Paris, July 25, 2008
THE PRESIDENT – I’d like to tell Barack Obama how happy France is to welcome him. France is happy to welcome Barack Obama first of all because he’s American and the French love the Americans. If I didn’t say that, they’d have been sad. So I repeat: the French love the Americans and so we’re happy to welcome Barack Obama.
I’d also like to tell Barack Obama that the French are enthusiastically following the election campaign in the United States because the United States is a great democracy, and it’s enthralling to see what is happening there and because the America France loves is an America with grand designs, a great ambition, great debates, and strong personalities. We want an America who is present not an absent America. We are friends, independent friends, but friends, and so you have to know that here, in Europe, and here, in France, we’re watching what you are doing with a great deal of interest.
Secondly, in Europe, cher Barack Obama, there are a lot of people coming from every background, with many different histories, who aren’t your wholly standard French – here everyone’s name isn’t Sarkozy – and I’m well aware that everyone’s name isn’t Obama in the United States and so Barack Obama’s adventure is an adventure which speaks to the hearts of the French and hearts of the Europeans. Of course, it’s not for the French to choose the next president of the United States of America. Whoever it is, we’ll work with him! But it’s a pleasure for me to see again the senator I met in 2006 when we talked so passionately about Darfur, about what was happening there. The two of us were in this office. One has become president, the other just has to do the same thing – that’s not interference!
I’d like to tell journalists that Barack Obama and I talked about a lot of things, about Iran and peace in the Middle East. I’d like to say that there’s a great meeting of minds. It was a fascinating discussion in which Bernard Kouchner participated. Firstly, a lot of shared views and secondly, above all, great impatience for the American democracy to choose its next president and for Europe and the United States jointly to take a lot of initiatives: on climate change, reforming the global institutions, on peace in the world and raising moral standards in financial capitalism. We’ve got a lot of things to do together.
Q. – You know that in France Barack Obama’s presence and the fact that he has overcome so many barriers in the United States has led to a resurgence of black consciousness here. People are full of hope for their future. A lot of these people live in poverty, situations of vulnerability. You’ve in fact seen the results of that with the riots in the poor suburbs and housing estates. When you were at the Interior Ministry, you talked about "cleaning out the suburbs with a Kärcher", and I wanted to know if, standing beside someone who has succeeded in overcoming so many barriers, you regret those words?
THE PRESIDENT – I congratulate you for your exceptional knowledge of French political life (…)! But, precisely, changes were needed because things weren’t right. I am very happy for you to talk in front of Mr Obama about a situation which existed before I was President of the Republic. I know that in the United States you were worried about what happened. It was in 2005.
We had major clashes and you in the United States know what they are, because you’ve experienced them too. But there’s a difference between the clashes I had to manage as Interior Minister and those you managed in the United States: there wasn’t a single death in France, the police fired no shots. The only people injured were the police. But since my election there haven’t been riots because we’ve put in place a substantial development and training plan.
Precisely, what we want to do is to ensure that Senator Barack Obama’s political adventure isn’t simply reserved for the great country of the United States. For three decades now all your Foreign Ministers have had immigrant roots: Mrs Albright, Mr Colin Powell and Dr Rice. This is why I love the United States. This is why in France’s government there’s Rachida Dati, Fadela Amara and Rama Yade, precisely so that everyone has his/her opportunity. What the United States has done with what I talked about with Barack Obama today is what we want to do here.
A final detail: when I talked about positive discrimination – "affirmative action" is how the United States says it – I meant "at the head of a country, things have to be as different as they are at the bottom of a country". (…)
Q. – Senator Obama, yesterday evening you appealed to our European allies to help more in Afghanistan. Have you put a number on the troops you’d like France, Britain and Germany to make available? Is it a matter of the two or three additional brigades you’ve called for?
THE PRESIDENT – I share Barack Obama’s opinion: in Afghanistan, we haven’t got the right to lose. We haven’t got the right to allow the return of the Taliban who deprived six million little girls of schooling because they’re little girls. We haven’t got the right to allow the return of people who cut off a woman’s hand because she uses nail varnish. We haven’t got the right to allow the return of people who, in stadia with thousands of people, stone an allegedly adulterous woman. That’s what I think. That’s politics too: values, human rights.
The decision I took with the French government, François Fillon, Bernard Kouchner, to send more troops so that the Middle Ages don’t return to Afghanistan is a strategic decision. We are at our allies’ side. There are a lot of questions and I share the concerns Mr Obama expressed on Pakistan. But in Afghanistan we are there so that the values of human rights triumph. We aren’t there to oppose the Afghans. We’re there to fight the Taliban, terrorism and extremists. That’s the battle we’re waging. Just imagine if we left. Imagine if we gave up, if we didn’t support President Karzai despite all the difficulties. (…) Yes, Mr Obama, there has been a debate in France and it’s normal for there to be debates in democracies. Of course, it’s never with a light heart that a country sends soldiers outside its borders. But there comes a moment when you have to believe in your ideas, in your ideal. (…).
Q. – You wanted to signal a break with certain aspects of your predecessor Jacques Chirac’s foreign policy. Barack Obama too is signalling a certain break, are you hoping for this break with past foreign policy?
THE PRESIDENT – The French President has to work with the President of the United States, whoever he is. The French respect the choice of the Americans, so we’re working with the current Administration and President Bush, as it’s right we do with a friendly country. But the idea of an America who would put listening to her partners among her top priorities is an idea which can but satisfy us. The idea of a candidate for the presidency of the United States of America who says: "we mustn’t be afraid of Defence Europe, because we need a country like France at our side to Europeanize NATO" is actually rather good news. (…)
Good luck Barack Obama. If it’s him, France will be very happy. If it’s another, France will be the friend of the United States just the same. Just as he wouldn’t tell the French how to vote when there are elections in France, I won’t tell the Americans who to choose. (…) Secondly, we have the right to agree. That doesn’t mean we disagree with the others. It simply means that the more we talk to one another the more points of agreement we find. After all the years you Americans have experienced with us, this is actually rather good news. (…)./.