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For an "Active and Dynamic Foreign Policy"

For an "Active and Dynamic Foreign Policy"

Interview given by M. Dominique de Villepin, French Minister of Foreign Affairs to Le Monde Newspaper. Paris, July 30, 2002. Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris.

Question: With the end of cohabitation, you're arguing today for an "active and dynamic foreign policy". What does this involve?

The Minister: Foreign policy is the sphere where cohabitation worked best because France, the government and President, was very keen to speak with one voice. What has changed is that from now on we can not only speak with one voice, but are also driven by a single political will. This strengthens our capacity for initiative, synergy and impetus.

But above all, what is most important, the world has entered a new era. The bombshell of 11 September is forcing all governments to act more quickly. We are having to move, we cannot content ourselves with leaving things to run their natural course, which is dangerous.

For decades, people have described conflicts as serious as those of the Middle East, the Balkans and Afghanistan as "regional". Today we can no longer think of them in this way; they have a potential to worsen, to complicate the workings of the world. Our people's future depends on what happens beyond our borders. The situation is urgent, and I tell all our diplomats: in your work from now on you must make less use of your pencil and more of your watch.


Question: You're keen to give a boost to our relations with Washington. Do you think your predecessor was wrong to talk about the "American hyperpower" and "simplistic" nature of the "axis of evil"?

The Minister: Today, the world is more threatened by the heady lure of a vacuum than by the excess of power. The challenge is to organize the world: to find rules and values to underpin our common action. What threatens us is not power, but the absence of rules and points of reference, and the fact that the international community doesn't carry enough responsibility. It's important for us to have a relationship of trust, frankness, and a blunt one if need be, with the United States. That's the first thing I said to Secretary of State Colin Powell, for whom I have great respect.

We must work together. We must find solutions. This is what we have done, for example, on the International Criminal Court. The United States wanted to protect her forces beyond her borders; we were upholding our vision of a more moral, ethical world. So we sought, and found a compromise respecting the Court's status, without making any permanent universal exceptions [to its jurisdiction].

Question: But can one work with a country so clearly prone to unilateralism?

The Minister: You have to take account of the ordeal, the trauma which 11 September was for the Americans, brutally confronted with a new vulnerability on their territory. Hence the priority given today to their security, their own protection. We Europeans firmly believe that, on its own, a security policy cannot lead to a new peaceful, stable world order. To achieve these objectives, there has to be a will for peace, political initiatives and results which recreate hope, without which the obsession with security could well lead to greater insecurity. That's what we have learned from our experience of some long conflicts in Europe. We want to get this conviction shared, that's what the world expects from Europe and France. Respect for each other's culture and dialogue between them are vital if we want to avoid clashes between peoples and civilizations.


Question: As regards Iraq, are you, like the Bush administration, in favour of "preventive" action?

The Minister: Today the world faces a twofold risk: terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons. Iraq poses a grave problem, that of a failure to respect international order. Baghdad would be well advised to comply with the Security Council resolutions. We understand the Americans' concern. For her part, France is stressing the need to take on board three requirements: first of all, the humanitarian requirement vis-à-vis the Iraqi population; then, that of the region's security which demands the inspectors' return; and finally that of Iraq's stability and unity, which is an important factor in the general Middle-East situation.

The negotiations with Iraq are continuing in Vienna. It is important to maintain the dialogue and close consultation in the UN framework. The more we exert pressure on the Iraqi regime, the more headway we must, concurrently, make on the quest for peace in the Middle East.

Question: As things stand at the moment, France is not supporting a possible military operation against Iraq, unless this had the green light from the United Nations?

The Minister: Today, the question does not arise. Washington has not taken any military planning decisions. Obviously, the status quo with Iraq is unacceptable. Negotiations have opened in Vienna, we have to go on. We have to exert pressure on Iraq, get the messages across using every possible channel.

International Conference/Middle East

Question: How could the international conference on the Middle East which France is calling for relaunch the peace process?

