Libya – Syria – Afghanistan – French hostages – Arab Spring/France
Crisis in Syria, hostage-taking, Afghanistan and intervention in Libya: Alain Juppé, Minister of Foreign Affairs, explains France’s position on these issues and talks about his “surprising” closeness to the Head of State.
Since 27 February this year, in the midst of the Arab revolutions and civil war in Abidjan, Alain Juppé had to manage a level of international crises and events seldom experienced since 1989. All this at a time when there’s a presidential election in the offing, during which he intends to play a key role. This is what he discussed with “Sud Ouest” last Friday before flying off to Juba and attending the South Sudan independence ceremonies. With, as the backcloth, of course, Libya, where France is again on the front line.
Q. – Colonel Gaddafi is still resisting despite the coalition’s military effort. Haven’t NATO and France been presumptuous in waging war on Libya?
THE MINISTER – We haven’t declared war on Libya, but prevented a massacre. Let’s remember the UN’s lack of action in Rwanda and Srebrenica. Had we done nothing, we’d have had the same scenario, since Gaddafi’s intention was clear: to take vengeance on the Benghazi people. So we were right to go there, and the intervention is still getting a lot of international support. It’s confined to air action to protect civilians. On the ground, it’s the National Transitional Council’s troops who are fighting and scoring points.
Q. – Is this offensive linked to France’s arms deliveries?
THE MINISTER – No, since the NTC’s troops have organized themselves. We have helped them – not just us, but the British too – since at the outset they were ill-equipped with regard to communication and command capabilities. The weapons we’ve delivered are for civilian civil defence. And I want to stress that NATO has been extremely vigilant in the choice of its targets to avoid civilian losses: the vast majority of civilians killed have been killed by Gaddafi’s bombs, particularly in Misrata.
Q. – In the absence of military success, is there a political solution?
THE MINISTER – We’re working on it. And things are making headway. The NTC has strengthened its legitimacy, Turkey has just recognized it, and everyone now admits the idea that Gaddafi has got to go.
Q. – Even the Africans?
THE MINISTER – Yes, a large proportion of them! Even if they aren’t saying so openly, the majority of the African countries have understood that Gaddafi has to step down. It isn’t a matter of whether he has to go, but when and how.
Q. – “Where to?”, that’s precisely the question Aisha Gaddafi, daughter of the “guide”, has just asked our special envoy in Tripoli...
THE MINISTER – It could be in Libya itself, provided he gives up all political power? Outside the country with guarantees? I haven’t got the answer, but the African Union is working on it. Its mediation can be useful and we’re keen for the African Union to participate in the contact group meeting in Istanbul on 15 July.
Q. – Weren’t you hampered by Bernard-Henri Lévy’s parallel diplomacy in Libya?
THE MINISTER – Intellectuals have their role to play, a declarative one, and diplomats work in the real world.
Q. – Paris is campaigning for a UN resolution on Syria. Do you think it’s possible to get round the Russian veto?
THE MINISTER – I hope so, since it would be unacceptable for the Security Council to stay silent when for weeks there’s been a brutal and savage crackdown on people just asking for the freedom to express their views. The Russians are afraid of a resolution on Syria leading to a Libya-type intervention. The fear is groundless: the draft resolution under consideration in New York makes no reference at all to the use of military force. It condemns the crackdown, calls again on the Syrian regime – if it isn’t too late – to take account of popular aspirations and make some real reforms. If we manage to get support from 11 out of the 15, the resolution could be put to the vote.
Q. – Despite being discredited, the Syrian regime can keep going for months. By cutting herself off from it, won’t France lose a lever when it comes to organizing the conference on the Middle East she so wants to take place?
THE MINISTER – I don’t think the present Syrian regime can help us. But the conference isn’t stillborn, as is being said in various quarters.
The key date is 11 July with the meeting of the Quartet (Russia, United States, Europe and the UN). Moscow is following the same line as the European Council, and Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, is supporting the process. The Americans? I had an in-depth meeting with Hillary Clinton on the subject: she is conscious that the status quo isn’t tenable. If the Quartet is capable of issuing a strong appeal to the Israelis and Palestinians to convince them to get back round the table with the parameters we are proposing, we could organize a donors’ conference in Paris in the first fortnight of September.
Q. – If that came to nothing, could France recognize the Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly in September?
THE MINISTER – We’ll face up to our responsibilities when the time comes. That’s at the end of September. We aren’t there yet.
Q. – By also announcing a withdrawal of her soldiers from Afghanistan, is France blindly following Washington?
THE MINISTER – I don’t understand that accusation of blindly following [the US] being made by political forces who a few days before were imploring us to withdraw. Let’s be consistent. We are in a coalition.
Working with one’s allies is a matter of solidarity, not of blindly following someone else’s lead. There have been new elements: the death of Bin Laden; we’re scoring points on the ground. We’re working in line with the strategy decided on in Lisbon at the end of 2010: progressive transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghan troops. We’re withdrawing as and when we can.
Q. – Were there any quid pro quos for the release of “France 3”’s hostages?
THE MINISTER – I shan’t say anything about that. There are sometimes reasons of state. We have nine other hostages, four in the Sahel, three in Yemen, one in Somalia and Gilad Shalit in Gaza. Were we to put all the terms of the negotiation on the table it could jeopardize their release.
Q. – Are the Yemen hostages alive?
THE MINISTER – We think so, but we haven’t got any confirmation about who’s holding them, or where they are.
Q. – As regards the Arab Spring, aren’t you afraid we’re being naively optimistic as regards the possible changes in these countries?
THE MINISTER – Yesterday, we were being accused of blindness. And now of naive optimism? We’re just trying to match our diplomacy to our principles. For a long time, we prioritized stability saying: “Those countries aren’t mature enough for democracy, so, even if it’s a bit tyrannical, it’s the best bulwark against fundamentalism.” Result? Revolution. Today, we have to rejoice, since what’s happening is the success of the democratic aspirations and values we’re committed to, particularly human rights. The revolutions weren’t carried out in the name of a political ideology or religion, but in the name of freedom. So it’s an opportunity. There’s no revolution without risks. Extremist, Islamist forces can take advantage of it. This is why we must first help these countries on the path of democracy and, above all, prevent an economic collapse giving the extremists a bonus. (...)./.