Minister calls Poland’s Holocaust legislation "inappropriate"
Foreign policy – Poland/Turkey/Syria/Iraq/Iran/United States/North Korea – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFM TV
Paris, 7 February 2018
Q. – Before talking about Turkey, Syria, North Korea and the United States, I’d like to start with Poland. The President has signed a law providing for Polish or foreign people accusing the Polish nation or state of involvement in Nazi crimes to be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Frankly, doesn’t this mean denying the involvement of Polish people in the genocide of the Jews?
THE MINISTER – We think this legislation is inappropriate; moreover, we’ve stated our position on this. History mustn’t be rewritten, it’s never a very good thing; above all, we’ve got to be uncompromising when it comes to the memory of the Holocaust, spread it everywhere, regularly, systematically, and so any element which could pervert that memory is negative.
Q. – You’re Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Europe Minister. Is rewriting history in a country of the European Union frankly acceptable?
THE MINISTER – No, we’ve got to say things very, very clearly; this stance, this position – which incidentally isn’t new as regards respect for the European Union’s fundamental principles – is reprehensible, and we’re saying so.
Q. – You’re saying so, but Europe isn’t – I hear nothing.
THE MINISTER – I’ve heard statements from several European leaders who were somewhat outraged at the position, but it’s just happened.
Q. – Do sanctions need to be adopted? Do we, I don’t know, need to ask the Polish government to review…
THE MINISTER – I think the moral pressure will be sufficiently strong, at least I hope it will, and I also hope the Polish people will change their minds and make sure that at the next election they emerge from the shackles imposed on them by wholly regrettable nationalist choices.
Q. – It’s nationalism.
THE MINISTER – It’s nationalism.
Q. – On 20 January – I’m changing the subject – the Turkish army launched an offensive against an enclave of Kurds, the Afrin enclave, on Syrian territory, in northern Syria. Do you condemn this offensive?
THE MINISTER – One thing is understandable and one isn’t. Firstly, we – France – have, and have long had a relationship of respect and friendship with the Kurds. Let me remind you here that the Kurds were absolutely exemplary and absolutely decisive in the recapture of Raqqa. The Peshmerga played a very significant role, and you know how committed we were to recapturing Raqqa, since it was Raqqa where the terrorists who brought bloodshed to our country came from.
One thing which is understandable is for Turkey, in this situation, to want to ensure that its borders are secure – it’s a legitimate right. But ensuring its borders are secure doesn’t mean killing civilians, and that’s reprehensible. In a highly dangerous situation today in Syria, tragic in every respect, we mustn’t add war to war. And what’s happening in Syria is that following the withdrawal, the defeat – which isn’t complete; it’s well under way but not complete – of Daesh [so-called ISIL], there are still small groups of fighters…
Q. – Daesh isn’t beaten militarily today.
THE MINISTER – Definitely not. We can say this in Iraq, but in Syria it still isn’t quite the case. So it isn’t acceptable to add war to war in Syria. Which brings us to something even more crucially necessary today than yesterday: ensuring that the political process can begin, precisely to ensure security at Turkey’s borders, including inside Syria, and that the different segments of the population, communities in Syria can live in peace, bearing in mind too the fact that there are 12 to 13 million refugees and displaced people today out of 27 million inhabitants. That’s how things are in Syria today, it’s how things are in Afrin, which I’ve just been talking about, but it’s also how things are in the eastern part of Damascus, called Eastern Ghouta, where the regime is trapping 400,000 people who aren’t being allowed humanitarian aid…
Q. – Bombing…
THE MINISTER – Which is bombing not Eastern Ghouta but the Idlib region, and bombing people, and all this is unacceptable…
Q. – And using chemical weapons or not?
THE MINISTER – In all likelihood using chemical weapons…
Q. – You’re confirming the new use of [chemical] weapons…?
THE MINISTER – All the information, all the indications at our disposal – I’m talking cautiously, because as long as it isn’t completely documented we have to be prudent – show today that the regime is using chlorine in Syria at the moment. The United Nations opened an investigation on this yesterday. So there’s still this threat of chemical weapons being used, it’s a very serious situation. And today the process which was initiated in Geneva, the so-called United Nations process, must seriously be put in place. (…)
Q. – So much was said a few months ago, a few years ago, about the Syrian army, which is using chemical weapons today; now it’s continuing, it’s continuing Jean-Yves Le Drian.
THE MINISTER – It’s continuing through chlorine use, yes, we’re seeing this, and we’re condemning it very firmly.
Q. – You’re condemning, but what else can be done other than condemning?
THE MINISTER – We did something else, from the moment Russia blocked every discussion by the Security Council on the issue – that really needs to be reiterated here. I’ve said to Mr Lavrov, whom I regularly speak to – I said it to him again yesterday –, “five times at the Security Council you’ve blocked condemnation of Syria for using chemical weapons.”
France, President Macron took the initiative of calling a meeting in Paris 10 days ago of the US Secretary [of State] and nearly 30 different countries to begin a partnership to fight against the impunity of all those using chemical weapons. And we decided to make known publicly anyone we know – entities or people – who, one way or another, are involved in the process of developing chemical weapons; we ourselves have made those involved known publicly and punished them by banning the use…
Q. – Are you going to take a new initiative or not?
THE MINISTER – This is a very strong initiative and we’d like all those who really want to combat chemical weapons to join us, because at the moment in the world, which is unstable and full of risks and threats, three risks are combining, and this is making the situation extremely dangerous. You’ve got the problem of proliferation first of all, nuclear proliferation; we’ll probably be talking about this…
Q. – We’re going to come to that.
THE MINISTER – …chemical proliferation – which we’re talking about –, ballistic proliferation; proliferation is a huge danger because it leads to contagion. The second risk is terrorism, and the third risk is expansionist threats. And the three occasionally combine, join together to produce a situation which could be explosive tomorrow, or at any rate jeopardizes our security, and the President entrusted me with the role of trying to prevent this from causing grave disruption.
