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France's Foreign Policy

France's Foreign Policy

Interview given to "The New York Times" by M. Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic¹. Source: Embassy of France, Washington D.C., The New York Times and Elysée Palace, September 22, 2003, Paris.

Question: Mr President, once again, thank you for receiving us. We saw each other a year ago. Since then, relations between France and the United States have deteriorated because of the war in Iraq. Now, with a new resolution introduced at the UN by the United States, there is perhaps an opportunity to put things on a better footing.

Do you have the impression that this period of tension and difficulty is about to end and turn into something more positive?

M. Jacques Chirac: I'll tell you what I feel. To be frank, I never understood why there was tension in the first place; I observed but didn't understand it. We had differing views on the solution to the problem posed by Iraq. We gave our opinion. It's true, it wasn't the same as the one held by the American administration. But as far as I know, we were not aggressive about it. We were operating within the context of a debate between long-time friends. Colin Powell said not long ago, "The United States and France have been friends for 225 years." That is not going to change for purely circumstantial reasons.

As far as I am concerned, and I'll say it very clearly, I know the US rather well and I have always had respect for the American people, and continue to feel esteem, gratitude and friendship for them. My feelings haven't changed one bit. I have always had these feelings, even during what you call the time of "tension" and I still have them today. So to tell you the truth, I have not really understood this business, I feel that all this is rather overblown and in a certain way somewhat media-driven. Well, that's how it is.

  • Iraq

Today we are in a difficult situation. In any case, we share a unanimous conviction that we must move ahead towards a solution for a stabilized Iraq, democratized and, I hope, capable of managing its affairs normally within the framework of the international community, while respecting the laws of the international community. This is all the more necessary since we are watching with a great deal of sorrow and distress the attacks that have been taking place, often against American soldiers. And frankly, every time it hurts us. It hurts us to hear about the attacks against American soldiers or to see images on television, the attacks against others as well, of course, but particularly American soldiers. It hurts us.

Of course we have our culture, our knowledge of the region, our own judgments. We believe that there will be no concrete solution unless sovereignty is transferred to Iraq as quickly as possible, if this ancient people aren't given the chance to assume their own responsibilities. I believe it is psychologically and politically essential.

Question: As quickly as possible?

M. Jacques Chirac: Very quickly.

Question: In a month? As your Minister of Foreign Affairs (Dominique de Villepin) proposed?

M. Jacques Chirac: Let me come back to this process. So in our opinion that's what will calm things down and get us back on the road to stability in Iraq. How can this be done? Right now, we must show the way, that is, the transfer of sovereignty. This should be done through discussions for a resolution at the UN, which will take responsibility for transferring sovereignty.

Question: From the occupying authority to Iraq?

M. Jacques Chirac: The transfer of sovereignty to Iraq. Now, what is Iraq? It is its currently existing bodies, that is, the Council of Ministers and the current Governing Council, yes, of course, because they exist. Once that decision is made, we must then proceed concretely with its implementation, that is to say the transfer of responsibility, which will take a little time.

Question: Sovereignty first and then responsibility?

M. Jacques Chirac: Sovereignty is a question of principle. We must tell the Iraqis: you are a sovereign people. And you are in charge of your own future.

Question: As soon as possible?

M. Jacques Chirac: Right now. But naturally, concretely, it is hard to imagine that they have the means to do all this right now. So the transfer of responsibility related to the principle of sovereignty must be carried out little by little. For me this means, I don't know, six months, nine months, something along those lines. And meanwhile, of course, we must provide Iraq with the aid it needs: the financial aid - and this is the objective of the donors' conference which will be held soon - technical aid and security-related aid. I think that security aid should be provided by the UN, and managed by the United States since it is making the largest contribution in terms of troops. Naturally, little by little, when the situation permits, responsibility will be transferred to an Iraqi army and police force, which must also be trained. With regard to the training of the army and the police, all countries with particular skills in this area should participate. In such a context, France is ready to join in the training effort, as is Germany, with whom we discussed this yesterday in Berlin, and Russia probably as well.

Question: Would you train Iraqi police here in France?

