetrated in Paris are an insult to Islam. And around the world Muslims, as I never tire of saying, are the first victims of terrorism; not the only victims but the first to be confronted with the rising tide of fundamentalism, of intolerance. So we must do everything possible, as I am now endeavouring to do, to prevent things being conflated, which would in fact play into the hands of those who want to foment chaos, to divide, to spread fear.
I wish here to restate the principles that underpin France’s position, at all times and especially at this difficult time. France has respect for all beliefs, all religions. We respect them in the name of laïcité [secularism] (1). France acknowledges the contributions of all cultures to our common heritage. France is committed to freedom, freedom of expression, a freedom that will never be negotiable; it is a principle fundamental to our Republic, freedom of the press in particular.
France is the homeland of human rights and must therefore protect and ensure the safety of every citizen. France is an implacable opponent of racism, of anti-Semitism, of Islamophobia.
France, when struck down, is capable of unity. Its unity is its strength, even if we also have another form of strength when we are victims of violence and need to respond. But that strength, the strength of the French people, will be harnessed for a fight against terrorism that will be further intensified, in accordance with the law.
INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS AGAINST TERRORISM
France is emerging from this ordeal with undiminished determination to take action at the international level. We are conceding nothing, we are affected by no pressure from any quarter; we have no fear, we are taking action because we are France, and because we are aware that on the international stage France is expected to promote our shared values.
I wish at this point to salute the remarkable work done by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, who is creating the right conditions for that action as the head of French diplomacy.
Our response to terrorism must be firm, but it can only be collective. Each of our countries must take every necessary step, and some still remain to be taken, notably with regard to the phenomenon of the foreign fighters who travel to areas at war for training before returning to our countries to commit the worst possible acts.
One-third of the 40,000 jihadists active in Iraq and Syria are foreign to the region. We must therefore improve international cooperation and share more effectively the necessary information on the movements of terrorists and the support and finance from which they benefit.
We must also combat all forms of trafficking more effectively because every type of trafficking can fuel terrorism: trafficking in weapons and trafficking in drugs, as well as trafficking in human beings. Europe must make its systems more robust. A meeting of foreign ministers is to be held in a few days in the wake of an earlier meeting of interior ministers; the European Council will also address this issue of security, of the fight against terrorism, in February.
What Europe must now do is ensure more effective checks on people crossing the European Union’s external borders. There is also a need to establish what is known as a European PNR [Passenger Name Record]. Put simply, this is a file for the exchange of data on aircraft passengers travelling between member states. This is imperative if we are to track the movements of terrorist trainees and of those already involved in the battle against our freedoms. That file, which must not compromise data protection, is essential if we are to track precisely those who travel to the Middle East or who return from there.
We must also be aware of the role played by the Internet and therefore of terrorists’ use of that technology, that information to disseminate their messages, to recruit new jihadists and even to provide them with the resources to become operational. Yes, we must take action with all those concerned to ensure that the Internet cannot be a resource enabling the preparation and commission of terrorist acts.
Looking beyond such essential measures, the best response for the longer term is firm action in favour of international peace and security, because as we know conflicts that remain unresolved, for far too long in some cases, are sources of inspiration for terrorists, and regions in chaos are training grounds for them. For some years therefore, and especially in the last two years, France has played its role in such action and shouldered its responsibilities with the assistance of its allies and partners.
Firstly in Mali, where we avoided a situation in which terrorists would have simply taken over an entire country, conducting an operation that is now in a different phase, not one of action, but one of stability. In the Sahel, we are maintaining the utmost vigilance, and that is why France has implemented what we have called Operation Barkhane, inflicting losses on terrorist organizations and establishing a presence across the whole region rather than in Mali alone.
Preventing chaos is also what we have achieved in the Central African Republic, enabling our forces to separate belligerents whose desire was to organize massacres. And thanks to our African friends and now alongside the international force being deployed, we’ve allowed that country to restore a form of stability.
But we have not finished. I have mentioned the Sahel, West Africa, Nigeria, where Boko Haram is engaged in what is a crime against humanity. The activities of that group involve not only the kidnapping of women, which is quite appalling enough, but also the massacre of children. Villages and entire towns are being razed to the ground.
Once again, we must support the countries affected by this scourge, which is what France is doing. In the case of Nigeria, that was the purpose of our initiative in bringing together in Paris, alongside Nigeria, every country which could be useful in the fight against Boko Haram.
