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The Driving Force for European Defence Is Today a Franco-British One

The Driving Force for European Defence Is Today a Franco-British One

Joint press conference given by M. Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic, and Mr Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. London, November 18,.2004. Sources: French Embassy in London and 10 Downing Street (1).

Mr Tony Blair: Good afternoon, everyone. First of all, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to President Chirac and to his colleagues on the occasion not just of the Anglo-French summit, but also, very importantly, a celebration of the centenary of the Entente Cordiale. We are delighted to have President Chirac and his colleagues here in the UK for this celebration. We have had a series of bilateral discussions today, which have been immensely constructive. I would just like to run through some of the issues that we have been talking about together.

First of all, I should say on the question of Iraq, I think the differences at the time of the conflict were well known, but both of us are now working under UN Resolution 1546 and both of us want to see a stable and democratic Iraq. We will both do what we can to ensure that that happens. However, having stated that there was that disagreement, well known at the time of the conflict, it is just worth pointing out that, particularly in the light of some of the coverage there is on the question of Iran, of Afghanistan, of the Balkans, of Africa, and of climate change, we are working very closely together.

On the question of European defence, both at a defence level and at an industrial level, we are working closely together. It is worth pointing out that our armed forces have been engaged in cooperation together in many different parts of the world: they still are in Bosnia; they still are in Afghanistan; and, most recently, albeit in a limited and specific way, in respect to Côte d'Ivoire. Indeed, I expressed to President Chirac my thanks for the assistance that was given by France for the evacuation of British nationals and thanked him for that.

These are all areas in which we are working closely together. We have also discussed the Middle East peace process where, again, we believe it is important that the elections on the Palestinian side go ahead. We must do everything we possibly can to revitalize and reinvigorate that Middle East peace process. In the discussions that our respective ministers have had, they crossed a whole range of different questions from the environment to employment, as well as questions about the future of Europe. Again, on these issues, there is a very, very strong measure of agreement.

I have no doubt at all that it is not possible for either of us to build Europe in the way that it needs building for the future unless we work strongly and closely together. A recommitment to that was an essential part of our discussion today. Can I say, once again, Jacques, it is a pleasure to have you here with your colleagues. Thank you for the discussions that we have had earlier today, and we look forward. Many thanks.

Mr Jacques Chirac: Before I begin, I should like to remember Margaret Hassan and want to express the horror we feel at what she suffered, and of course our total solidarity with British in this dreadful ordeal.

I also, of course, want to thank the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for his welcome, on this twenty-seventh Franco-British summit and stress the fact that its keynote has indeed, as he has just rightly said, been one of a friendship which nothing can today call into question. As you know, we are in the Entente Cordiale centenary year. And for a hundred years, having previously fought each other for five centuries, we have seen, understood and felt that, actually – while we may have differences of opinion on certain points, or different interests, which is wholly legitimate and normal – the truth is that we have in common the things that really matter for today and tomorrow. And that in any case, when we had a difference of views, it had to be resolved in a spirit of solidarity and certainly not in one of conflict.

That has been very clear during our talks. Just now Tony Blair listed all the vast areas in which we are working hand in hand. On the ground or in the political, international organizations. It's true. At the military level, from Afghanistan to Africa. I'm thinking of Ituri where, despite the problems, the United Kingdom has given us practical support, and on the ground, including of course in the Balkans. Together we have carried out the reform allowing the European Union to take over from NATO, very shortly, in fact under British command.

I could go on giving examples like this. It's true too when it comes to drawing up together – and it wasn't that obvious or that easy – a common strategy for European defence. The driving force for European defence is today, as it has been for some time, a Franco-British one. And I remember that at the height of our difference of views, on a particular point, regarding our assessments on Iraq, we met in Le Touquet for a Franco-British summit. And it was in Le Touquet, following St Malo, that we decided together – despite the situation and with our thoughts geared to the future – to take the decisive steps to strengthen European defence, which rests, I repeat, on cooperation, collaboration, an agreement and a common vision between Britain and France.

I was telling the Prime Minister just now that France will, of course, actively support Britain in her European presidency during the second half of next year, and I also told him that right from the beginning of the year, we shall be working hand in hand because we have the same approach, the same vision of things, the same objectives for the G8, also under a British presidency which has adopted two main subjects: Africa and development, and the problems linked to climate warming. These are two shared concerns, and they are clearly the fundamental issues for the future. World stability would be at risk in an Africa whose development problems weren't successfully addressed, and also through imprudent environmental action. And hand in hand we're going to support exactly the same ideas, the same objectives, during the British G8 presidency. These are the things which really matter.

Then we also talked about the subjects, I should say the subject, since there's only one, on which we've had a difference of views. It's very understandable. It's Iraq. On Iraq, our analyses were different and we drew different conclusions from them. Who was wrong? Who was right? History will say. Certainly not us, nor you. We'll see. Only history will be able to judge. But, in reality, our common concern today isn't, of course, to analyse the past, but together to commit ourselves to working for the future. And the future – with of course all the difficulties – is a united, independent, democratic, peaceful Iraq. That's clearly our common objective. And, on this point, we have no differences of view. What does this mean? It means that we have together, and after consideration and discussion, both voted for UNSCR 1546 and are implementing it.

We are implementing it together, with our American, European, international partners. And we're determined to do so. What we want is to have an Iraq who, after a reorganization of her political structures, can enjoy her full freedom, her autonomy, in peace, with due regard for human rights and democracy.

And then, finally, on the Middle East, as regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have the same analysis and the same objectives. We think that in the current situation, and having regard to the decision taken by the Palestinian authorities to hold elections – elections which we all want, and they want to be democratic and free – it's together that we'll make our contribution with, we hope, the whole international community, and particularly the European Union and the United States, so that there can be free elections. It may not be easy, but what's certain is that we have to work totally together on achieving the common objective of establishing unchallengeable and unchallenged political structures there.

I won't say much more. But I'm always a bit surprised at times to see comments made in France. I'm fortunate that I don't read English! And so I am at times a bit surprised to see the comments made in France which sometimes seem a bit superficial. At any rate, they don't reflect either what I firmly believe or, without any doubt, what the British government firmly believes, or our experience [of Franco-British cooperation] which we are once again enjoying today at this twenty-seventh summit.

  • Iraq - Security - Terrorism - Two Charles

Question: I would like to ask the President why he thinks the war in Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein may not have made the world safer. My question to the Prime Minister is on a domestic matter: the war between the two Charles's. Do you endorse the commentary by your Cabinet colleague on the heir to the throne?

Mr Jacques Chirac: If you look at what's happening in the world, in respect of security and the growth of terrorism, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the world, including Asia, and especially in South-East Asia, you can't credibly say that this situation has significantly improved, I repeat, with respect to security and terrorism. This hasn't in fact, to my mind, any direct link with the situation in Iraq, but I note it.

Mr Tony Blair: It may sound something of a 'cop out', because I have not read in very great detail what either has said, but I would simply reflect that, if everything I wrote in a memo during a moment of exasperation was given widespread publicity, I might make for a few headlines myself. I am sure that, if we analyse sufficiently closely what each of them has said, there will be some common ground.

  • Middle East

Question: President Chirac, you have just said that, together, you will try to support free elections in the Occupied Territories. What do you mean by contribution? Does that mean Britain and the United States exerting pressure on Israel? The French position is well thought of and very fair. The British position is less well thought of in the Arab world. Can you tell us a bit about the plans?

Mr Jacques Chirac: I'd simply say that the British and French consider there is an opportunity and a necessity: the opportunity is for a sounder political organization to emerge, which in turn implies doing the utmost to enable it to find political expression. We are both of this opinion. I understand, following the talks the British Prime Minister had with the President of the United States, that there is today a sort of consensus on doing the utmost to make the elections in Palestine possible and enabling the Palestinians to be fully empowered to express their views, which requires everyone making an effort and no one being provocative.

Mr Tony Blair: The good news is that there is consensus around the world in terms of the objective we are trying to secure, which is a two-State solution: Israel, confident of its own security, and a viable Palestinian State. The bad news is we are a long way from achieving that. The question that we have is how do we get there? The five steps that myself and President Bush set out last Friday offer the only way forward at the present time. I think myself and President Chirac are essentially agreed on these components. Firstly, we have to be clear about the overall vision: the two-State solution. Secondly, we have to be clear on the necessity of the Palestinian elections being allowed to go ahead and happening. Thirdly, we have to build, with the Palestinians, the necessary structures – politically, economically, and in security terms – for a viable State. Fourthly, we have to make sure that the disengagement plan that Prime Minister Sharon has outlined actually goes ahead. Fifthly, we have to use these achievements, if they happen, as the opportunity to get back into the Roadmap and final status negotiations. There is no issue the world over that causes such concern.

The good news is there is actually an agreement as to where we all want to get to. The bad news is, at the moment the parties are a long way apart, so it needs these intervening steps to be taken in order to get back into the Roadmap and final status negotiations, which in the end are the only thing that will resolve this issue sensibly. I think there is a real opportunity to move this forward now, if we are willing to take it. Europe, the United Nations, America, the Quartet countries, but also individually our own countries, will do all that we can to assist that.

  • Hunting with hounds

Question: I have a question on cultural divergence. The British Government today is in the process of banning hunting with hounds. I would like to ask the President whether he would welcome British equestrians to join French hunts. To the Prime Minister, in view of your personal opposition to hunting, would you actually like to see a Europe-wide ban, on animal rights grounds, on hunting?

Mr Jacques Chirac: I don't hunt. In fact not many people hunt in France and I have no opinion to give on the great British traditions.

  • Common European Diplomacy - EU Constitution

Question: What do you think about the emergence today of a common European diplomacy?

Mr Tony Blair: The best example of European diplomacy taking shape at the moment has been the cooperation between France, Britain, and Germany over the question of Iran and its obligations in respect to the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). As a result of that cooperation, we have actually secured significant advances. We have both been completely open about the differences that there have been on the question of Iraq. It is worth pointing out that on all those other issues, whether it is Iran, Afghanistan, or the Balkans, where our troops work together, or the G8 issues of climate change in Africa, we work on the same line. The cooperation we have is absolutely essential for achieving the goals not only of our two countries, but of the EU as well. Countries will always have their own strong views on foreign policy; of course they always will – France and Britain will. But, we have shown, particularly in relation to Iran, how cooperation between us at a European level, can advance the cause not just of Europe, but of the wider world community.

Mr Jacques Chirac: Yes, let me add that we're obviously making headway with European diplomacy. First of all it's a fact. Can you imagine today, on an important issue, the French Foreign Minister deciding something without discussing it beforehand with his British or German colleague, or another European. These days, foreign ministers spend an essential part of their working hours harmonizing their positions. And this wasn't the case, of course, ten or twenty years ago. This common diplomacy obviously doesn't prevent some differences of views, but it resolves most of them.

Secondly, the Constitution we've just signed in Rome in fact provides for a European minister of foreign affairs. This doesn't mean that each of our nations is suddenly going to find itself deprived of its ability to take foreign policy initiatives. But it means that this movement to harmonize what we do with respect to foreign policy is going to develop further. In other words, instead of possibly clashing around the table or possibly on the ground, today we settle most of the problems by agreement, or in meetings, and this is common diplomacy. And it's growing, it can only grow.

  • Transtatlantic Bridge

Question: Mr President, do you welcome the idea of Britain as a bridge between Europe and America? What do you think the state of that bridge currently is? Prime Minister, can I ask you to return to hunting? It is an important day. Do you today celebrate the end of hunting, or do you feel a bit of discomfort that the activities of a minority have been outlawed by the views of a majority?

Mr Jacques Chirac: Obviously, for historical, cultural and particularly linguistic reasons there's a tie between the United States and Britain which I'd describe as, in a way, a family one, and so a special one. It's normal, history has created it and, consequently, the fact that Britain can be an "honest broker" in relations between the rest of Europe and the United States is obviously a plus for Europe, incidentally for Britain as well, but it's a plus for Europe. I can but welcome that. This being the case, I'd like nevertheless – we talked earlier about this, during our working lunch – to reiterate that the United States and Europe are naturally destined to confront together the major developments of tomorrow's world. For a simple reason: faced with the world we see, Asian, South American, African, etc., North America and Europe traditionally, historically share the same values and so are destined to fight the same battles.

And so the transatlantic link – I was talking about it just now – is a reality nothing can call into question. Then secondly, there's the day-to-day management of business, of course, and here, Britain can certainly play an important role. But I'd say that, all the same, it's a relatively secondary one compared with the essential one, i.e. the transatlantic link is an inescapable link, but one which naturally requires everyone to be aware of the respect they owe each other. This applies to the two sides of the Atlantic, just as it does in the European Union, between all our countries.

  • Hunting with hounds

Mr Tony Blair: In respect of hunting, there will now be a whole series of Court actions. However, for the best part of two years, I have tried to find a compromise and a way through the issue, since there are people on either side of this debate who feel passionately about it. I think that many people in the country would like to have seen a situation in which we dealt with the arguments relating to hunting, whilst, at the same time, understanding the feelings of those who regard this is an integral part of their way of life. It was not possible to find a compromise in Parliament, and the action may now transfer to the Courts. However, despite the very passionate views on either side of this debate, I think that most people would prefer to have seen a compromise acceptance.