M. Jacques Chirac: We are ready to study every possibility in France and elsewhere. We do not have any detailed solutions, but we are prepared to help with training. We are thinking specifically in this respect of setting up training programmes for the Iraqi army and police. It is something we are considering in close coordination with Germany. As I said, we discussed this yesterday. The kind of training we envision can take various forms, which will depend on the resolution itself.

Naturally, we will examine this resolution very concretely and in a positive spirit. And as soon as there is a transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis, as soon as that principle is clearly reaffirmed and there is thus a political approach to the current problem of Iraq, to the future of Iraq, then - as we are doing in Afghanistan, and in appropriate formats that would have to be discussed with everyone - we could more strongly commit ourselves to the reconstruction of Iraq's military capabilities and the training of Iraq's military officers and police.

  • Afghanistan

What I propose resembles to some degree what we're doing in Afghanistan. I haven't invented anything extraordinary, as I read somewhere, simply to annoy the United States.

Question: That is not your purpose.

M. Jacques Chirac: I know, but I've read this somewhere. Of course it isn't my aim. My contribution is based on my thinking and my knowledge of things, which is what it is. It is no better than anyone else's, but it's mine. I try to contribute what I can towards a good solution. That is what is happening in Afghanistan. Let me remind you that President Karzai is the custodian of the Afghan people's sovereignty. Sovereignty was transferred to the Afghan people immediately. The UN is playing a key role in Afghanistan, notably through its special representative, Mr Brahimi. Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO, under a mandate from the UN, are responsible for security. A long-range political vision has been laid out and is scheduled to lead to elections in 2004. I'm not saying that things are very easy in Afghanistan.

Question: No that is what I was going to say. There are many problems in Afghanistan.

M. Jacques Chirac: Yes, of course, but it is a difficult region with people who aren't easy to deal with either. We are seeing the re-emergence of a certain number of the Taliban. In any case, there is a process in place to which the majority of responsible people in Afghanistan consent.

- Iraq

Question: Mr President, if the principle of the immediate transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people is not included in the resolution, will France oppose the resolution?

M. Jacques Chirac: That is not at all my intent. We don't have the intention to oppose. If we oppose it, that would mean voting no, that is to say, using the veto. I am not in that mindset at all. The resolution would have to be a provocation and that is not what we are talking about at the moment. We shall see, and we shall discuss things. We can either abstain or vote yes.

To vote yes, we need a clear long-range political vision and a key role for the UN. We think this is the only way to achieve peace and it is in the interests of the United States. A clear long-range political vision is one that sets out first a precise deadline for the transfer of sovereignty, and second, a timetable for transferring responsibilities, and a key role for the UN which seems to me essential.

Question: When you speak of transferring sovereignty, does this mean a symbolic transfer? Since in Iraq there is no loya jirga, no way to crown an Iraqi Karzai. So what does it mean for you, when you talk about a transfer?

M. Jacques Chirac: Today, sovereignty is in the hands of Mr Bremer, the United States governor. This is a fact. I believe this is a very difficult situation for any people to accept in the twenty-first century, especially an ancient people, with a rich culture, great traditions and a long history, whose religion is different than that of the occupying forces, to call them by their rightful name. And it is very difficult to accept. So I think that the most important thing to do is to say to the Iraqi people: "We will transfer your sovereignty to you." It is up to the international community to tell them. It is up to the UN to make that decision. Then we will see how, but that's the principle. No more foreign sovereignty.

Naturally, that presumes a certain number of things. It presumes, as I said before, that sovereignty will be transferred to a governmental body that already exists. It is what it is. It may not be ideal, but it exists. Sovereignty must be transferred to that body. That is the principle. From then on, the Iraqis will be sovereign. They will be free to choose their own destiny. Psychologically and politically, it's essential.

Question: And these 25 people have no leader at the moment.

