New York, March 17, 2011
THE MINISTER – This is an important moment, first of all because it’s urgent: it’s a matter of days, perhaps even hours, if we want to stop Gaddafi’s bloody offensive against his civilian population, and particularly against Benghazi.
It’s also an important moment because what’s at stake is the credibility – I’d even say the honour – of the international community.
The Gaddafi regime has shown contempt for UNSCR 1970. We must now ensure international law prevails and we protect the population.
Q. – What, in your view, is speeding things up now?
THE MINISTER – For weeks – at any rate, for days and days – France and Britain have been pressing our partners to act, because we’ve clearly seen a reversal in the situation in the past week. There’s been a reversal, in my view, largely because Gaddafi has not only supremacy but also exclusive control of air power. That’s why we’ve been suggesting for a long time that a number of airports, runways or helicopters and planes should be neutralized.
Today the Libyan opposition is in a difficult situation, and that’s why, as I’ve told you, it’s a matter of days, even hours. Everyone has fully realized it, and that’s enabled us to speed up the process.
Q. – Was it you who persuaded the Americans?
THE MINISTER – No, I don’t make that claim. It was a collective effort. The British, and we ourselves of course, had numerous discussions. I spoke to Hillary Clinton on the telephone several times, and she had a meeting with President Sarkozy on Monday. We’ve been in constant contact with our allies. (…)
ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS/IMPLICATIONS OF MILITARY ACTION/GADDAFI THREATS
Q. – Is it a war on Muammar al-Gaddafi?
THE MINISTER – It’s not a war: it’s an operation to protect the civilian population.
Q. – Does it extend to the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi?
THE MINISTER – If he doesn’t comply with the Security Council’s resolutions, that is of course the goal. I remind you that a number of countries – including France and the United States – believe he’s lost all legitimacy by using violent force against his population and must go.
Q. – Airstrikes mean collateral damage. Have you anticipated and planned a response to this kind of situation? If we see pictures on television tomorrow of numerous victims of airstrikes, or of the attacks carried out by Gaddafi, what stance will France take?
THE MINISTER – Of course the military officers who plan these operations take this into consideration. The targets will be military, not civilian. But this is still an extraordinary step. If we didn’t do what we’re doing, your question would be: “Aren’t you ashamed of letting a dictator oppress a people?” and now we’re being told: “Aren’t you afraid…?”
There are times when you have to shoulder your responsibilities. I think doing nothing would have disastrous consequences, firstly for the people of Benghazi and other cities in Libya and the Libyan people in general, because we mustn’t be fooled by the apparent enthusiasm some people show for the regime… I think it would also have disastrous consequences for the credibility of the United Nations and democratic countries and would be a huge signal to all the world’s dictators that they can continue doing their work without running any risk. So I think this decision – which must be kept within boundaries, of course: we’re not going to be launching military operations that aren’t very precisely calibrated – I think this decision is courageous.
Q. – Aren’t you afraid of getting bogged down in Libya, given that the supporters of Muammar al-Gaddafi will start using guerrilla tactics, as we saw in Iraq, and aren’t you afraid of this war turning into a quagmire?
THE MINISTER – It’s not a question of going and waging war, as I’ve said: it’s a question of halting a bloody offensive against a civilian population. The resolution also envisages a cease-fire call. There’s room to hope that, at some point, a sense of responsibility will prevail and the fighting will stop.
Q. – Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime has been using very threatening language against the international community in recent hours; what’s your response?
THE MINISTER – We won’t let ourselves be intimidated by Colonel Gaddafi’s customarily extreme language.
Q. – Will NATO take part in the military operations?
THE MINISTER – We don’t think it’s a good signal for NATO, as such, to intervene in an Arab country.
Q. – How do you explain the fact that it’s taken so long to reach today’s situation?
THE MINISTER – You know very well! But you’re asking the question and I thank you for it. Because, quite simply, not everyone agreed and we had to persuade people.
It took much longer than I personally would have liked. Many countries were hostile to any intervention, either for philosophical-political reasons or because they believed the danger was too great.
We had to achieve this consensus. That was the case with the Twenty-seven [Member States] of the European Union; I’d like to remind you of that, because the final declaration at the European Council held in Brussels on Friday 11 March was very clear on this point.
We wanted there to be a possibility of intervention under a United Nations mandate, with the participation of the Arab countries. I then tried to do the same job at the G8; that was a little more complicated.
This job of preparation and persuasion took time. I would have liked to go faster, it’s true, because as I’ve told you, the tables turned in a week, in 10 days, from the opposition in the form of the National Transitional Council to the Gaddafi regime.
Q. – Isn’t it too late now?
THE MINISTER – I don’t think it’s ever too late to protect a population.
