Paris, June 18, 2014
Q. – You haven’t spoken much about Iran. What role can you see for that country in this crisis?
THE MINISTER – The Iraq issue is serious and dangerous, but I’ll talk instead about the discussions we’re currently having with the Iranians on the nuclear issue. As you know, we had a first round of discussions a few months ago. The contact was a little difficult to forge, but a provisional agreement emerged. Now it’s about whether – before 20 July but the deadline can be put back – we can obtain a definitive agreement. We’d like to, but the issue is quite simple. In the discussion and the protocol we reached, I had a sentence added – it was a little diplomatic touch I allowed myself. I asked for this sentence to be added to the introduction – it was all the easier to add because it was a sentence of President Rouhani’s and hard for the Iranians to challenge: “Under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or possess any nuclear weapons.” What we’re asking is for the technical consequences of that statement by President Rouhani to be drawn.
That means no problem with civilian nuclear energy, but no to the atomic bomb. Why? Because whatever deterrent role the atomic bomb played when it was America and Russia, if the atomic bomb is introduced to Iran we know other countries will obtain it in turn, even supposing terrorist groups can’t do so as well. In that region in particular, the proliferation of bombs would be an absolute disaster. So we – and not only France – are saying civilian nuclear energy is perfect but no to the atomic bomb.
Very complex technical discussions are under way; progress is being made on certain points but not yet on others. As we know, the discussions mainly concern two or three aspects. The first, which is technically on the way to being solved is what’s called the plutonium-producing reactor at Arak. There is in fact a reactor, Arak, which has the characteristic of operating with heavy water and can therefore ultimately enable the creation of a nuclear bomb. The whole difficulty – although it now demands a political decision – is ensuring that this reactor, which was designed to allow elements to be released that enable the bomb, is modified so that this becomes impossible.
There’s the issue of checks by the IAEA and transparency. We say to the Iranians: if you want to create civilian energy and not a nuclear weapon, then open your bases from today onwards and it will be easy to monitor.
Conversely, there’s one point which is more complicated but I hope we manage to resolve, namely the so-called centrifuge issue. The Iranians currently have 19,000 of them, either old-generation or new-generation; that’s a significant figure. If you want to produce only civilian nuclear energy, you don’t need to have so many. Most of the countries that use civilian nuclear energy get their fuel from elsewhere.
The question is whether this figure is acceptable, whether a smaller figure is required or whether a larger figure can be accepted. Many technicians who are experts on these issues say that if there are thousands of centrifuges, what use can they have other than perhaps to prepare a nuclear weapon?
The real question is whether the Iranians will want and be able – because the Iranian government is quite open – to move in the direction we advocate. We hope it will be the case, we’re working on it, but as I speak I’m unable to tell you what the Iranians’ final answer will be. (…)
IRAN/CONFLICT IN IRAQ
Q. – Thirty-six years ago, America and France – Jimmy Carter and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing – made the mistake of playing the Khomeini card against the Shah of Iran. We can see the price we’re paying for it today, 36 years on. Thirty-six years on, isn’t Mr Obama’s America naïve to think you can deal with the Iranian regime on the nuclear issue – because I think they’ll have nuclear weapons – and on the possibly stabilizing influence Iran could have on both Syria and Iraq?
THE MINISTER – That’s a very complex question, and I can’t claim to answer it in two minutes, but it goes to the heart of the issues. At the same time, there’s more than one starting-point for answering your question: Iran, the United States.
Iran is a great country, a great people. We’d rather have peaceful relations with that country than other relations. It’s simply that there are rules, principles that everyone must respect. The nuclear programme is one of those elements.
I’m not sure what the Iranians want. Moreover, who could say with certainty what Iran’s Supreme Leader is thinking? Those who know Iran can’t say it; perhaps others can.
But beyond this issue, there’s the issue of Shia-Sunni relations. Is there going to be an implacable, never-ending war there, or are we going to find paths to reconciliation? These are issues about which France, a friend to both, talks freely, to our Saudi friends, our Qatari friends, our Egyptian friends and many others.
Our focal point is always the search for peace and security. No country is inherently bad, but at the same time, when you’re responsible for a nation you can’t expose your own nation to a situation of insecurity.
We’re trying to find a solution in good faith. If it can be found, so much the better; otherwise the risk can’t be run.
The United States is a very great power and, at the same time, it’s in a very difficult situation. I was talking to Barack Obama and John Kerry about it. The United States has often been criticized for intervening, particularly in Iraq. But when you don’t intervene, we’re also criticized. Given the not very positive results in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American people are reluctant to send troops into Iraq again. There’s no question of it, either. But conversely, when the United States, which is the world’s leading power, doesn’t take a position, that vacuum means we’re entering the zeropolar situation I was describing earlier on.
There’s no diplomacy without defence. At the same time, there’s no defence without agreeing to soldiers’ lives being put at risk.
That’s the French and British idea, even though it wasn’t carried through in Syria.
But fewer and fewer countries share this idea. Some believe that diplomacy is a pure and perfect affair but that we can’t back it up with troop commitments and that, if you have to commit defence assets, no human lives must be sacrificed.
But the real world doesn’t work like that. France is a country which certainly has many gaps, many shortcomings, but when we decide to go in, we go in. And that makes the difference. (…)./.