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French Foreign Minister Visiting Chicago and Washington

Publié le May 14, 2014
Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the American Jewish Committee
Washington, May 12, 2014

Mr President,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Distinguished friends,

After visiting France, Mark Twain said this: “In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those people understand their own language”. I hope I won’t be in Mark Twain’s situation after our dinner!

The AJC is recognized for its leadership in the protection of Jewish communities, the fight against anti-Semitism, and Israel’s security. I am pleased and honoured to be here with you. I commend your commitment to the promotion of pluralism and dialogue. Tomorrow, you will present the Moral Courage Award to Mrs Latifa Ibn Zatiem. I pay tribute to this woman who responded to hatred by committing herself to the cause of fraternity and mutual respect.

The French government applies those principles of peace, dialogue, respect and firmness by combating racism and anti-Semitism. They are also emblematic of the French diplomacy I am honoured to lead. In these times of international tensions and growing intolerance, we must vigorously defend these shared values.

I would like to address two issues of common interest: the fight against anti-Semitism, and the main priorities of French diplomacy in the Middle East.

* * *

Let me start with a few words about France, regarding the necessary fight against anti-Semitism. The French Jewish community, the third largest in the world, is inseparably bound to the French Republic.
Revolutionary France, in the 18th century, was the first European country to grant full citizenship to the members of its Jewish community. It is in France, from the 19th century, that so many talented people from Jewish families thrived in the fields of culture, science, politics and as senior civil servants, contributing to the influence of France as well as to the progress of humanity. The first Jewish head of a Western government was the Frenchman Léon Blum, in 1936. In the darkest hours, in October 1940, the Chief Rabbi of France, Jacob Kaplan, responded to the Vichy government’s anti-Semitic measures by declaring: “We know that the ties binding us to the great French family are too strong to be broken”. France has therefore a duty to itself to guarantee the security of the Jewish community. In the words of President Hollande, “it is the concern of all French people”.

Yet, though a minority, in France as elsewhere in the world racism and anti-Semitism are realities. They constitute a violation of human dignity. This is why, as the French President emphasized last March before the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, we are “absolutely intransigent against acts of anti-Semitism, because each one represents a blow to France”.

To this end, France has assembled a legal arsenal which places it at the forefront of the struggle. In the face of this hatred which always keeps taking new forms, we are adapting our system. Notably, we have taken measures to counter racist content on the Internet by giving providers as well as operators responsibility for blocking websites that promote anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial.

We are also focusing on education. The work carried out to educate younger generations on the subject of the Holocaust is a priority. The great Italian writer Primo Levi, a concentration camp survivor, expressed this in powerful terms: “Never forget that this has happened. Remember these words. Repeat them to your children. Or may your houses be destroyed, may your offspring turn their faces from you”. For several decades, France has been committed to promoting this remembrance, in close cooperation with Jewish organizations in France. We will continue to work tirelessly to this end.

Finally, France is, as you know, the birthplace of a notion which is specific but based on universal principles: we call it laïcité, which can be roughly translated as secularism. Based on freedom of conscience and the neutrality of the state, it ensures that all religions may be exercised freely and that all religious communities as well as non-believers have their place, in mutual respect. It is on this basis that the peaceful coexistence of all citizens is guaranteed on French territory.

In a few weeks, President Hollande will receive President Obama to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy.
We shall never forget the sacrifice made by those young American soldiers, who died for the freedom of France and the world. They are American heroes, they are also French heroes. But this same year will also mark the 70th anniversary of the last departure from France of a train carrying deportees to the Nazi camps. As French President Chirac in 1995 and President Hollande after him both solemnly declared, France has a responsibility in this crime, for the Nazis were unfortunately assisted by some French people and by the French state. France is therefore facing up to the duties imposed by this responsibility. Reparation and compensation mechanisms have been set up for victims of deportation or spoliation. We are currently engaged in discussions with the American government to organize compensation for Holocaust victims deported from France who were not eligible for benefits of the French reparation regime. These negotiations, which aim in particular to respond to issues raised before American courts, are being carried out in a constructive manner and are progressing rapidly.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

Everybody is aware of the AJC’s commitment to peace in the Middle East and Israel’s security. France is actively addressing the challenges in this region, with the aim of promoting a lasting peace. We have offered our support for the work carried out by John Kerry, also backed by the AJC, to relaunch the peace process and reach a fair and definitive agreement. The current break in this dialogue is therefore a source of great concern.

For, in the long-term, there is no satisfactory alternative to negotiations in order to reach a compromise, which will inevitably be difficult. The outline of a peace agreement is well-known: incontestable security guarantees for Israel; the creation of a Palestinian State on the basis of the 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps; Jerusalem as the capital of the two states; and a just and realistic solution to the issue of refugees. In this context, we encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to refrain from any actions that may prevent the resumption of the dialogue, whether it be settlement activities or the use by the Palestinians of the status acquired at the UN in 2012. Nothing can justify the use of violence. In particular, we cannot admit Israel being subject to threats against its territory, and France condemns the rocket attacks. The security of Israel is not negotiable. But it would be ensured by a negotiated settlement.

