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What Unites Us Is Stronger than What Divides Us

What Unites Us Is Stronger than What Divides Us

Statements made by Dominique de Villepin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, during his joint press briefing with Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (excerpts). Paris, April 9, 2003. Source: Embassy of France in the United States - April 9, 2003.

Photo : © F. de la Mure/MAE

Dominique de Villepin: I’m particularly pleased to have had today’s meeting with my British counterpart, Mr Jack Straw. I’m especially pleased since it has come after some difficult weeks for relations between our two countries, even though we never stopped talking to each other or, if I may say so, stopped being friends. Before presenting to you the various points we discussed, I’d again like to highlight the importance we attach to our relationship with our British friends. Our two countries are bound together by history and common values and, as President Chirac wrote recently to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, in the wake of the shameful acts of vandalism at the Etaples British cemetery, it’s obviously a relationship of crucial importance to France. Going beyond the disagreements we may have from time to time, what unites us is stronger than what divides us, and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, rightly drew attention to this at the recent Le Touquet summit. Today, we had an in-depth discussion about international issues, and of course about Iraq. We signalled our wish for the war to end as swiftly as possible and stressed the need to combine our efforts to give the United Nations a significant role. Quite obviously, the most urgent matter for the moment, as you all know, is the urgent need to deal with the humanitarian situation. We’re mobilized, we worked together at the UN for the adoption of UNSCR 1472 in order to mobilize the international community in the face of this risk of a humanitarian crisis.

  • Middle East

We also talked about the Middle East, the need to retake the initiative as fast as possible in that part of the world, to address both the insecurity felt by the Israeli people and at the same time the deep sense of injustice felt by the Palestinian people.

  • India/Pakistan/Côte d'Ivoire/Africa

We discussed relations between India and Pakistan. We must, together, do our utmost to encourage a resumption of the dialogue between these two countries. We talked about the situation in Africa, in Côte d'Ivoire, where we welcomed the progress being made in line with the Marcoussis agreement. We discussed the situation in the Great Lakes, and of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We share the same concerns on the latest developments in the east of the country. There’s now a need to press on and establish the transitional government.

  • Europe/Defense

Finally, of course, we talked about European issues, and about the four countries' forthcoming summit on defense, on 29 April. As you know – since I've often said so – we think this is a continuous process which must certainly be ambitious, but must also be open and transparent. I made plain to Jack Straw our determination to build, with the United Kingdom, Defense Europe, since our two countries clearly have to be at the heart of such a process. The United Kingdom has been a natural partner in this undertaking since Saint-Malo. We must pursue the path mapped out on 4 February this year at the Le Touquet bilateral summit.

  • European Convention

We talked about the work of the Convention, reiterated how much its success means to us, how important it is for us to build an institutional architecture which gives Europe both strength and stability.

  • France/UK/Rachid Ramda

We of course discussed bilateral relations. I repeated how much France wants Rachid Ramda's extradition and that we welcome the British Court's decision of 7 April. (...) For France, Britain is a major partner. France, like Europe, needs Britain.

  • Post-War Iraq

Would the existence of an American administrator in Iraq in the immediate post-war period be at odds with the central role which France is seeking for the UN?

Dominique de Villepin: I believe we have to start from the situation we now have. There is a war with its tragic consequences which everyone can see and we obviously hope that it ends as quickly as possible. We shall then enter a so-called "security phase" during which we have to make sure Iraq's unity and integrity is maintained and security is restored throughout the country. It's a difficult, delicate period. Obviously, as we have said, the forces on the ground have the prime responsibility in this phase. Then comes the actual reconstruction phase, and we are convinced, as you said, that in this phase, it's important for the international community's legitimacy to be bolstered and for this the United Nations must play a central role.

You asked just now about the difference between the vital role and the central role? (...) We agree that the United Nations must play its full role in the process. And the difference between "vital" and "central" is a matter of depth, of degree: the degree of reality, the degree of legitimacy and the degree of the international community's involvement. We think that the more united the international community, the greater the chance of the success of the process. And it's clearly because we want to have a pragmatic, open and constructive approach that we obviously want everyone to be able to do their bit to make a success of this challenge. As I have often said, Iraq has been a very difficult problem for the international community over the past few years. It's highly likely that she will remain one and, if we are to succeed, there will, I think, be a need for solidarity, for the whole international community to mobilize. The United Nations, the instrument of international legitimacy, is a further guarantee of success.


  • Iraqi Debt

Did you talk about the Iraqi debt? Will it be wiped out? What arrangements will there be to compensate private companies and governments.

Dominique de Villepin: That question is wholly premature in the present situation.

  • Journalists Held in Iraq

Did you talk about the serious situation of the journalists held in Iraq?

Dominique de Villepin: We of course talked about the humanitarian situation of the civilians and journalists, placing on record the extraordinary need for vigilance. It's a concern, a worry for the forces on the ground, for the whole international community, and I believe we have to combine our efforts to try to deal with both these difficulties, this pain and grief, and your anxiety about the journalists.

  • France/UK

After some difficult weeks for Franco-British relations, is this morning's meeting the sign that everything is forgotten and forgiven between the two countries?

Dominique de Villepin: As you know, it's never good to forget the past. We have to learn from experience, from situations. What is certain, what we have affirmed throughout these weeks and do so again today is the vital nature of our very close consultation, joint work. Jack Straw said this and it's obviously important. (...) We have an extremely heavy agenda. I believe there's a shared will to tackle it together. We both firmly believe that the role we can play, both of us, is altogether crucial and I think that it's in this spirit that we're going to work over the next few months. Since between our two countries there's a bond of loyalty born of a long shared history, shared experience, since there is the imperative for respect and frankness between us, since there is friendship, I believe we have all the ingredients to ensure that France and Britain together will seek to contribute the best of each of our two countries, both to Europe and to the quest for a fairer and more stable world order./.


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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).