The Minister: The security imperative is legitimate but cannot, on its own, take the place of a strategy. Today, we are simultaneously facing a whole host of risks. Our concern, shared by all the Europeans, is that, in the absence of political initiatives, the situation will deteriorate still further in the next few months. So it is imperative to take action to get the peace process moving again. With this aim in mind, our political timetable is governed by the prospect of January elections in the Palestinian territories, which obviously presupposes that Israel does her bit: elections cannot be held in territories occupied by Israeli forces. We think that an international conference during the second half of this year, with all the countries involved, could help restart the process, provided it is carefully prepared at expert, then ministerial level. If we do not do this, we shall see the continuation of what is happening, week after week: terrorism calling all the shots and holding the whole region to ransom. Does the international community want to see the terrorist threat reduced? If so, it has to take the risk of peace, a Palestinian State must be created on the solid basis constituted by United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the principles approved in Madrid and Oslo: land for peace. This Palestinian State can have the wherewithal to shoulder its responsibilities on its territory in the framework of a system guaranteed by the international community.

Question: The United States too would have to start moving on the issue.

The Minister: Today the international community as a whole must mobilize: States, peoples, non-governmental organizations, individuals, everyone. All that can create a movement. (...)


Question: In several countries, questions are being asked about President Chirac's European intentions. Bones of contention are piling up: government deficits, reforms of the fisheries policy and CAP, cut in VAT on restaurants, Kaliningrad issue, etc.

The Minister: It is quite true that there are difficult issues. (...) I am convinced we have to address these problems in a revitalized Europe.

France/Germany/CAP/Institutional Reform

My first visit abroad was to meet Joschka Fischer in Germany to give a clear signal that, for us, the Franco-German tandem constitutes the engine of Europe. We are meeting again on Tuesday in Schwerin and want to prepare the fortieth anniversary of the Elysée Treaty. That will be the opportunity to adopt the new founding treaty President Chirac has called for.

We have many differences with the Germans. We are destined to overcome them and today have a historic opportunity to do so with the enlargement and prospect of the accession of new members in 2004. Concurrently, the aim of the Convention on the Future of Europe is to adapt the European institutions, make them operate more efficiently with 25 or 27 members. Finally, we need to pursue the path of building a genuine Defence Europe. In short, we need a strong Europe to defend our interests and promote our values.

We have a number of ideas: for example, to give Europe a President of the Council with three or four years ahead of him or her, since we know the present rotating presidencies do not allow enough time for action. We are convinced we need to achieve a new balance with a stronger Council and Commission. Can we not manage to make Europe develop without getting locked into theological debates between federalism and the intergovernmental model? We need to be imaginative, starting by building a global vision of Europe's future.

Question: But how can we overcome the disagreements with the Germans on the CAP and reform of the institutions?

The Minister: Precisely on the basis of this global vision and by honouring the commitments made. It was decided at the Berlin Council that the CAP reform would take place in 2006; we have to respect that timetable. We are ready to discuss all these questions informally with the Germans. We want to be able to make joint proposals on all these major issues.


Question: On Kaliningrad, President Chirac has adopted a position going against the decision the European Union had taken on visas.

The Minister: No. President Chirac has said that a solution had to be found. Clearly this Kaliningrad issue is important in Russian political life. As for us, Europeans, we have to take account of two principles: freedom of movement for Russian nationals between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia, and defence of the Schengen area achievements. Taking that as a starting position, we have to find a satisfactory solution which does not humiliate the Russians.


Question: Does not wanting to humiliate the Russians mean us accepting the unacceptable, i.e. the war in Chechnya?

The Minister: You must not distort the French position. I was in Moscow; I talked to my Russian interlocutors about Chechnya. President Chirac has talked to Vladimir Putin about it. There can be no solution for Chechnya other than a political one, and we are saying so.


Question: Is France back in Africa?

The Minister: There is a very deep-rooted relationship of confidence, friendship and solidarity between France and Africa which has to take the form of a genuine partnership. We consider that it is our responsibility to contribute to the settlement of the conflicts on that continent. And also President Chirac has said - and the Prime Minister confirmed this in his budgetary decisions - we need to devote substantial additional funding to official development assistance. We want to give support to our African friends on the path of modernization and democracy./.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).