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French Foreign Minister Visiting Chicago and Washington

Publié le May 14, 2014
Press Conference at the French Embassy of France (excerpts)

As of today, we have 500 days to avoid climate chaos. As you know, at the end of next year, in December 2015, France will host what’s known as COP 21 – well, we call it the 2015 Paris Climate Conference – where decisions are supposed to be taken to limit the rise in temperatures.
That limit was set at 2 degrees, but the latest studies by IPCC scientists say it could reach 4 or 5 degrees. Which isn’t, as is sometimes said, global warming or even climate change, but what I call “climate chaos” because if it occurs, it means that all human activities will be completely disturbed, in absolutely drastic conditions. And it is in Paris that decisions must be taken to spare us that fate. And so one of France’s main diplomatic efforts – because France will be chairing that conference – will be to lay the groundwork, if possible, for that conference’s success. And to achieve that success, we particularly need the support of the United States and China, as both are the world’s largest polluters. And so in the coming months, you will hear me talk a great deal about these subjects, because they are absolutely critical.

John Kerry and I obviously – even though it was a quick visit, but we call and see each other all the time – discussed issues relating to Iran.
I’ll say something about that if it interests you, but I’ll wait for questions: questions about Syria, questions about Ukraine. We also spoke a bit about the Near and Middle East, of course.

And we can’t not talk about what’s going on in Nigeria, with the Boko Haram tragedy. You know that we dispatched a team of specialists, whose work, as usual, is confidential; they are currently on the ground. The President invited the presidents of several African countries (Nigeria, of course, as well as Niger, Benin, Chad and Cameroon) to Paris this Saturday – (unfortunately I won’t be able to join them as I will be in China) – along with my American and British colleagues and Ms. Ashton. We must try and see what can be done to help Nigeria and its neighbors to confront their grave security problems, with a view to finding those poor girls, of course. I must say that in France people sometimes talk about “forced marriages.” That is a completely inadequate term. We are talking about the massive rape of little girls – some of them 11 or 12. More than 200 have been kidnapped and subjected to slavery. It is mass rape. And it must be prosecuted and punished as such. So I remain at your disposal to discuss any subject you wish.

The situation in Ukraine is extremely difficult; it is a serious crisis, given the latest events last Sunday – that referendum that has no value. There has been no vote count of any kind that the countries of Europe – and not just them – consider as having probative value, but the situation is extremely tense.

What has our approach been from the outset? And when I say our approach, I mean that of France and more broadly, that of the Europeans. One of both firmness and dialogue. Firmness, because the actions that have been carried out, particularly by the Russians, are unacceptable. You recall the annexation of Crimea. We cannot accept, without response, that one country annexes another; if borders can be violated with no response, it means that all countries are threatened. So firmness. Likewise, we are remaining firm in the face of a certain number of behaviors in eastern Ukraine, which is why we imposed sanctions… We imposed two rounds of sanctions, and yesterday too – I wasn’t there because I was in the United States, but I gave the necessary instructions – there was an agreement, a European agreement, and we added 13 figures and two entities, some Russian, to the sanctions list.

So a firm stance, to say that “there are things that are not acceptable,” while at the same time, we continue to say that progress must be made toward a solution. It is out of the question, no reasonable person can propose a war with Russia, so there must be both pressure via sanctions and dialogue. And that is why, from the beginning, in circumstances that haven’t always been easy, we have been talking to both the Ukrainians, of course – I’m often on the phone with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk – and the Russians. I speak regularly with my colleague Lavrov, the President talks to Mr. Putin, and there has been a whole series of contacts, at my level and that of the President, with the various stakeholders.

The objective we’re pursuing – and I want to emphasize this – is to make sure there is, as is normal, a presidential election on May 25. Why? Because, when there’s a crisis situation like this and even the opponents to the ruling party – especially those opponents – consider there’s no authority in place, an election is necessary to resolve this difficulty. We are therefore redoubling our efforts to try and make sure that this election is held on May 25. Let me point out in this regard something that is little known: that this election already has 23 candidates, with more than half coming from the east and the south. By definition, we don’t know what the outcome will be, and we will send a huge number of observers to make sure these elections are as well monitored as possible. That’s where we are right now.

As for sanctions, I mentioned that there were three rounds of sanctions. The first two have been implemented, and we want to see what happens with the elections before deciding whether we should implement a third round. If these elections take place, which is the democratic way, there will be no need for additional pressure. If obstacles stand in the way of holding these elections, then we will have to examine an additional level, which could obviously relate to a whole range of subjects: energy (I’ll come back to this), finance, even defense.

As for the contracts concerning the two ships, I want to emphasize that they were signed in 2011, i.e., three years ago; that they were worth one billion two hundred million, more than half of which has been paid; and that the rule for contracts is that signed contracts are honored and we do not have the legal means not to honor them. But the final decision will have to be taken in October, which is when we will see what the legal background is for that decision. Of course, France will do its part, but you have to realize that the sanctions are directed against the Russians, not against Europe.

Now, to go into a little more depth, the question is one of the balance between dialogue and firmness. And here, ladies and gentlemen, I want to be absolutely clear: France does not need to be taught about firmness from anyone whatsoever. And I would like to give you a few examples. With respect to Syria, which we’ll talk about in a moment, as you recall - but I’m going to give you some interesting new information - when it was time to identify and draw the consequences of the chemical weapons, which country adopted a position as soon as possible and took the firmest stand? It was France! Which country suggested that there should be strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in order to draw the consequences of the use of chemical weapons? It was France! Which country then proposed – and is still proposing – to refer the Syrian perpetrators of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court? It was France! And I would like to add that even now I can tell you that we have evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s regime may have again used chemical weapons in the last few weeks – chlorine this time – and that we are in the process of verifying the use of this chlorine. We’ve asked the international organization responsible for combating chemical weapons to verify this, and we’ve asked other countries - I’m thinking of the United States, the United Kingdom - to do the same. So with respect to Syria and with respect to standing firm, no one can teach France any lessons.