And today Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin are threatened. This is a situation that requires the international community to take appropriate steps and refuse to allow this to continue.
The situation in Libya is an important factor in the spread of terrorism and is a major cause for concern. Our duty is once again – thanks to the United Nations’ intervention, by the way – to mobilize the parties involved, who must engage in negotiations. This morning in Geneva an agreement was reached that was a step in the right direction, enabling a unified government to be formed, which is still an essential principle given that where a country has two governments, there is inevitably a problem, especially when it also has two parliaments.
Our first duty where Libya is concerned is therefore to get the parties involved to form a government and then to disarm the groups that have taken root in Libya, followed by the possibility of action against the terrorists occupying part of Libyan territory and threatening the region as a whole.
And France cannot, even if called upon to do so, act alone or act outside international law. We therefore call upon the United Nations, since that is its role, to ensure that initiatives can be taken and support provided.
The most urgent task in the Middle East is to combat Daesh, and here again France has shouldered its responsibilities. We are conducting Operation Chammal as part of the coalition. We are providing all our support to Iraqi forces engaged on the front line against the jihadists. These military operations in Iraq will be pursued alongside the authorities in Baghdad. Two days ago I was on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which has left and is heading for the region. It will enable valuable intelligence to be gathered and useful cooperation to be established with the countries in that region, as well as playing a role in our intervention where required.
In Syria, we are continuing to act in support of the moderate opposition, the democratic opposition that we have always encouraged. I shall not repeat here what I have already said on several occasions. When an intervention by the international community is rejected, when it is postponed for reasons invariably formulated in the name of law or timeliness, it is the international community itself that is putting itself in danger.
Today we are ensuring that those engaged in battle – and I am thinking particularly here of those fighting in Kobane and demonstrating very great courage – can have our full support. We are also aware that fighting is looming in Aleppo that may be extremely dangerous for the population. We’re talking about 300,000 people. Need I remind you that the failure to resolve the Syria issue has led to part of its population not only being displaced but also becoming refugees? Refugees in Jordan. Refugees in Turkey. Refugees in Lebanon, leading indeed to major economic, financial, social and humanitarian problems for the countries involved. And the idea that those people will remain in the region is a simple idea, so simple as to be simplistic. If nothing is resolved, part of that population will naturally also want to come to Europe, will try to come here. We should reflect on the possible consequences of such movements.
And in Syria, Bashar al-Assad bears enormous responsibility for the tragedy and it is not possible for anybody to believe, and certainly not us, that he can unite his people after so many massacres. And the choice cannot be either Assad or the terrorists, because in the end they are the same thing. Because today each is sustained by the other.
So what is the position of France and our diplomacy? To seek an agreement between the regime, if it wishes to start the transition, and the Syrian opposition movements. We must therefore resume what has been called the Geneva process; France is ready and willing to work to achieve this with the United Nations and all countries with influence in Syria.
Because France maintains dialogue with all sides – which is in fact what makes its diplomacy realistic – it is available to work with all those who can or who wish to help solve the crises in the Middle East. That is what we did in Lebanon in particular, where a major agreement with Saudi Arabia was implemented to reinforce the Lebanese army’s operation capability allowing it to protect its territory more effectively.
However, I also wish to say that Iran also has its share of responsibility in the resolution of these crises. That is what I said to President Rouhan, whom I met in New York last September. Iran needs to clarify its positions, its intentions, and involve itself in crisis resolution. (…)
I wish to end on a thought that is valid not only for Europe and France but also for the world. When threats become more menacing, when risks increase, when tragedy strikes, people may take fright, seek isolation, withdraw into their shells, lose themselves in extremism and over-reaction. We can already see signs of this, including on the European continent. They are no longer premonitions. They are warnings to us. But people can also choose another path. They can stand up and proclaim their commitment to principles on which their identity is based; they can also promote ideals greater than themselves. People can be a source of mobilization. They may also oblige their leaders to take action.
In short, everything invariably comes down to the people. And the people can generate hope and take others along with them. That is what the French people did on 11 January. Not as a lesson to anybody, but to remain true to the universal message of France, because the best thing my country can do for the planet is to be useful, and that is what it will do throughout 2015. That is my wish now, at what is a difficult time for many, when collective strength continues to be our hope. Thank you.
(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.