Iran/Central African Republic
The final session of the United Nations General Assembly was very busy and, on the whole, productive. We’re back from New York with a resolution on chemical weapons in Syria and a date for the Geneva 2 conference. Moreover, there was a change in mood in relations between Iran and the international community, especially the Western countries. Of course, we’ll have to see what the consequences of this will be and, in the meantime, remain clear-sighted and cautious. But, without presuming to write history before it has even occurred, it is possible that this week marked an international thaw. (…)
This was an important week: for the first time in a long time, meetings and discussions took place between several leaders of Western countries and the new Iranian authorities. The French President was the first head of state to hold a discussion with Mr Rouhani, at the latter’s request. Why did he agree? You probably remember that I had met the Iranian Ambassador and that, at his request, we’d had a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister; but given developments in Syria, we deemed it appropriate to have a discussion at another level. It also provided the opportunity to see if the new language reflected reality. Be that as it may, we think that France’s role is to take a lead on certain developments. Moreover, we were swiftly joined by other countries – some preferring the telephone, but it’s better to have the person you’re talking to in front of you! On top of the meeting between the two presidents was the meeting I had with my Iranian opposite number and a meeting between the members of the 5+1 group – the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany – and the Iranian representative tasked with negotiations on the nuclear issue, who now happens to be the Foreign Minister, whereas it used to be someone directly responsible to the Supreme Leader.
During these conversations, we noted an indisputable change of tone – which is no small thing, because a conversation is always more productive when the person you’re talking to doesn’t start calling you everything under the sun. The exchanges focused on specific matters: with President Rouhani there was discussion of nuclear issues, Syria and bilateral relations – frozen for quite some time –, while the meetings with my opposite number were devoted more specifically to looking at the nuclear issue. They had a positive result: our political directors will be meeting in Geneva on 15 October to look at technical aspects, such as Iran’s uranium enrichment programme and the situation with the Fordow and Arak installations, to see if language reflects reality.
The Iranian representative began by telling us that he deemed totally illegal all the Security Council’s resolutions on sanctions against Iran, to which he was told that sanctions decided unanimously by the United Nations Security Council could hardly be defined as illegal and that if he wanted our discussions to produce results, the subject would be better approached in another way! He then assured us that Iran wasn’t seeking to use nuclear power for military purposes – this is what matters to us. From then onwards there began a string of “buts”: “we’re prepared to discuss, but there mustn’t be sanctions, but we’ve got to have the right to carry out enrichment”, etc. Catherine Ashton, who’s leading the 5+1 group, told him there had been proposals on the table for a long time – the so-called Almaty proposals – and that Iran had to respond to them. I for one pointed out that our interlocutor envisaged the discussions spread out over a year, while President Rouhani was proposing three months. Yet while the negotiation goes on, the centrifuges spin… Iran has 18,000 of them today, including several second-generation ones, capable of enriching uranium from 2.5% to 20%, then 20% to 90%. Above all, there’s the plutonium-producing reactor in Arak, which could be completed within a year and which, once in operation, will no longer be able to be destroyed. If the negotiation is set to go on, this will change the scenario! Plenty of points which will have to be looked at in detail from 15 October.
So the Iranian authorities’ language to us was undeniably new, embellished with kind words about what a great country France had been; I replied to my interlocutor that France was still a great country but that we were opposed to Iran’s development of a military and not a civilian nuclear programme, due to the risk of proliferation. It remains to be seen if this will be followed by deeds.
During the session, many other subjects were discussed: climate issues, with the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); the Sahel – a visit by Mr Ban Ki-moon, accompanied by the President of the World Bank and the President of the African Development Bank, is due in November; Mali – a meeting with the new president has been organized; and the Central African Republic.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
The situation there is terrible: I spoke about a “non-state”. Acts of violence have been committed throughout the country by gangs from Séléka; for the moment we’re talking about highwaymen, but we’re afraid they might become terrorist groups with a religious dimension.
We have 450 troops there, responsible for protecting French nationals and other Europeans and the airport; other countries have a few forces. Political meetings have been organized, particularly in Libreville; a road map has been drawn up; all this must now be given the force of law. France sounded the alarm to draw international attention to what is already a humanitarian disaster and tomorrow may be a political disaster.
The Central African Republic is surrounded by countries like Chad, Cameroon and Sudan. If a situation of lawlessness sets in there, the whole of that part of Africa risks being contaminated. Four countries have already decided to send 850 troops; for our part, we could provisionally increase our contingent, provided we adopt an overall strategic approach and give the operations legal backing; as for Mali, international support is necessary. We’ll probably proceed in two stages: the presentation of an initial draft resolution in October, then a second in the spring, in order to launch a peacekeeping operation – which is impossible today, because there’s no peace.
You have to realize that the United Nations is quite reluctant to create a new mission; while the Americans and the British understand the goal, they’re wondering – especially the British, who are very committed to the operation in Somalia – which appropriations the funding will come from. So we’re preparing an initial framework resolution, which will have legal weight and define the goal of the operation, as well as the forces and financing necessary. Its adoption would make it possible to send troops there, prepare the political transition, confound Séléka and protect the population so that, in the spring, a more robust peacekeeping operation can be put in place.
In the meantime, in December, the African heads of state will come to Paris to discuss security in Africa. Many have problems in this area, even though the situations are different. They’ll try to establish – in liaison with France, the European Union and the international community – a set of guidelines for the problems encountered. How do you create national forces? Is it possible to create regional rapid intervention forces? It isn’t France’s role to intervene in every conflict! If a regional force had existed, it would have had the responsibility of intervening in Mali. What roles must Europe and the international community play? The summit will also be an opportunity to take stock of the Central African Republic; because France will then hold the UN Security Council presidency, I myself will be chairing a meeting either on the Sahel, the Central African Republic or security in Africa. (…)./.