Ministerial session of the North Atlantic Council
NATO/NORTH ATLANTIC COUNCIL
THE MINISTER – I’ll make a few brief remarks before answering your questions. We talked about Operation “Unified Protector” in Libya, noting that it had been a great success for the Alliance, that it allowed us to avoid a bloodbath in Libya and that it was conducted under conditions which spared us any collateral damage, in accordance with the mandate provided by UNSCR 1973.
We then talked about the situation in Afghanistan, welcoming the success of the Bonn Conference, which allowed us to draw up a “road map” – if I can call it one –, with first of all the implementation of the transition [process]. As you know, France was very directly concerned since Surobi was included in the last series of regions where security is being transferred to the Afghan authorities. This is going to allow us to implement what President Sarkozy has announced, in particular the withdrawal of 1,000 French soldiers. We’ll go on until 2013.
In Bonn, we also looked to the post-2014 period. France, I hope, is going to be able to sign a cooperation and friendship treaty with Afghanistan which will allow us to look to the next 20 years with an action plan for the first five years dealing with various subjects such as security, but also education, agriculture and health. So we’re committed to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan, in which NATO will be involved.
We also talked a great deal about the Western Balkans, which are destined to join the Euro-Atlantic area. We condemned the intolerable attacks on KFOR in Kosovo. I paid tribute to the force personnel, who reacted calmly and with a great deal of professionalism. We’re thus continuing to support KFOR so that it carries out its mandate in coordination with the EULEX mission. I also pointed out that this desire for a partnership with the Western Balkans involved the different countries of the region, including Serbia, who’s making progress on her reform process. The customs agreement passed on 2 December also makes it possible to move forward. As the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina becomes stronger, we would like Serbia to be directly involved in this partnership too.
And then we started talking about the subject of Russia. We’ll talk about it again tomorrow, with the Russia-NATO Council. For France, Russia is an important partner. We don’t want to lose the momentum provided by the Lisbon summit to strengthen this partnership, even though at times this cooperation is difficult. It’s making headway in many areas. I’m thinking of Afghanistan, and the fight against terrorism and piracy.
On the other hand, for the moment we’re in a situation of virtual deadlock as regards anti-missile defence. I said – as did other delegations, Mrs Clinton’s in particular – that this anti-missile defence wasn’t directed against Russia and that we wanted to work on it with her ahead of the Chicago [NATO] summit. Some statements – particularly President Medvedev’s on anti-missile defence – seemed to signal a cooling of relations between NATO and Russia. But we don’t want to overreact to what was said and the door remains open to discussion. Tomorrow’s discussion will, I’m sure, be very fruitful and honest.
Those are the main issues discussed.
Q. – Do you attribute this cooling from Russia solely to the electoral period Russia’s just been through, or to more deep-seated reasons?
THE MINISTER – The electoral period has doubtless led to a certain hardening. On this subject, I’d also like to express France’s concern about the way the elections went ahead. The OSCE has already made some sharp observations about the organization of these elections. I also want to remind you that, amid our close cooperation with Russia, we’re committed to certain fundamental principles, particularly the freedom to demonstrate. We’re worried about the arrests, which have been increasing in number since the election result emerged.
This creates a context that may explain this hardening attitude. Nevertheless, this doesn’t call into question our aim, which is to regard Russia as a special partner of the European Union, NATO and France.
Q. – How can we get round the difficulties arising from the latest incidents and the deaths of Pakistani border guards, which are still a sensitive subject?
THE MINISTER – It is a sensitive subject. I saw the reactions it sparked. President Karzai – it was also one of the conclusions of the Bonn conference – remains absolutely convinced there will be no return to stability and peace in Afghanistan without constructive dialogue with Pakistan. France raised this idea of “collective security” with Afghanistan’s neighbours, which was revisited at the Istanbul conference. It’s what is now called the Istanbul Process. So we’re going to work in this direction, without underestimating the present difficulties.
Q. – NATO has announced several times that it wants to strengthen its relationship with the Arab countries, particularly Libya. How do you regard France’s relationship with those countries, and how does she regard the rise of the Islamist movements?
THE MINISTER – As you know, NATO is developing two partnership frameworks with the countries of North Africa and the Middle East: the Mediterranean Dialogue on the one hand, and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with the Gulf countries. It seems to us that Libya comes under the Mediterranean Dialogue. We’re entirely in favour of this dialogue being set up.
Regarding France and the Arab Spring countries, the Arab peoples’ aspiration to democracy must be taken into account. When elections are being held under proper conditions – as has been the case in Morocco, Tunisia and apparently Egypt – you can’t dispute their results. We take note of them. It’s the will of the people concerned. At the same time, we also have a right to stick firmly to our principles and remind people that there are certain red lines we’ll be vigilant about. I myself am paying attention to statements by certain Egyptian political parties – I’m thinking in particular of Al-Nour – about which we’ll need clarification from those who are in the next government.
Q. – On Libya, there’s a lot of talk about a lack of control over weapons on the territory. Is this a source of ongoing concern at the moment?
THE MINISTER – It is a source of concern. We want to help the new Libyan government control the situation better. What worries us most is the weapons that are outside Libyan territory and have entered the Sahel. The situation is currently deteriorating. This morning I met my Algerian counterpart and we discussed the need to step up regional cooperation in the Sahel between Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria. As you know, the European Union is ready to help. We’ve secured the establishment of a Sahel Plan, which will provide support in terms of training and security in order to tackle this challenge. (…)
Q. – On the issue of granting candidate status to Serbia, which could be decided on Friday, does France still take the same position, at a time when – according to the latest reports – some countries are going to try to block the process?
THE MINISTER – We still think Serbia has made progress in the direction we wanted. I won’t go back over the arrests she’s made at the request of the ICTY. Reforms are also under way. So we think Serbia must be given a sign of encouragement, in particular to encourage her to continue her dialogue with Pristina. Agreements have been signed. We see no reason for not making progress on recognizing Serbia’s candidate status. It will be discussed at the next European Council meeting and in the coming weeks. There are still reservations on Germany’s part, but we haven’t lost hope of moving forward on the issue. (…)
Q. – Regarding the anti-missile shield, we’ve sought to give Russia guarantees of participation, involvement and information regarding the project. It doesn’t seem to be working. What else can we do?
THE MINISTER – Persuade Russia that it’s not directed against her. I’m well aware it’s a difficult task, but the negotiation processes have been restarted on the initiative of Presidents Obama and Medvedev. We still have some way to go between now and Chicago. I hope the deadlock can be overcome, even though this is still a pre-electoral period in Russia.
Q. – Will the states’ budgetary situation influence this project? It’s very costly; will it be delayed?
THE MINISTER – It is indeed very costly, that’s true. The only financial decision to have been taken so far is to limit the Alliance countries’ involvement in financing C2 [command and control]. Apart from that, it’s a matter of national financing.
I also mentioned the Defence and Deterrence Posture Review (DDPR) as a reminder that, for France, maintaining a nuclear deterrence capability today is absolutely key to the world’s stability and to the security of our country and the Alliance as a whole. We don’t want this exercise to end up weakening this deterrence capability, as was clearly said in Lisbon./.