Official speeches and statements - May 24, 2018
1. Saudi Arabia - Telephone conversation between Mr. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, and Mr. Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia - Communiqué issued by the Presidency of the Republic (Paris - May 23, 2018)
The President spoke to Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, on May 22.
The conversation provided an opportunity, a few weeks after the Crown Prince’s visit to France, to take stock of bilateral and regional issues.
On regional matters, the President reiterated France’s positions and commitments on the Iran nuclear issue, Syria and Yemen, emphasizing the importance of finding a peaceful, negotiated solution to these crises, which are having a destabilizing effect on the region. The humanitarian conference on Yemen decided during the Crown Prince’s visit to Paris has been confirmed for the end of June, in Paris.
The President and the Crown Prince also talked about the kingdom’s ongoing reforms. The human rights issue was discussed as part of this, following on, among other things, from the discussions between the two men in Paris in April.
2. Foreign policy - Iran/United States/Syria/Russia/Italy/European Union - Interview given by Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Inter (excerpts) (Paris - May 23, 2018)
US / IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
Q. - Your American counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a very hardline speech, promised to impose on Iran - I quote - "the strongest sanctions in history" if Tehran doesn’t submit to 12 draconian conditions. Is this threat acceptable?
THE MINISTER - We share Mike Pompeo’s concerns about the risks Iran is creating all over the region. We share a concern about its missile frenzy, which consists in working intensively to give itself the means of intervening against neighboring countries, territories close by, with ballistic missiles. That is reprehensible.
We also agree with the United States on another point, that Iran has a hegemonic tendency vis-à-vis the whole region, and that isn’t acceptable.
But we disagree with Mike Pompeo on the substance and the method. We disagree on the substance because we believe that what was achieved by the Vienna agreement, which genuinely prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, is huge because the gravest danger posed to the security of the planet - especially the security of the Middle East area - is that a country may have nuclear weapons and use them.
Q. - The agreement isn’t dead? Are you saying this again this morning?
THE MINISTER - The agreement isn’t dead. I’m saying this extremely clearly: the agreement isn’t dead. There were several signatories to the agreement; the United States has pulled out; France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia are still part of it.
So we disagree on the substance because that step towards non-proliferation is an absolutely huge step forward, which must be respected. It’s an achievement which must be upheld.
We also disagree on the method, because we believe that the package of sanctions which is going to be organized against Iran isn’t going to promote dialogue; on the contrary, it’s going to help increase the presence of conservatives in Iran and make them more powerful. This will weaken President Rouhani, who wanted to negotiate and who achieved this outcome. In the end, this posture risks putting the region in greater danger than it is today. So we disagree on those points.
FRENCH COMPANIES IN IRAN/US SANCTIONS
We’ve also got another problem, which has just been discussed: the security of our companies and the capacity for all areas of business to give Iran the compensation it can expect for having abandoned nuclear weapons. This was the key issue in the Vienna agreements.
Q. - Regarding the companies, after Total, Engie has announced it is stopping its activities in Iran for fear of American sanctions. Do you understand these decisions?
THE MINISTER - They’re anticipating what they believe will be tomorrow’s reality. We - when I say "we", I mean the Europeans - are wholly opposed to these measures. They’re what are called extraterritorial measures.
Q. - But why then are we bowing to these American diktats?
THE MINISTER - We aren’t. A few days ago the Europeans had a meeting, then there was a meeting in Sofia of the heads of state and government of the European Union, which made clear its wishes and its determination to ensure that businesses working with Iran are protected as much as possible, because we haven’t left the agreement and we want to honor it.
Q. - Isn’t the reaction too weak? It’s all very well saying "we dispute, we condemn".
THE MINISTER - We’re not doing just that.
Q. - François Hollande said yesterday: "if the United States imposes sanctions on European companies, Europe must have the courage to reciprocate"; that we impose sanctions on American businesses. Isn’t that feasible?
THE MINISTER - We aren’t just protesting. We began by asking - and this is about asking for the law to be respected - for businesses which have lawfully invested in Iran since the Vienna agreement to be able to continue investing, for them to be respected, which in layman’s terms is called "the grandfather clause".
And then we decided to implement a measure which allows European businesses operating in Iran to be given safeguards. It’s a financial mechanism which makes investments immune and not dependent on the dollar or measures or sanctions taken by the United States. (...)
Q. - Does that mean, if I have a French company, that I could do business in euros with Iran, yes or no?
THE MINISTER - It means we’re going to put in place a measure which will allow this and allow us to be excluded from the American sanctions, which are unacceptable. We can’t recognize as legitimate an American intervention which consists in saying: "you’re a company, not an American one, operating in Iran, but we don’t want you operating in Iran, so we’re going to impose sanctions on you even though you’re not American, because you’re trading in dollars". That isn’t acceptable and the European Union has to take a firm stance. That’s what it has done.
Q. - When you see how things are getting heated between the United States and Iran, are there serious risks of war in the Middle East?
THE MINISTER - Yes, I think we’re witnessing a situation in which tensions are serious, and there’s major instability. And what’s been new for a while, for a few weeks, is the fact that the Syria and Iran issues are merging and there are risks of regional deflagration; we’ve seen this recently because, for instance, Iranian weapons based in Syria - not in Iran but Syria - struck Israel and Israel took retaliatory action in Syria.
Q. - So are you worried this morning?
THE MINISTER - All the conditions exist for a possible flare-up occurring, if by any chance an action is carried out, perhaps involuntarily or perhaps voluntarily. So in a situation of serious international tension, you have to keep your cool, you have to talk to everyone, and you have to try and begin peace processes in all the theaters concerned; that’s what we’re doing.