  • Middle East

Question: You both talk about peace, and you seem to be advocates of peace in the Middle East, which is greatly appreciated everywhere, since that troubled area has contributed to world destabilization to a great extent. The efforts seem to be concentrated around Israel and Palestine; to obtain a just and durable peace, should it not be comprehensive and include other parties whose lands are still occupied, for instance, by Israel?

Mr Tony Blair: Yes. You will only achieve a comprehensive settlement if all the issues are resolved. However, I think that the Israeli/Palestinian dispute is at the heart of this, and there needs to be a massive mobilization of international effort and will in order to bring this about, because it is an issue that, in a very real way, affects the security of all of us. I have made it clear throughout that this is the single most pressing political challenge that we face, and we will work very hard to move it forward.

In this regard, what President Chirac was saying a moment or two ago about the transatlantic alliance is absolutely right; ultimately, whatever differences exist, that alliance is of fundamental importance and, in relation to an issue such as the Middle East peace process, even though the Americans will, of course, have the lead in such negotiations, the role that Europe can play, particularly in supporting the Palestinian Authority in creating a viable State, is going to be of tremendous importance. The peace process will also focus on other aspects of the dispute and a comprehensive settlement will have to deal with all the different aspects of it. I think it is unlikely that there will be a great deal of progress on the other tracks if there is no progress on the heart of the dispute, which is the Israeli/Palestinian aspect.

  • Iran - Human Rights

Question: In the past month, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even the Foreign Office's annual human rights report have emphasised the alarming spiral of human rights violations in Iran. In effect, the EU and the UN have also condemned these violations. In view of this, and in view of the fact that, for the past 25 years, Iran has not abided by the international covenants and agreements that it has signed; the fact that it has achieved its foreign policy objectives through unconventional means such as terrorism; and the fact that, for the past 20 years, it has hidden its nuclear programme from the West, how confident are you that the current agreements are going to succeed, and what is different about them this time? Last week, Mr Prime Minister, you stated that, in order to combat terrorism and fanaticism, you have to be committed to justice, peace and democracy. Do you have any concrete plans to bring justice, freedom and democracy to Iran?

Mr Tony Blair: Firstly, what is different about the cooperation at a European level in respect of Iran's nuclear obligations is that we have worked in concert right from the very beginning. Time will tell whether the agreements signed will be adhered to. There have been difficulties in the past, but I think our concern is to ensure that those agreements are abided by. In respect of the issues around human rights and democracy, I take the view that the ultimate security that we will have lies in the spread of democracy, human rights and freedom. That does not mean that we can impose these values on any country that, we believe, falls short in this respect, but it does mean that our position is one of constantly arguing for them and supporting those within any country who want the basic freedoms that we, in Britain or France, take for granted.

We can make progress in different ways; sometimes it is best done through dialogue and pressure of a different sort. We will carry on working for this. I think one of the most curious things about the world today is that, unless publicity is given to human rights abuses, people do not think that they happen. However, there are countries in the world where the most grotesque abuses of human rights take place, but they are never captured by cameras and no publicity is ever given to them. I think that, when the UN high-level panel reports later this year, one of the issues they will look at is how we put greater pressure in favour of basic democratic rights for all citizens in the world. I am convinced that ultimately as well, that is our best hope of security. For the present time, we proceed in the way that we are. In that, the cooperation between Britain, France and Germany has been exemplary.

Mr Jacques Chirac: I totally share the Prime Minister's views. I'd nevertheless like to say that we were all concerned about the direction of nuclear research and activities in Iran, particularly regarding everything to do with enrichment and reprocessing, and that we have had an exceptional demonstration of the ability of European diplomacy to resolve the problems. There has been a joint effort conducted by Britain, Germany and France, an effort which it has to be said has been very tenacious and very persuasive. At the outset, few thought we would be able to succeed. We have successfully completed the first stage, i.e. what the Iranians have accepted must first of all now be corroborated by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency in a few days' time, on 25 November. And if the Board were to confirm the validity of the agreement we have finally obtained from the Iranian authorities, then, in a second stage, we would have to establish the full programme allowing the international community to be sure that what is planned is actually implemented. And so make sure that there are no differences or attempts to use nuclear power for military purposes, and, in return of course, to improve the lives of the Iranian people thanks to the use of civilian nuclear technology for energy production. And this has of course to be looked at in detail.

Of course, this process must be totally approved, particularly by our American friends, but also by a number of powers who in one capacity or another have an interest in this sphere, I'm thinking in particular of Russia and China. And, in the wake of that, we'll be able to say we have made real significant progress for the world.

Mr Tony Blair: Many thanks indeed./.

  • (1) Source of original English text (statements by Mr Blair and questions in English): 10 Downing Street


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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).