M. Jacques Chirac: I believe this doesn't matter. It is so important to say to the Iraqis: "You are responsible for your own country. Now you may not be able to take responsibility right now, but we are going to help you, and you are responsible. It is you who decide, politically, administratively and economically." From then on, we must transfer responsibilities as I have already said, in as short a timeframe as possible. But you need the time to do this in every sphere: the economic, cultural, political, administrative and military areas. And at the same time, of course, we must initiate a process to solidify the organs of sovereignty, in other words, preparations must be made for a constitution and elections.

The constitution as you know can be drafted very, very quickly. The Iraqis have plenty of highly-qualified jurists who are eminent citizens and who also know their culture and their people well. In fact, they already had a constitution in the past. So if we give them the responsibility of writing a constitution, they will be able to do it very rapidly. It is not our job to draw up a constitution for Iraq. In the name of what, and on the basis of what knowledge of the country and its culture could we do this? So drafting a constitution is something that is up to the Iraqis and is very easy to do.

Then elections must be prepared. They should be held as soon as possible to create, rather as we did in Afghanistan, a loya jirga or its equivalent, that is, an assembly that can adopt, or amend and then adopt, the constitution and initiate a process of concrete sovereignty.

Question: The United States government says that France wants to go too quickly. This will lead to chaos. There are Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds and a country that has been under a dictator for 30 years and there is no democratic tradition and France insists on going quickly and the result will be a disaster.

M. Jacques Chirac: History will show who is right. I want you to understand that I'm not saying 'white' because the Americans say 'black.' On the contrary, I'm simply giving my view of how things are. One, it is a complicated business, two, it is a dangerous business, and is becoming more dangerous by the day. Three, we must try and get out of it. It is my conviction that the current system - let's be clear, I mean a system of occupation - will not allow us to find a solution to this situation. It will generate more and more reaction against this system, which will grow even more complicated, as you say, due to the difficulties that already exist among the Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis and so on. All of this is true, but I do not see any other way out. I only see the probability of the situation getting worse. We shall have to find something else. With an ancient people, if we start by saying we respect you, we can change something. I know quite a few Iraqis who were not at all pro-Saddam but who do not accept the situation today, who want to be respected, and who tell us, "We already had a rich culture when you were still living in the trees."

Question: Was it a mistake to overthrow Saddam?

M. Jacques Chirac: No, absolutely not. I did not approve of the way he was overthrown. I felt it could have happened in another way.

Question: Without a war?

M. Jacques Chirac: I think he could have been overthrown without a war. I think that political pressure would have led to Saddam's disappearance. But here too we can't rewrite history. I may be mistaken, but everyone has his own opinion. But I believe that war is always the worst solution; it usually causes so many deaths, and it is not good to kill people when it is not absolutely necessary. I think that war is always the worst solution. So yes, I believe it could have been avoided and said so at the time, but I didn't do it to annoy anyone, as people have commented here and there. I said it because I believe it was the wisest course of action.

Question: Are you sometimes tempted, Mr President, to say: "President Bush, you were wrong"?

M. Jacques Chirac: I don't believe one can say such a thing. I didn't say either you were right or that you were wrong. I was in contact with President Bush many times before, during and after the war. I have always told him what I thought. I have not changed my opinion. But I've always spoken out of respect and friendship, but I never tried to persuade him that I was right and he was wrong. On subjects as complex as this, it is always wrong to think you are right and the other person is always automatically wrong. This is a serious mistake and you always pay the consequences. President Bush chose his course of action. I said it wasn't mine. Was he right or wrong? History will tell.

  • Algeria/Iraq

Question: Does the Algerian experience influence your opinions?

M. Jacques Chirac: Certainly.

Question: From your personal experience?

M. Jacques Chirac: Certainly. We know from experience that imposing a law on people from the outside hasn't worked for a long time. In Algeria we began with a sizeable army and huge resources and the fellaga [independence fighters] were only a handful of people, but they won. That's how it is. So you have to be careful about that. When the Germans invaded France, there were people who said no. They came from different cultural and political backgrounds, from the extreme left wing, the left, the right, the extreme right, and they said no. There weren't many of them. You have to be very careful of that. In any case, you can't compare the situations. History doesn't repeat itself. You cannot judge by imitation. The Algerian war was one thing and the Iraq war another. You cannot compare them. The more you give people full respect, the better things are. The more you respect 'respectable' people, I mean. I am not talking about Saddam Hussein.