RUSSIA / SYRIA / SOCCER WORLD CUP
Q. - In Saint Petersburg tomorrow, Emmanuel Macron will obviously talk to Vladimir Putin about Syria. Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Middle East made a statement a few days ago that went unnoticed: Russia is asking all foreign contingents - the Americans, the Turks, Hezbollah - to leave Syria. Would you say that’s an encouraging first step?
THE MINISTER - We’re going to check it. The statement is vague enough to demand explanations, because it happens that there are many foreign forces in Syria. It’s true there are the coalition forces, American, Turkish, Iranian and Russian forces; there are very few French forces... (...) But it means a peace process must be embarked on concerning Syria, and today the peace process is in deadlock.
Q. - Does Russia currently strike you as mature?
THE MINISTER - Russia has no interest in the situation in Syria being poisoned - firstly because it causes it a lot of disappointment in terms of its international image, but also because it has its own terrorist risks, and that’s also one of our common points. There’s a convergence of interests between Russia and France, Europe, on the fight against terrorism. It [Russia] has no interest in maintaining a situation where it clearly sees that all the negotiation channels it itself has tried to establish are currently blocked.
We must restore the link between all the powers that are affected by Syria’s future and ensure there’s an agenda, under the United Nations’ guidance, that can be implemented. That’s what President Macron is asking for. Today, I note there’s only one proposal on the table for resolving the Syria crisis, namely the one made by President Macron, calling on those grouped around Russia, those grouped around the coalition, to get together to define an agenda for overcoming the crisis that will allow the humanitarian issue to be resolved first of all, but also the political issue.
Q. - Theresa May has announced that her government will boycott the Soccer World Cup, which begins in Russia on 14 June. Will Emmanuel Macron be there?
THE MINISTER - I don’t know what Emmanuel Macron’s timetable is, although I know he likes soccer a lot. The issue about Russia is simple.
Q. - Should he be there?
THE MINISTER - That’s not the issue.
Is Russia in favor of us entering into a negotiation process on the major crises of the moment? We have a lot of disagreements with Russia. I think President Macron and President Putin will have occasion to talk about it tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We have a disagreement on Ukraine, on intimidation procedures, on interference procedures, and we have a disagreement in the chemical [weapons] sphere. In short, we must have frank, but stringent dialogue with Russia. But we also have interests. Russia is a great country, a great country in our environment; Russia can be a partner. We must steer the discussions towards our having common positions on a number of issues, without concealing the significant disagreements we’ve observed.
Q. - You haven’t answered my question about soccer.
THE MINISTER - If the problem is whether or not we go to the World Cup, it’s relatively secondary.
Q. - It would be a symbolic gesture.
THE MINISTER - Yes, but there must be discussions beforehand...
Q. - So the decision hasn’t been taken...
THE MINISTER - Absolutely.
ITALY / NEW GOVERNMENT
Q. - Italy, a founding country of Europe - after all, the Treaty on [the Functioning of the] European Union is called the Treaty of Rome - is preparing to appoint a populist, anti-European and anti-migrant government. Are you afraid this new government will weaken the European Union?
THE MINISTER - First of all, it’s the Italians’ choice; it must be respected. Italy is a democracy, it’s made a specific choice, there’s also a very specific government, because it’s a kind of conjunction of extremes that will be trying to govern. I note, however, that the President, Mr Mattarella, hasn’t yet given his agreement to the make-up of that government...
Q. - He’s taking an extra 24 hours.
THE MINISTER - We must respect Italy’s choice and work with this new government, even if we may be concerned about a number of announcements. We’ll have to work with this government in full clarity, and also with the demands of Italy’s membership of the Euro Area, and I’ve also pointed out that the two leaders, both of the League and the Five Star Movement, haven’t renounced Italy’s presence in the Euro Area, and that this entails rules - we’ll have to work with the Italians to see how we can implement them.
Q. - Are you worried?
THE MINISTER - I’m worried on the whole.
Q. - For Italy?
THE MINISTER - I’m worried about all the crises accumulating in the world, not only the transatlantic crisis that was mentioned earlier but the crisis in the Middle East, plus the European crisis; all these make up a situation where you have to keep your cool.
France takes note of the results of the referendum on May 17 in Burundi on the revision of the constitution.
Although the referendum took place in an atmosphere of relative calm, we deplore the fact that the campaign took place in a climate of intimidation and threats, and even violence, targeted against those opposed to constitutional reform.
The revision of the constitution introduces amendments that are contrary to the Arusha agreement, which established an institutionalized system for power-sharing between Burundi’s societal elements, calling into question the mechanisms aimed at protecting the Tutsi minority. This reform will not help to resolve the crisis that the country has been experiencing since 2015.
The priority now is to ensure the establishment of national dialogue without conditions or exclusions, and this will allow all components of Burundian society to express their aspirations. This will only be possible if the government makes gestures, particularly by allowing the opposition, the media and civil society to play their roles without hindrance. We call on it to take measures to that end in a spirit of unity.
The presidential election that has just taken place in Venezuela cannot be considered to be representative, given the obstacles preventing the participation of several opposition parties and leaders, the lack of an agreement between the government and the opposition on the election calendar and voting procedures, as well as the lack of independence of the electoral judge and the many irregularities denounced by several candidates. Together with its EU partners, France expressed its doubts regarding the transparency and fairness of the election. The record low voter turnout confirms that most Venezuelans do not consider the election to be legitimate or credible.
This election does not therefore serve to help resolve the very serious economic and social crisis affecting the country.
France expresses its deep concern following the announcement of the presidential election results and supports a political and peaceful solution to the crisis in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution.