Official speeches and statements - December 19, 2019
1. Foreign policy - Fight against terrorism - Syria - Iraq - NATO - Russia - Brexit - Excerpts from the interview given by Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to "Questions politiques" on France Inter (Paris - December 15, 2019)
Q. - There are French jihadists - about 60 men, fighters - currently imprisoned in north-east Syria, in Syrian Kurdistan, under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Do you think such a situation is tenable for long, especially the idea France still has that they should be tried where they committed their crimes, i.e. on the ground, through transfers to Iraq? Can this still be done today when Baghdad is dragging its feet and the situation in Iraq itself is becoming increasingly chaotic, just remembering that more than 800 people have been killed in the crackdown of recent weeks?
THE MINISTER - I think that by talking only about French foreign fighters, we greatly underestimate the risk and dangers posed today by the jihadist foreign fighters of Daesh [so-called ISIL] who have been in prison or camps since Daesh’s territorial defeat - which, I remind you, happened only in March; that’s very recent - and there are around 10,000 fighters in prison, including a few French people, a few Belgians, a few Moroccans, but 10,000 fighters who are mostly Syrians and Iraqis and are ready to resume fighting, because Daesh isn’t dead! Daesh exists there, it also exists underground in Iraq - hence the questions about the unstable situation currently existing in the country, and Daesh is ready to resume fighting, so we must be extremely vigilant. (...)
But France has a responsibility to its nationals!
Of course it has a responsibility to its nationals, but I’d like to remind people here that they’re fighters against France!
Of course, but they’re French!
No, I’m repeating it because people sometimes forget...
Can we remain in this status quo?
They’re enemies of France, they’ve fought against France!
Absolutely! Absolutely! Can we remain in this status quo?
I’d just like to remind people that the attacks committed previously weren’t all by French jihadist fighters. That’s why I’m very worried about the 10,000, and I’m not the only one. Yes, that’s the reality, we focus a lot on the 60 - fine, we have to focus, but there’s still an overall problem which is very worrying today. That’s why I began my remarks earlier by drawing attention to the global terrorist risk existing today.
But you say we must be vigilant; what does that mean we should do?
(...) There’s the basic principle we’ve always endorsed, namely that French fighters, male and female, must be tried wherever they committed their crimes. That’s true of our position, but it’s [also] true of the other Europeans’ position. Today...
But there’s also the "Cazeneuve protocol", as it’s called...
It’s not the same thing!
It’s not the same thing, but it allows mothers and children, for example, to return to France.
I’ll get back to the Cazeneuve protocol. Those players, those fighters from jihadist groups, are in prisons in north-east Syria, and when the political settlement comes, the question of their trials must inevitably be asked, and we must ask it. We thought it was possible to set up a specific judicial mechanism in coordination with the Iraqi authorities; we talked to the Iraqi authorities about it - not solely for France, incidentally, but other European countries. Today, given the situation in Iraq, which we may come back to, that scenario isn’t feasible in the short term. In the medium term, it’ll have to be resolved in the framework of the comprehensive political settlement that began very slowly in Geneva with the launch of the Consultative Committee, aimed at remodifying the Syrian constitution to end up with a process, a road map for peace in the country. We’re not there yet, but today all those groups are in secure locations...
In prisons - to be brief - in Syria, in Iraq, in...
In Syria, in Syria!
Are they reliable?
They’re being kept secure by the Syrian Democratic Forces and American units, and we’re contributing in our way, to ensure they’re kept completely secure in the long term. The Cazeneuve protocol is another thing. (...) As soon as we were able to bring back unaccompanied children, vulnerable children and orphans from those camps, we did so, in March. But we’re in countries at war, territories at war, and it’s not enough to say that, you also have to go and look for them. We’re ready to continue, provided the access conditions are made possible, but basically we’re staying very firm on this positon.
How many are there today?
I haven’t yet said, about the Cazeneuve protocol, that there happens to be an agreement with the Turks - we can reach agreements with the Turks; it’s respected, which means that when fighters of French origin from terrorist groups are on Turkish territory, the protocol ensures they’re not only arrested by the Turkish authorities but also transferred to France through very specific channels and rules and subsequently tried in France.
Two hundred and fifty, that’s it; we have around 250, according to...
Yes, just a figure; how many are there today, 250?
A little over 200.
Do you think those same people we recover through the Cazeneuve protocol are people we can try properly in France? In plain language, do we have a sufficient legal arsenal to prepare a case file?
Don’t worry, we prepare documentation, of course.
(...) So conducting trials in France poses no problem...
Conducting trials in France poses no problem, no problem, for people transferred under the Cazeneuve protocol coming from Turkey.
(...) You delivered a speech in Prague a few days ago, an important speech not only on the future of the Atlantic Alliance but also on what we can expect, what we can hope for - or lose hope of - in terms of Defence Europe, following the very harsh language and words uttered by President Emmanuel Macron in the magazine The Economist, when he talked about a "brain dead NATO"...
And do you understand the concerns of the eastern countries - you went to reassure them - about that very diagnosis of NATO’s brain death, but also about the fact that, in the same interview, the President spoke of his rejection of enlargement to include the Balkans, for the time being at least, and called for a new relationship with Russia - all points which, when combined, do create some unease in Warsaw and Prague, the Baltic countries and Bucharest?
Do you understand that unease?
Yes, but ultimately that NATO summit proved the President right, because the summit, which has just been held in London, had as its first aim - that’s why it was planned not to last very long...
It was celebrating the anniversary, the 70th anniversary of NATO’s creation.
It was celebrating the 70th anniversary of NATO’s creation.
Instead we saw division, and a family gripped by resentment and acrimony.
No, because we finally saw a document, a declaration that took into account the need to consider NATO’s strategic guidelines for the future, and that was the President’s goal. We weren’t going to spend an anniversary congratulating one another and then each going back home, as if the risks and threats were the same as 70 years ago! The President, using quite a provocative expression, recalled the...
That’s putting it mildly!
Yes, but there are reasons for that: he reminded everyone to think together about the security challenges...
And about the very meaning of the Atlantic Alliance!
About the meaning, about the fundamentals of the Atlantic Alliance, because there’s been some turmoil - it probably hasn’t been dispelled yet - about the strength of the transatlantic link. There have been questions about Europe’s role in the transatlantic link, there have been questions about solidarity between the allies. The very fact - we were talking earlier about the situation in Syria, but after all, we set up a coalition against Daesh and then one day, by chance, we find out that one of the coalition’s members, which is also a NATO member, has decided to invade part of Syrian territory...
...to combat those who helped us defeat the Daesh terrorists, particularly those who helped us fight...
At that point, did you tell yourself NATO was finished, or not?
...recapture Raqqa, the city where all the terrorists who attacked us in France departed from. Crikey, are you kidding? It really raises questions!
At that point, did you tell yourself NATO...
And at the same time, virtually on the same day, the United States says, "we’re withdrawing from north-east Syria", when the coalition’s goal was to combat Daesh. So we asked for a meeting of the coalition; eventually we and our European allies were satisfied and the United States decided to stay and carry on fighting Daesh, and fortunately the Turkish offensive stopped, but all that...
Yes, how can you combat Daesh without the Turks when you can’t manage to...
You do it with forces...
You can’t manage to agree with the Turks on the very definition of what terrorism is!
Yes, we’re still in disagreement.
It’s astonishing within the same alliance, whose purpose is to guarantee the security of a group of countries belonging to it!
The issue was raised at the coalition’s meeting in Washington, namely: is everyone really determined to carry on fighting Daesh? In the end the answer was yes, but it’s very useful that it was raised. The same thing was raised at NATO level, in particular for there to be rights and duties for the various Atlantic Alliance members in relation to one another. So that job of reflexion on the Alliance’s future strategy was decided on; there’s a group of experts, wise men, who are soon going to issue conclusions; they’re going to prepare it [the strategy] in the course of 2020 so we can have a clarification of the Alliance’s strategy.
The Alliance was created against the USSR; can we say today that NATO’s purpose is also to guarantee the security of certain - particularly European - countries against the risk of Russian attacks?
NATO is a defensive alliance, it’s an alliance of collective security, and it’s important today to identify the risks and threats that all the Alliance’s members face.
Is Russia one of those?
We’ve always said Russia is a threat. We’ve said Russia is a threat because we’ve undergone it, we’ve undergone it through cyber attacks, we’ve undergone it through the major disagreement we have about Syria, we’ve undergone it through chemical interventions, through the manipulation of information, through the violation of the agreements on Ukraine and Ukraine’s autonomy. All this is a fact; it mustn’t be denied. But we also believe Russia is unavoidable, because the geography is there and we can’t avoid the geography. And so we must be capable of opening doors to dialogue with Russia without denying the difficulties, without denying the objections, without denying the questions, without being naive, but doors to dialogue where we can gradually establish what could be a structure of security and trust in Europe. That’s our approach; it’s what the President started when he hosted President Putin. I’m not going to tell you this attitude of trying to restore ties of trust without denying the rest has enabled the situation to improve in discussions on Ukraine, but in any case there was a meeting on Ukraine last week, last Monday, at heads of state and government level, with Ms. Merkel, President Zelensky, President Macron and President Putin, which enabled progress! So let’s try and handle the two things at the same time: making things secure - and we’re playing our full part on our commitments, in particular to some eastern countries, where we have our forces participating in what’s called the Enhanced Forward Presence, to show our determination to be firm in defending our allies - and at the same time we’re trying to begin discussions with Russia on the points we can discuss. You have to constantly handle the two things: firmness and dialogue.
(...) There’s obviously the general election result in the UK, with the very large majority for the Conservatives and "BoJo", Boris Johnson. Can we at last say: that’s it, things are certain, certain at last, Brexit will take place on January 31, 2020?
There’s clarity at last. All the same, this has gone on for three years with questions, toing and froing, tensions, elections and contradictory statements, but now we can say that the UK will exit the European Union in an orderly way.
On 31 January 31?
On January 31, I think votes are going to happen on the basis of the withdrawal agreement modified through discussions between Boris Johnson and the European Union, which preserves the integrity of the European internal market, avoids a physical border in Ireland and also provides guarantees about our rights, the rights of European citizens in Britain and vice versa. In short, it’s a well thought-out, well-designed withdrawal agreement which should allow an orderly exit on 31 January, and it will have to be passed by the European Parliament as well. (...) And afterwards - and this is the issue now -, afterwards there’s a period which will theoretically last one year, since we’ve now got to set out how we’ll live after the divorce!
But before talking about what happens afterwards, can you tell us how you received the result? Is it surprising and were you caught unawares by Boris Johnson’s fairly triumphant victory? It wasn’t necessarily expected in France!
The victory was expected, there was probably a certain weariness on the part of the British people, who wanted to be done with this soap opera, which was intolerable, and where there was no longer any clarity for people on both sides. Mr. Corbyn’s Labour Party also probably adopted quite a radical position, which probably prevented a proportion of British people from voting Labor - in short, Boris Johnson won, it’s a major victory! (...)
Florence Parly, Minister for the Armed Forces, congratulates the crew of the frigate Courbet on the seizure of more than three tonnes of cannabis in the Gulf of Oman and pays tribute to "impressive efforts by our sailors, who very clearly uphold France’s values in this essential battle against drug trafficking, whose final destination is often Europe".
In this way, the French navy is contributing in a concrete way to security in that strategic area and drying up sources of finance for unlawful and terrorist activities.
This year, French ships made nine seizures in the area, totaling nearly 15 tonnes of illegal products.