Question: Mr President, in Iraq if there is a transfer of sovereignty, what does this mean for Mr Bremer. Are they going to say "Hasta la vista, Baby?" Farewell Mr Bremer? Does he stay somewhere?

M. Jacques Chirac: This is really for the Americans to decide. I repeat that as long as there is a foreign governor in a country like Iraq, this is an idea that doesn't seem to me very modern, and is dangerous. That said, I have nothing against Mr Bremer, of course, whom I don't know. I don't think he corresponds to a need at this moment in the region's history.

Question: To be quite clear about 'immediate transfer of sovereignty,' does this mean that after the resolution, we can envisage a period of a month or so?

M. Jacques Chirac: No, let's not talk about a deadline because this is very difficult.

Question: But as soon as possible?

M. Jacques Chirac: I repeat, sovereignty must be transferred to the Iraqis. Today this means the existing governmental institutions. They are not very good but they are there.

That's the principle. From there, we shall discuss a transfer of responsibilities. You take over this or that ministry, you do what you like. If you need assistance, we shall provide it.

Question: But there is no reason to wait for the immediate symbolic transfer?

M. Jacques Chirac: No. It's psychological; it is a political act, to tell the Iraqis: "Your destiny is in your hands. Now we shall help, but you are responsible. You are not under the authority of a governor who is Christian and foreign." That's a lot, isn't it?

  • Iraq/UN Resolution

Question: Mr President, there is a resolution already drafted now being discussed at the UN. If by chance the United States says that this resolution is to be voted tomorrow, is France ready to vote yes?

M. Jacques Chirac: I told you just now that we are going there in a constructive, open state of mind. I said we didn't intend to vote "no" unless the resolution were provocative, and this isn't the case as far as I know.

I also said that we would decide on our vote when we have learned the final resolution and that for us to vote yes there would have to be a clear political vision with a precise deadline for the transfer of sovereignty and also a timetable for transferring responsibilities and a key role for the UN. If the resolution goes in that direction, we shall vote yes. If it goes against this direction, we'll see what we will do when that time comes. But we have no reason to vote no in the current situation.


Question: Before the war, Mr Bush and Mr Cheney spoke a lot about nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Since the war, none have been found. What do you think about this?

M. Jacques Chirac: To be quite honest, I don't think anything about it.

Question: You don't think anything?

M. Jacques Chirac: No, because we don't have the necessary information. When we were asked if we had information on WMD, we answered that we had no information of that nature, but that it didn't mean that there weren't any. We had no information that there were any. That's all. So for the moment none have been found.

Question: Were you surprised that none were found?

M. Jacques Chirac: I followed very closely the procedure carried out by the inspectors, which seemed to me to be by far the best way to go. The inspectors were both competent and independent and had done a very good job. And the more they inspected, the more they said there were no weapons. So I felt that probably they were right. But I had no way of making a judgment on this point. I had no information. So I can't say that "there were weapons" or "there were no weapons." Moreover I have never used that argument. I never said, "There are certainly no weapons." I have no information.

  • US/Globalization/Cancun

Question: At the time of the attacks of 11 September, Le Monde declared "we are all Americans." Since then, there has been a wave of anti-Americanism and hostility towards the United States throughout the world. What do you think of this phenomenon? Is it inevitable for such a dominant power as the United States today? Or is it due to the errors made by the US?

M. Jacques Chirac: There certainly is a wave of hostility, but I wouldn't say it is anti-American, because it is increasingly against the West in general. Which is different. It is a development which worries me a lot, because it is growing and could lead to a significant increase in terrorism.