Bashar al-Assad’s regime made a commitment to completely destroy the chemical weapons. In reality 92% of these chemical weapons have now been destroyed. We have a great deal of information that leads us to believe that some of these chemical weapons have been concealed and, on the other hand, we have information – at least 14 pieces of information – that show that chemical weapons have again been used in small quantities, notably chlorine, and we’re in the process of examining the samples that were taken. This shows that Bashar al-Assad’s regime, despite its commitments, continues to have the capacity to manufacture chemical weapons and to use them, and this is a further argument in support of our decision to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. We’ve called for a vote to be held in the next few days at the UN Security Council on referring the matter to the ICC since, in our view, there can be no impunity. Impunity is not an answer.

With respect to chemical weapons, you will remember that the first time involved the mass use of chemical weapons. At the time, a top leader said “this is a red line” and we decided to prepare to carry out a strike, notably with the British and the Americans. That wasn’t possible because the motion was put before the British Parliament and it was rejected and then the American president said that ultimately there would be no attacks under these circumstances and that there was no question of France acting alone. We believe – and we regret this because we think that this would have changed many things in a lot of ways – but it’s true that we cannot recreate the past. The evidence we now have about the use of chemical weapons is of lesser importance, we have to be honest enough to recognize that. On the other hand, we can’t say that the situation has improved since this threat was articulated and, ultimately, not carried out. So it’s not a current issue, but it’s true that if it’s established that Bashar al-Assad’s regime has once again – as we believe – used chemical weapons, then this is further overwhelming evidence of its guilt.

You asked about the support being lent to the moderate opposition. Our position is that Bashar al-Assad is murdering his people. We should always bear in mind that it started with a small-scale revolt by a few young people in Syria which was suppressed, with the result that three years later the death toll has now risen to 150,000. That’s how things started, as a result of Bashar al-Assad’s shameful – and that’s too mild a word – response. Other factors compounded the situation. So, on the one hand Bashar al-Assad clearly cannot be part of the future of his people and, on the other hand, there’s no question of us supporting the terrorist groups that we’re fighting – Al Qaeda and the other groups. And so we’re lending our support to what we call the moderate opposition represented by Ahmad al-Jarba who I think is present and who I frequently speak with on the telephone; he represents the moderate opposition which is fighting for a free and democratic opposition that will establish itself among all the groups. The objective – even though it may be extremely difficult – is to find a political solution based on an agreement between this moderate opposition and part of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, without Bashar al-Assad. This is the direction in which we have to try to move, even if the efforts in Geneva have until now been futile.

These moderate opposition groups need support, particularly armed support. Bashar al-Assad gets weapons from the Iranians and the Russians in particular: the terrorist groups acquire a lot of weapons and moreover there’s often objective complicity between Bashar al-Assad and the terrorist groups; the moderate opposition does receive weapons but as far as Europe, and therefore France, is concerned there are rules that prevent the supply of lethal weapons and France does of course comply with this regulation.

France’s position is based on a few factors. First of all, we believe that nuclear proliferation is a serious threat, even a very serious threat, perhaps the greatest threat to peace and security in the world. We are working with five other partners - the four other permanent members of the Security Council besides us, plus Germany - and until now – and this is very important – we’ve managed to be united. We’ve adopted what we call a “dual-track approach,” i.e. on the one hand, sanctions, but sanctions that should allow for a political process. We hope – and this is what we’re working toward – that our dialogue will succeed.

Our position is based on 3 principles with respect to this agreement.

The first principle is that the agreement must be comprehensive. We’ve included a statement in the interim agreement that says that Iran – and Iran has signed the agreement - must not, under any circumstances, possess or seek to possess nuclear weapons. Yes to civilian nuclear, no to the atomic bomb. And we demand that the full consequences of this statement be drawn in all areas – with respect to the centrifuges, the Arak reactor, enrichment and enriched stocks - in short, all areas in order to reach a comprehensive agreement.

Secondly, the agreement must be transparent. We request, we even demand, that the IAEA must be aware of and verify all nuclear-related activities that have been carried out by Iran so that there are no gaps in the information we have about Iran’s nuclear-related activities. So we want a comprehensive and transparent agreement.

Lastly, a reliable agreement. We must also consider a scenario – and this has happened in the past – whereby the agreement is signed, but Iran does not comply with its obligations. This already happened in the past in 2003 with North Korea and in 2005 with Iran. We need to have mechanisms that will give us time to react. This is referred to as the “breakout time,” so that if we are ever deceived, if ever Iran decides, once it has concluded an agreement, to change its mind, then we will be able to react.

I was in Chicago yesterday and I congratulated the governor of Chicago on passing a law that, as you know, now prohibits the death penalty in Illinois. This is a long and very difficult struggle. There have been a number of dreadful situations recently; I think it was in the state of Oklahoma, where, as a result, a moratorium has been established for a period of time. It’s a very difficult struggle but one that is very important and which reflects France’s values.

Every year, at the UN General Assembly – and I will do so again in September when I’m there – I meet – usually together with 2 or 3 colleagues from other continents – all those who are opposed to the death penalty in order to expand the group of countries that have either established a moratorium or have completely abolished the death penalty. We say the same thing every time: the death penalty does not work as a deterrent. This has been categorically proven. On the other hand, by definition, when there is a miscarriage of justice – and unfortunately mistakes can happen, as we’ve seen in the past – and the death penalty has been handed down and applied it obviously leads to an unacceptable situation.

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