On Friday, December 13, La Fayette-class frigate (FLF) Courbet seized more than 3.5 tonnes of cannabis resin in the Gulf of Oman. In doing so, Courbet made France’s biggest seizure in the region this year. The frigate was operating under the operational control of the Commander of the Indian Ocean maritime zone (ALINDIEN), in direct support of Combined Task Force (CTF) 150. CTF 150 is a coalition bringing together navies from several countries to combat trafficking and unlawful activities linked to terrorism and guarantee the safety of maritime spaces.
On the basis of intelligence, Courbet relocated a suspicious-looking dhow sailing without a flag, keeping it within radar range for over 36 hours until the drugs it had on board were transferred onto an accomplice vessel. Around 1.00 a.m., the dhow suddenly headed south and the frigate set off in pursuit.
Its boarding party searched the vessel, before detecting the drugs in a double-bottomed fuel tank. A total of 172 bundles of cannabis resin, each weighing around 20 kg, were discovered. The drug was seized, taken on board Courbet, weighed and sealed, then destroyed under the responsibility of the Commander and on ALINDIEN’s orders.
Setting sail for Toulon on November 7, Courbet took over from anti-air frigate (FAA) Jean Bart on November 23 as part of a French presence mission in the Arabian-Persian Gulf whose purpose is twofold: to combat drug trafficking whilst helping protect French interests in the region.
The French people have concerns, and they aren’t alone. In the Sahel countries, the general public is asking questions, which is understandable given that the security situation is deteriorating on the ground. I’m sure you’ll agree with me in saying that we all, collectively, need clarification about France’s commitment in the Sahel. This is the purpose of the Pau summit, which will be held on January 13, 2020. The objective is to get answers and commitments.
The President was very clear: all options are on the table. Admittedly we’ve set ourselves a challenge, that of Defence Europe. It has a unique opportunity, in the Sahel, to demonstrate its usefulness, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism. We started with the British and are continuing with the Danes, Spanish and Estonians; European Union units are carrying out certain missions, in the field of training in particular. In 2020, we’ll go further by launching the operational force, or Task Force Takouba, which will incorporate European special forces to support Malian units in the fighting.
We’ve made a start, but there’s still a lot to do. France needs Europe, but Europe needs a safe Sahel, able to counter the terrorist threat. Let’s not forget that Gao is the same distance from Paris as Mosul. The fight against the subsidiaries of Daesh [so-called ISIL] and of al-Qaida is a crucial one.
Today, exactly a year after the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees, the first Global Refugee Forum is being held in Geneva, during which countries present their pledges for a better sharing of responsibilities towards refugees around the world.
France intends to play its full role in the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees and emphasizes the importance it attaches to the right of asylum and to taking in refugees.
In addition to taking in asylum seekers who spontaneously present themselves on its soil, France has made active efforts since 2017 to provide those in the world who need protection with other safe and legal access routes to its territory.
Resettling refugees is one of the paths whereby we can bring refugees to France legally, without them risking journeys which sometimes cost their lives. It is about welcoming people previously identified by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as being in need of protection and who are in a first country of asylum where they have few prospects of integration, particularly due to their vulnerability (health problems, problems of access to employment or education). The refugees concerned are interviewed in their country of residence (Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Niger and Chad) by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), which guarantees their eligibility for the programme, then welcomed to France by specialized voluntary organizations. Resettlement is led in France by the Ministry of the Interior, in coordination with the UNHCR and with the support of the Interministerial Delegation for the Reception and Integration of Refugees (DiAir).
The French President pledged in 2017 that, by the end of 2019, France would resettle 10,000 refugees, 70% of them from Syria and the rest from sub-Saharan Africa.
As of 17 December17, 2019, the number of refugees resettled was 9,783. By the end of the year, the resettlement target set will be achieved. With this record, France can now be proud of becoming one of the world’s leading resettlement countries and the leader in Europe over the 2018-2019 period.
This commitment by France to protection missions and to resettling refugees will be continued and updated over the next two years.