Why is that? You know that when people get angry, there are always, generally, shared responsibilities. I believe that the Western world is demonstrating a selfishness that borders on irresponsibility, with our inability to humanize globalization, to provide for people who are in need, which is necessary. We regularly make grand declarations: the Millennium one, etc. but in fact there is not much real solidarity. We have a system in which, well, I wouldn't say the poor are growing poorer, because it's not true - except for a number of African regions - but globally things are stagnating. We are in a cycle in which rich countries are becoming richer and so the gap between rich and poor is growing enormously. This is not acceptable. It's not acceptable in any country and it is not acceptable for the world as a whole. Western nations have an image today of mobilizing everything to serve their own interests. Look at Cancún (the meeting of the World Trade Organization). It was a mistake. And who was the main victim of Cancún? The poor countries. They are the victims of Cancún, not the Americans or the Europeans, but the poor countries. And this has created a global reaction from poor and emerging countries, which in the end goes against the interests of the poor countries. And it's at moments like these that we see just what we are responsible for.

  • Iraq/French Troops

Question: Mr President, you said that if there were an Iraqi administration, France would be ready to contribute. Will France send troops to Iraq and if so, under what circumstances?

M. Jacques Chirac: I have already replied clearly to this question; but I'll repeat it. We're considering a training scheme for the Iraqi army and police. That is the contribution we are envisaging. And we are considering this together with our German friends. This training may take various forms, depending naturally on the resolution itself, and I repeat that we are talking about training, and not sending troops to Iraq, of course.

Once sovereignty has been transferred to the Iraqis, and so there is a political approach to the problem in Iraq, we could - as we are doing in Afghanistan, depending on ways that should be discussed with the others - make a firmer commitment to training military and police forces in Iraq. That's what we can envision, and this will naturally also depend on the resolution.

Question: Could this training take place in Iraq, with French officers?

M. Jacques Chirac: We haven't yet examined that. It may be in Iraq or in the region or elsewhere. It's a problem we've not addressed yet. We shall first see if the issue arises and then we shall see about the practical response. We're not ruling anything out. We shall see in practical terms how to proceed if the question arises. This is also the position taken by our German friends.

Question: In Afghanistan, for example, there are French troops. There are, I believe, about 200 special forces under US command. Is it possible to envision French troops in Iraq?

M. Jacques Chirac: The situations in Iraq and in Afghanistan are completely different. In Afghanistan there is a strong French presence. We are also participating in ISAF (International Security Assistance Force.) And we also are sharing responsibility for training the army with the Americans. We are the two countries that are training the Afghan army, and we also have Special Forces under US command. Although we did not request it, the United States commander of these Special Forces has asked a Frenchman to be one of his deputies, for purely personal reasons, not because he is French, but because he is competent.

So we are involved in a system. Iraq is a completely different system. I repeat, this is our current thinking and I have no intention of going further, things being what they are today.

  • France/US

Question: There are columnists in the United States who say that France is no longer an ally of the United States or even that France has become an enemy of the United States. What is your reaction to this?

M. Jacques Chirac: First, I am completely immune to things I read in the press in general and in the French press, naturally, where for a long time, I have read both sides of the argument, expressed with great authority. So I keep my distance. But it saddens me, since it shows great incompetence in the thinking, and a failure to grasp realities.

I think that the world is gradually moving towards major blocs, but I think that among these blocs there are at least two such blocs - Europe and the US - that will have to show solidarity with each other, vis-à-vis the others, which have a different culture. This is because these two have the same overall culture, the same values and the same overall interests. So even if we are irritated by this or that, it can only be superficial, and the fact is we do share the same values, and as the world changes it will be even more important tomorrow than today that there should be a strong degree of solidarity between Europe and the United States. Hence the importance I attach to the transatlantic link. And when I hear the opinions you refer to, I tell myself that they are people who need to think a bit more before they write. Or they are people who have an axe to grind. Well that's their responsibility, there it's getting polemical. At that point it ceases to be a debate.

For my part, I want to say this right away, I don't feel in any way in conflict with the United States even if I don't approve of everything it does. The US doesn't want to ratify the Kyoto Protocol whereas I'm in favour. We don't agree. So be it. It wanted to make war in Iraq, I was against that solution in the situation we all know. So I didn't agree. You don't become enemies just because you don't agree. It's truly an extraordinarily primitive reaction you're referring to by columnists who write such things.

