Iran – Palestinians – Libya – Lebanon
European Affairs, to “Al Arabiya” (excerpts)
Bordeaux, November 24, 2011
Q. – On economic sanctions, you’ve said that if Iran doesn’t change her nuclear programme and the IAEA report is negative, there will be “sanctions of unprecedented magnitude”; that’s the word you used. What do you mean?
THE MINISTER – I think President Sarkozy has explained his thinking. He’s just sent a letter to our European Union partners and also to the Americans, Canadians and Japanese, proposing to them that we take the actions further.
What does that involve?
There are two types of sanctions that can be extremely effective:
Freezing the assets of the Central Bank in order to halt banking transactions. Some countries have already moved towards this; the United Kingdom has just announced that she’s going to take measures against the Central Bank of Iran.
The second measure, which is also very radical – that’s why we talked about unprecedented measures – is quite simply halting all oil imports from Iran, so as to dry up Iran’s financial resources, which largely come from her gas and oil sales.
These measures deserve to be coordinated and discussed with the states in the region, particularly the Gulf countries. I think they should really change the balance of power today between the international community and Iran.
Why are we at this point? Because Iran is refusing to engage in what we’re inviting her to: namely genuine dialogue, because we’re ready for dialogue with Iran. Iran tells us the IAEA’s accusations weren’t accurate: “we’re not continuing our programme to build an atomic bomb.” Very well: if that’s true, let’s sit round the table, let’s open up the Iranian sites to a visit by the IAEA inspectors to demonstrate it’s not the case. Well, Iran’s refusing to do so.
Q. – Can I ask you a question that the Arab man in the street is asking himself? Why is Iran banned from having a nuclear programme when we allow Israel to possess an atomic weapon?
THE MINISTER – That’s not a reason. It may jar on the level of principle. I don’t know exactly what Israel’s situation is in that area, but the Iranian state is violating all the international obligations it’s signed up to. And I could also point out something which some people won’t find convincing and which doesn’t justify proliferation, clearly, but Israel has never threatened Iran with destruction.
Q. – No, but she has threatened the Arab countries.
THE MINISTER – No. She’s said she will defend herself; I haven’t heard that she’s threatened anyone with destruction. Whenever President Ahmadinezhad speaks, including on the United Nations podium, he explains that his goal is to wipe Israel off the map.
Q. – Is a military strike on Iran currently an option?
THE MINISTER – We’ve said we must do everything to prevent what would be irreparable, namely the bombing of Iran.
Q. – Yes, but Mr Netanyahu’s statements…
THE MINISTER – They’re not a commitment.
Q. – Yes, but is an Israeli strike against Iran or the nuclear bases possible?
THE MINISTER – We want to do everything to prevent Israel getting to that point, because I think the consequences of such action could be irreparable.
Q. – You’ve heard the Arab world of the Gulf countries. Are they really afraid of Iran?
THE MINISTER – Yes. In the four countries I’ve visited, during the meetings I’ve had, there’s a feeling of very great concern about Iran’s behaviour. I’d also like to remind you that Iran – and it’s also something we must take into consideration in the context of the Arab Spring, even though Iran isn’t an Arab country – is savagely cracking down on human rights.
Q. – And she’s succeeded. She’s the only country in the region to have succeeded.
THE MINISTER – Unfortunately, she’s succeeded because the opposition today is muzzled, in an absolutely outrageous way. It’s another aspect of the Iran issue and it’s the reason why Iran currently worries us and is a threat to the region’s stability.
Q. – But do you really think that economic sanctions will change Iran or the Iranian population, or that there will be an implosion? To date, frankly, there’s a clear feeling the economic sanctions have changed nothing.
THE MINISTER – If it were that simple – if it were indeed enough to impose a few sanctions to tip the balance – we’d know. I’m well aware that implementing sanctions is a difficult and gradual path. I told you we were ready to move to an unprecedented level of sanctions, in the hope that they’ll be really effective and lead the regime to change. I’m well aware of the risks this entails.
Iranian nationalism can also be stirred up against the international community; we can trust the regime to play on those knee-jerk reactions. I also think – at any rate, I hope – that there are forces in Iranian society that are forces for the future, forces of modernity, and that one day or another this repressive regime will be forced to change.
Q. – Regarding Palestine, France supported Palestine at UNESCO but didn’t support it at the Security Council for a permanent seat at the UN. Why?
THE MINISTER – I think there’s great consistency in the French position and we’ve explained it several times to both our Palestinian and our Israeli friends.
To go to the Security Council to obtain recognition of the Palestinian state by the Security Council, as provided for in the UN Charter, is to go down a dead end. There’s no chance of success – firstly because it’s not certain this proposal will gain the nine votes necessary, and even if those nine votes were secured, the United States of America has announced that she’ll use her veto. So there will be no decision. I’ve asked our Palestinian friends several times what will happen the next day: what’s your strategy once you’ve failed? What are you going to say to the Palestinians and what will happen?
What risks happening is that the American Congress will cut off supplies to the Palestinian Authority, as it’s threatened to do. So I think it’s a dead-end strategy, and that’s why we told the Palestinians we wouldn’t support it.
Because there’s no possible solution at the Security Council, let’s see if we can’t make progress at the General Assembly. According to the terms of the Charter, the General Assembly can’t accept a new member state, but it can give the Palestinian Authority the status of non-member observer state. That’s a very important first step; it would be very important recognition.
We told the Palestinians we were ready to support them along that route, provided of course that they first reiterate their recognition of Israel – because for us Israel has the right to live in peace and security within the recognized borders –, that they commit themselves to resuming the negotiations, without preconditions, and that they also pledge not to refer matters to the International Criminal Court during the course of the negotiations. (…)
Q. – Can we talk about what’s happening in Libya? France was deeply committed, and you said it was an investment for the future. Don’t you think Libya is currently heading towards extremism? And what investment were you talking about?
THE MINISTER – (…) It’s an investment in Libya’s stability. (…)
If Libya tomorrow is a country of peace and development, it will be an extraordinary investment for us. We’ll be able to work, trade and invest in Libya – with others, it goes without saying. And then the people, and the neighbouring peoples, will also have an interest in working in Libya; it will also stabilize migration in the Mediterranean region.
That’s why I talked about investment for the future.
Q. – But if they’re Islamist extremists, will there be a role for you?
THE MINISTER – That’s the other question, but I can’t work on the assumption that you give power to extremists as soon as you organize elections and that it’s therefore better to keep dictators.
I’m very well aware that the idea is beginning to circulate, even in France, that we may have opened the Pandora’s Box of extremism. I repeat: in that case, should we have continued to support Gaddafi, Ben Ali and today Bashar al-Assad? I think it’s enough to ask the question in order to get the answer. Similarly, who are these movements, the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda in Tunisia? I can’t work on the assumption that Islam and democracy are incompatible.
Q. – If you’ll allow me, my last question is about Lebanon, because I’ve just come from Beirut. It appears you’re not going to receive the Lebanese Prime Minister if the financing of the [Special] Tribunal [for Lebanon] isn’t secured. Is that true?
THE MINISTER – I’m going to receive him, because he gave me an assurance that he’d ensure the financing of the Tribunal. We saw each other in September, if I remember rightly, and he told me very expressly that he’d take measures, when the time came, to ensure the financing of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. There, too, I’m somewhat inclined to be trustful; if he told me that, it’s because he’s going to do it. I’m ready to receive him so that he can confirm it to me. (…)./.