An inter-Palestinian reconciliation agreement has recently been reached, which provides for a Palestinian unity government and elections. This is not the first time such an initiative is announced. In any case, we believe that a unity government must meet three conditions: expressly renounce the use of violence; be fully committed to the peace process; accept all agreements reached with Israel and the ensuing obligations.

Finally, both parties must be aware of the benefits of reaching an agreement, as well as the price of failure. The costs are obvious and heavy. The advantages must be emphasized too: a genuine peace agreement would pave the way towards normalizing Israel’s relationship with 20 Arab countries. And with our European partners, we have proposed to Israel and the Palestinian Authority the creation of a “special privileged partnership” if a peace agreement is reached. This offer, an important contribution to regional cooperation and peace, would fully strengthen Israel’s relationship with the European Union.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

We shouldn’t ignore either the threats linked to the regional situation. First and foremost, the Iranian nuclear programme. With its E3+3 partners, France is determined to look for a long-term diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis that is satisfactory for international peace and security. But it doesn’t mean that we are ready to accept any solution. Our position is clear and I will sum it up in two sentences: as far as Iran is concerned, yes to civilian nuclear power, no to an atomic bomb. We take into account regional and international peace and security, and naturally Israel’s legitimate concerns regarding this threat to its security. France will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Our efforts, and I would say our firmness, allowed a plan of action to be agreed in Geneva in November 2013. By driving Iran to suspend its most problematic activities, this agreement is a step forward. It preserves – which is essential – the core sanctions on finance and oil.
They could only be lifted if and when a final agreement is reached. They are our best asset in the negotiation. We are vigilant as regards the fulfilment of the provisions of this agreement.

Ladies and gentlemen, with Iran this is a crucial time and we must return to the basics. Nuclear proliferation is a serious danger to peace and security. We must seek to resolve this issue independently of other tactical considerations. The 5+1 group was mandated by the Security Council to find a solution in line with the requirements of six UN resolutions. This is the so-called dual-track approach regime – heavy sanctions to serve a political process – which today allows us to effectively set out our requirements, and the 5+1 group must remain united as regards its objectives and take up realistic and rigorous negotiating positions which guarantee the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian programme.

So, based on this, France, and hopefully our partners in the negotiation, has three principles which we want to see implemented:
We need to ensure in each area that Iran’s pledge in the initial Geneva agreement “not to ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons” is fulfilled. This principle must particularly apply to the Arak plutonium reactor, uranium enrichment and centrifuges. And we cannot ignore the ballistic capability to carry nuclear weapons.

It is necessary to reach a conclusion about the past, in particular the possible military dimension of the Iranian programme. This is essential to build trust. The IAEA will be entrusted with securing assurances on this issue.

Should Iran unfortunately fail to honour its commitments (precedents exist such as North Korea in 2003 and Iran in 2005), it is essential to limit its capabilities to acquire nuclear weapons by providing the international community with sufficient time to break out. This breakout element is essential too.

The action plan allows until 20 July to obtain a comprehensive agreement. Discussions on enrichment will be difficult, but our line is clear: a demanding approach is the only way to verify the exclusive peaceful purposes of the programme.

Syria is another regional threat. While refusing negotiations, Mr Assad is organizing his re-election. This tragic farce devoid of legitimacy doesn’t reduce our determination to halt the regime’s attempt to gain control by military force with the help of Iran and Russia. Unspeakable crimes are committed to achieve this goal: the torturing to death of more than 11,000 people, the bombing of densely-populated areas, the use of famine and rape as weapons of war are all crimes against humanity. France was the first country to raise the alarm. Our firm response – which we had wished even sharper – to the use of chemical weapons, forced the regime to dismantle its arsenal, but the utmost vigilance is required to eliminate the chemical threat.

In parallel, the growing power of terrorist groups is deeply worrying.
Despite appearances, the regime, which released their members and spares al-Qaeda camps, is now their ally and accomplice. This is a threat to the whole world because the jihadist networks will not stop at our borders. The Syrian National Coalition, a responsible partner, and reliable groups which are fighting against our two opponents – the regime and the jihadists – deserve increased support. The path towards peace will be long. We have no magic wand to make this shameful regime, and Russia and Iran, adopt a responsible attitude. But one thing is certain: inaction is not an option.

Before I conclude, I would like to touch briefly on Ukraine, an issue which all of us follow closely. The situation is worrying and volatile. Its implications for international security are serious. Our goals are the de-escalation of violence, the holding of the presidential elections of 25 May and a genuine constitutional reform. Our method can be summed up with two words: firmness and dialogue. Ukraine should be a bridge between the EU and Russia rather than being forced to choose between one and the other. Here again, we have to be very firm.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the time of the Drefyus affair, the great French writer Emile Zola in his famous article, J’Accuse praised “the search for light, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness”.
This light is what brings us together today and what will guide France’s action tomorrow in just and necessary struggles, such as the fight against anti-Semitism, for Israel security, and for peace and justice. Thank you./.

¹ M. Fabius spoke in English.

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