Question: Mr President, if there's no agreement on the political and symbolic transfer of sovereignty to Iraq, if France ends up abstaining in this resoluton because its opinions haven't been approved by the others, people - and I'm thinking of the US - are going to say again, there's France again not supporting us. It's going to set off all those kinds of comments again, you're aware of this I imagine?

M. Jacques Chirac: I hope this won't happen, but I am ready to assume responsibility for it. You can't ask a country to take decisions under media and psychological pressure from a group. And to tell you the truth, I don't think it's natural for a friend to be a 'yes man'.

  • Iraq/French Troops/Lebanon

Question: Mr President, excuse me for asking this question a third time about French troops.

M. Jacques Chirac: I have nothing more to add on that!

Question: I remember well 20 years ago when I was in Lebanon, there were French troops alongside Americans, even though France...

M. Jacques Chirac: There are still French troops in Lebanon...

Question: Yes exactly. Both armies did well in Lebanon.

M. Jacques Chirac: I'm not sure they did well.

Question: I know that the French military have made contingency plans in case France decided politically to send troops.

M. Jacques Chirac: Dear lady, you have got it absolutely wrong. First of all, we're not talking about an operation in Lebanon, where we weren't very brilliant. Neither the Americans nor the French. You can't really say it was a success. Moreover, we adopted a low profile when we left; let's not bring up bad memories. |

Question: Especially on Sunday morning.

M. Jacques Chirac:: That is not a good example. I said that, as things are now, there is no situation where I can imagine that France would send troops to Iraq. I already told you that. I told you what we were prepared to do. Of course, everything could change. I don't have a crystal ball. But for the moment this is the position of France and the position of many countries. As you see, we are not alone. I think we are even in the majority.

  • Europe

Question: Can we speak about Europe a moment? Sweden has just voted no to the euro. Your statements of a few months ago didn't go down very well over there, and there are certain feelings against the German-French project for a rather federal-style centralized Europe. With the arrival of new countries, do you foresee a divided Europe or do you think a method will be found of managing this group of 25 countries which obviously have fairly different visions of Europe.

M. Jacques Chirac: I have had a long experience of Europe, and I sat at the Council of Ministers when there were only six of us. Let me give you an example of Europe. It is not a freeway on which everyone moves at high speed. It is a steep and difficult mountain path. The participants, who started out as a group of just 6 and are now 25, are steadily advancing. Some walk a bit faster, some a bit more slowly because they are tired. All of a sudden, there's one who twists his ankle in a hole. But you will have noticed that we have never taken any steps backwards. We have always gone forward, sometimes more slowly, sometimes faster, but we've always gone forward, it's that way for a simple reason: it is inevitable, and deep down Europeans know there is no alternative. We cannot return to our divisions in Europe, which cost us so dearly in terms of war, loss of democracy and progress. So whatever happens, things will move forward. There is no chance of them stopping. Things will move forward. It will pass. So I repeat, at varying speeds, with varying degrees of success, there will be crises. Ever since it has existed, Europe has been a story of crises that have been resolved. Crises occur constantly, but there isn't one example of a crisis Europe hasn't overcome. That's why Europe will end up as a coherent whole of 30 to 35 countries in 20, 30 or 40 years that will have fulfilled and assumed all the requirements.

Question: Where does all this lead? To a United States of Europe?

M. Jacques Chirac: We'll see. I have never been a Euro-militant. I am a Euro-pragmatist. I observe that Europe is inevitable, and I have no theory about what it should be. I don't say this is what it has to be - I say it will come about. And we must see to it that it's the best possible Europe.

- EU/Turkey

Question: Will Turkey join Europe?

M. Jacques Chirac: Turkey's entry into Europe is inevitable provided Turkey makes the necessary efforts to meet the conditions that we call the Copenhagen criteria. These cover political conditions linked basically to human rights and economic conditions linked basically to the market economy.

For the moment, Turkey does not meet these conditions. The Turkish authorities seem very determined to meet the conditions. If this is the case, it will join Europe.

Question: But in terms of basic principles, is Turkey part of Europe?