Q. – It’s a resolution that’s not going to be adopted unanimously, and with quite a few abstentions. Aren’t you afraid this will reduce the international legitimacy?
THE MINISTER – A resolution, when it’s passed, is legitimate.
Q. – Are we to understand from your statement that France won’t take part in any military action without participation by the Arab countries?
THE MINISTER – Absolutely, and we have excellent reasons to think there will be participation by the Arab countries.
Q. – Who will lead the operations?
THE MINISTER – There’ll be a coalition and coordination. We’re working on it. (…)
Q. – You’ve said it would be a bad idea for NATO planes to bombard an Arab country. But doesn’t the same question apply to French or American planes? The very dynamic of this Arab revolution was that it was a movement of Arab peoples against Arab regimes. Doesn’t a foreign intervention threaten to break that dynamic?
THE MINISTER – No, absolutely not. The Arab League appealed to the United Nations; we’re members of the United Nations. We’re going there as a United Nations Member State.
Q. – With the Arab countries?
THE MINISTER – With the Arab countries. (…)
Q. – France is taking the lead in a military operation. Can we also imagine her ultimately taking a lead at political level in the transition on the ground?
THE MINISTER – Taking a lead? I’m not flexing my muscles. It’s a coalition operation. We’re with others; we’re not alone. It’s true we were very engaged in this whole procedure of preparation to persuade our partners, but it’s not a French operation. It’s an international operation.
Q. – Do you have a guarantee that the Americans will take part in this operation?
THE MINISTER – I think I can answer in the affirmative.
Q. – You were saying: “it’s a matter of hours”. But putting a coalition in place is a matter of days, even weeks.
THE MINISTER – No. Certainly not weeks.
Q. – Does that mean you’ve been preparing this for a long time?
THE MINISTER – I told you that soldiers don’t leave just like that, without planning the operations. I also remind you – you’re going to tell me “it’s NATO”: it’s not NATO that’ll do it, but it can be useful to everyone and the NATO countries in particular – that NATO began planning an operation of this kind several days ago. So we’re not starting from scratch: we have done planning.
AIRSTRIKES/NO-FLY ZONE/HUMANITARIAN ZONES
Q. – And the fact that you came here in person? Does it mean the decision wasn’t in the bag? Did it really take that to win?
THE MINISTER – If it helped, yes: I came here in that spirit. And I also think – I have no particular propensity to use grand words, but ultimately it’s an important moment: I’d describe it as historic if you like. It’s an important moment for the credibility of the United Nations and above all for the signal given to the Arab people, whose aspiration to freedom and democracy we welcome. It’s an important signal. If we were to let a dictator re-establish his regime of oppression by using violence and causing a blood bath, how could we then go and say: “go on, engage in a process of democracy to win back your freedom”? How credible would we be then? (…)
Q. – Are you assessing the risks for France, the risk of attacks?
THE MINISTER – They doubtless exist, but I said just now that we mustn’t be intimidated by the often extreme threats coming from Gaddafi’s entourage.
Q. – Unless I’m mistaken, it’s the first time France and Germany have disagreed on such an important point of foreign policy. Consequences or no consequences?
THE MINISTER – First of all, we’d have to do some historical research over the last few decades to be sure it is indeed the first time. It’s true we had this European Council, which ended with a declaration adopted by consensus and therefore with Germany’s support. I would have liked Germany to be with us. (…)
Q. – Will there be airstrikes?
THE MINISTER – I’ve already said we’ll implement the resolution, and the resolution envisages the possibility of those Member States who so wish using military means. There’s no question of doing anything on the ground. That’s very clear. Our soldiers aren’t going to disembark in Libya. So the alternative is natural: it is indeed the use of air power. What I wanted to say just now was that what turned the tables – in my opinion: not everyone agrees 100% – in favour of Gaddafi and against the opposition was the use of air power. It’s because planes bombarded military sites and indeed the population sometimes that he regained the advantage. So neutralizing his air power would have been the best way of preventing all that. Now we’ve rather gone beyond that, so we must adapt the military planning to the new situation.
Q. – Gates said a fortnight ago, to explain his reservations, that a no-fly zone meant actions on the ground, for example to neutralize the anti-aircraft units .
THE MINISTER – What we envisage isn’t a no-fly zone throughout Libyan territory: France has always been sceptical about that idea, because it’s very complicated and would take a very long time to implement. We can have protection zones over more limited areas – Benghazi, for example – or humanitarian zones. And we can also have targeted strikes, as we said we wanted. I don’t want to enter any further into a discussion, an analysis of the different possible methods.
Q. – One of the prospects is the fall of Gaddafi. Do you trust the rebels? Do you have a clear picture of who these -
THE MINISTER – There will be dialogue among all those capable of taking over again in Libya, respecting human rights and the Libyan people’s hope of democracy./.