M. Jacques Chirac: Which principles? There is one piece of Turkey in Europe, and the rest outside, but we have been saying to the Turks for 34 years that they are Europeans. They are in NATO. So it's not a problem of whether they are in Europe. They want to join. If they meet the conditions, Europe is ready to receive them. The question of whether it's in Europe or not is a historical and geographical one, a matter for the experts, but it's not the determining factor.

  • EU Defense/NATO

Question: Has the creation of a common defence policy in Europe been wrongly understood in the US because Americans say it's being done outside NATO, and that creating a common defence system is neither very effective or very responsible?

M. Jacques Chirac: As you know, a political group must have the means to defend itself. We have two problems. The first is that the way the world is evolving will make it more and more necessary for cultural reasons, as I have said, to ensure the cohesion and consistency between the United States and Europe. This is a first requirement, and so we should not do anything that might call into question this transatlantic link or the existence of NATO. This much is obvious. Also, France itself has shifted a lot in this area, including by agreeing to NATO intervention in Afghanistan and perhaps in the future in Iraq. In other words by bringing into question again the principle of geographic responsibility. Similarly we agreed to join NATO's rapid reaction force (NRF). Everyone is shifting position. So that's the first requirement.

At the same time, it is perfectly clear that there may be cases where we have to act but where our NATO friends do not wish to. So what do we do? There must be a capacity for command, planning and intervention.

We have seen this recently in Macedonia. Our American friends tell us that we should take responsibility for the Balkans from now on. We can do this, but how? With a flute? We have seen it in Africa; we need a system, a European defence policy.

This is the process we have set in train. And it is one of the topics we discussed in earnest yesterday with Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder. We are almost in agreement on everything. And this European defence will come to be whatever happens. You know that four or five years ago, Tony Blair and I decided in Saint-Malo to launch the European defence system. I remember all the articles in the French press that said: "It's pointless, and anyway the other countries don't want it." Now everyone agrees. There too, it is inevitable. One should never fight against the inevitable. There is nothing unpleasant about it for the Americans. It really demonstrates ignorance of the way things are to imagine that it could be against them, what with the transatlantic link and transatlantic solidarity. The idea some Americans, and luckily I think they are a minority, have that when we do something it is against them is very odd. After all, they are strong enough not to always be afraid that someone will do something unpleasant. It is a very curious reaction. Every time someone reacts negatively to France, I don't get frightened.

Question: But Europeans, the citizens of Europe, don't want to spend any more money on defence. And they are not convinced that there is any real threat?

M. Jacques Chirac: But they will get there. So far, only Britain has. Our spending had dropped a lot, but it's going up again. The Germans had substantially cut theirs and it's going up again. And one of the hopes we have in the necessary changes to the rules for managing Europe is to try and encourage them. This is squarely in NATO's interests, and also in the interests of the US, since there is no point in having a weak partner. It's in our interest to have a strong partner.

- UK/France

Question: The British foreign secretary (Jack Straw) had some very negative comments about France, and about you personally.

M. Jacques Chirac: Let me tell you that when friends express themselves in an unpleasant tone, first I make a rule of not paying attention, and second I excuse them, since I frequently say more than I want to or more than I should, so I don't in the least hold it against the British minister, and I didn't pay any attention.

Question: Really?

M. Jacques Chirac: No, really. I don't read the papers much.

Question: Do you have any scars?

M. Jacques Chirac: No, I don't read the papers much, and that protects my peace of mind.

  • France/Poland

Question: Do you regret telling the Poles that they had missed a good opportunity to keep quiet?

M. Jacques Chirac: No, I don't regret it; I should regret it, but I don't. When you decide to get together as a family, then at the very least when you take a different position from the rest of the family you discuss it. You warn people ahead of time. I learned about their position from the press. That's not acceptable. The Poles are joining Europe. They must accept a minimum of rules, at least advise us by telephone. If I have something to say, I call Mr Kwasniewski who is an old friend I have known for a very long time. I say this and that, and on that occasion I asked him what it was all about, not telling anyone about it first.

Question: You read about it the paper?

M. Jacques Chirac: Yes of course. I didn't read it myself because I don't read the papers much. But I learned about it from my personal staff. I called the Polish President and I told him: "that isn't acceptable, that's not the way we'll build Europe. That's not in the rules of the game. It's not polite. You can take whatever position you want - that's not the problem - but at least warn us first so we don't look ridiculous". That subsequently causes controversy. That's why I have no regrets about what I said, even if I should have.

  • Iran/North Korea

Question: One question on Iran, and its nuclear programme?

M. Jacques Chirac: I believe that the consensus reached inside the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) a few days ago is very important. It will be possible to demand that Iran open its doors and accept all the inspections. I think this consensus is the right way. We cannot allow countries, and especially when we do not have a very clear idea about their future policies, to equip themselves with nuclear weapons. And we should do this with all the respect that we owe, here too, to an age-old people, but with all the wariness that one should have vis-à-vis Iran. So I am absolutely in favour of the IAEA position. Gerhard Schröder, Tony Blair and I sent a joint message to the Iranians, telling them, "We are not trying to bully you, but we cannot accept you telling us that everything's perfectly all right while we are not sure that there isn't a nuclear weapons manufacturing process behind it all. So we want inspections and we also want you to ratify what we call the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)."

Iran is a real problem. Just as there is a problem with North Korea, and there could be others too.

It is a real problem. We are worried.

On all these points, there are no differences of opinion with the Americans.

Question: Is it true that you, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder agree if Iran signs the additional protocol?

M. Jacques Chirac: That it can produce civilian nuclear power?

Question: Yes, precisely.

M. Jacques Chirac: Yes. We agree on the fact that there is of course no reason - if all the safeguards are there, and particularly if all the IAEA inspections are completely unrestricted - to prevent a country from giving itself the means to produce nuclear energy for civilian use.

- Iraq/Middle East

Question: The American administration thinks that the action in Iraq can be a catalyst for changing the Middle East into a more open, more democratic region and even …

M. Jacques Chirac: More peaceful…

Question: And even help to eventually resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Do you share this vision that the invasion of Iraq can bring this region something new, positive and peaceful, as you've just said?

M. Jacques Chirac: I'd like to think so, but really, I don't believe so.

Question: Perhaps you think the opposite?

M. Jacques Chirac: On balance, yes. This has been traumatic for this region and culture. And I fear it may have negative consequences. Let me use an example I often gave to President Bush. We are told that Iraq will become democratic. Fine, it is a huge ambition. This is a huge ambition. This democracy will take the form of elections. Indeed, this is generally the case in democracies. So naturally, as a rule, elections give power to the majority. In Iraq the majority is Shiite. But are the Shiites, in this analysis, the real symbol of tomorrow's democracy? It is not that easy. So might there by chance be something a little dubious in this argument?

- Islam/US/Iraq

Question: I believe that Mr Fischer has spoken about the 'jihadization' of the region. In other words, this intervention can be seen as a provocation that leads to more terrorism, to more people ready to sacrifice themselves for what they see as the final battle between Islam and America?

M. Jacques Chirac: That seems probable.

Question: Yes?

M. Jacques Chirac: I think Joschka Fischer is saying something sensible.

Question: So what should be done? Withdraw?

M. Jacques Chirac: I say to you: we must tell the Iraqis - and we could end our interview on this - that it is up to them to take responsibility for their own destiny, that it is up to them to recover their full sovereignty, and once that has been achieved, it is up to us to help them by a process of transferring responsibilities, drafting a constitution, elections, so that they take their own destiny in hand. That is my political vision of things. I don't say I'm right, but that's what it is.

- Middle East

Question: And what can be done about the Israel-Palestinian crisis?

M. Jacques Chirac: It fills me with sadness. But I'm afraid I must leave for New York

Question: Thank you very much Mr President.

M. Jacques Chirac: Let me thank you. I was particularly happy to receive you. You are always welcome. Thank you for coming from New York. I greatly appreciate it. I'm saddened about some of the comments being made about France in the US which strike me as entirely unwarranted and excessive so I was pleased to have this opportunity to tell you very simply what I thought./.

¹ This translation of the interview, which was conducted in French, is based on that provided by the "The New York Times".


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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).