Q. – I’m going to come back to the attitude of the Turkish army, the Turks’ behaviour, the Turkish army which is torturing, maiming, killing Kurdish fighters who fought with us, who fought Islamic State; I remember the liberators of Kobane…
THE MINISTER – Yes, Kobane, Raqqa – I mentioned them earlier.
Q. – Yes, Raqqa. What’s France going to do? International law is being violated, Turkey is violating it.
THE MINISTER – Turkey is violating it, the Damascus regime is violating it, Iran too, those attacking Idlib are violating it…
Q. – Are we abandoning the people who fought Islamic State?
THE MINISTER – Not at all. In Geneva tomorrow, the political transition process must be established – otherwise there’s no solution – and the political transition process concerns all the areas affected by the crises.
Q. – Are you demanding that the Turkish army withdraw from the region, from Syria?
THE MINISTER – The withdrawal of those who have no place in Syria, including Iranian militias, including Hezbollah: that’s the situation. You can’t focus solely on one point, which is tragic; you have to look at the whole Syria situation. And the whole Syria situation can be resolved only if a serious political process is put in place.
That’s not yet the case, and it’s why France took the initiative of bringing together several partners to propose solutions concerning elections, the constitution, trust-building measures, ceasefires and humanitarian aid, so that it could happen now in Geneva, under the United Nations’ authority. That’s what we tell the Russians, it’s what we tell the Iranians – I’m going to Iran in a few days – and it’s what we tell the Turks. It must happen in the United Nations forum, otherwise we’ll have an accumulation of war on war, which will be tragic; there will be a new Syria crisis without any serious solution.
French jihadists in Syria
Q. – French jihadists, women and men, have been arrested – I’m talking about Syria –, arrested by the Kurds. How many? Do you know exactly how many?
THE MINISTER – We’ve been told 100 at most, arrested by the Kurds. (…) Arrested by the Kurds in Syria: in north-east Syria, that is. (…)
Q. – Will they be tried by the Kurds?
THE MINISTER – They’ll be tried by the local judicial authorities.
Q. – They won’t be repatriated to France?
THE MINISTER – They won’t be repatriated to France insofar as they’re combatants, so they’re enemies – that’s true for Iraq and it’s true for Syria – who have fought citizens of Syria, who have fought Turks, who have raped, who have carried out acts of barbarity…
Q. – And what about the children?
THE MINISTER – The children’s situation is different. On the children we want to ensure that, through the Red Cross, we can repatriate them to France. But there are about 100 of them who we haven’t really located yet – we have reports – because we’re still at war in the region. There’s still conflict, so serious identification is under way; that’s the doctrine we want to implement.
They [the adults] are combatants, they’re French, but they’re our enemies, they’ve fought in the ranks of those who have committed murders, they’re people who have committed acts of barbarism, they’re people who have attacked the Kurds, who have attacked Iraqi forces, who are combatants. They’re facing the consequences of their actions, and the consequences of their actions are that they’ll be tried by those they fought against.
Q. – So they’re being tried by the Kurds, they’ll be tried by the Kurds.
THE MINISTER – By the local authorities. I’m saying the local authorities – it doesn’t necessarily mean the Kurds, it means the Syrian Democratic Forces…
French jihadists held in Iraq
Q. – Also. I’m talking now about French jihadists, men or women, women or men, who have been arrested in Iraq. How many?
THE MINISTER – Six families.
Q. – Six families, who will be tried in Iraq?
THE MINISTER – Absolutely, except for the children.
Q. – If there’s a death sentence, which is possible in Iraq, will France intervene to prevent the executions?
THE MINISTER – First of all, they’re Iraqi prisoners; they didn’t go to Iraq as tourists, they went to Iraq to fight, to fight in the ranks of Daesh, so they’ve obviously been imprisoned, so they’ll be tried. They have the right to consular protection, i.e. for our consul to check whether they’re being treated well, and whether their basic rights are being respected.
The Iraqi authorities will then conduct a trial; the death penalty exists in Iraq, it exists in other countries in the world; today there are seven or eight French people sentenced to death around the world, including in the United States; in those cases France makes its position known. I’ll be going to Iraq soon, and I’ll make it known myself.
Q. – Will France, you yourself, the government, do everything to prevent the executions?
THE MINISTER – We do everything, in every situation where a French person has been sentenced to death in a country where the death penalty exists, be it the United States, Indonesia or Iraq. (…)
Q. – To prevent the executions.
THE MINISTER – That’s right.
Q. – Nuclear weapons. The United States is engaged in a massive rearmament effort. I was looking at the figures: $716 billion in 2019. $716 billion – that’s a massive sum! Peace through force, is that the American doctrine?
THE MINISTER – We’re in a very unstable global situation, where the nuclear threat exists, where non-proliferation is in danger, and so we can understand that there’s a desire on the Americans’ part to strengthen their military posture. The figures have been announced; they must now be implemented.
As far as I know, on the basis of the initial elements I’ve seen of the new American strategic review, there’s no fundamental change in the conception of the nuclear deterrent.
Q. – So no particular worries about this massive commitment in military spending?
THE MINISTER – On the contrary, there’s a desire to strengthen the nuclear deterrent, and a desire for…
Q. – For military reinforcement on the part of the Americans, who think they may have lost a little time over recent years.
THE MINISTER – I think the right American posture would be to be very firm on respect for non-proliferation and on the fact that it’s necessary to enter into firm discussions with North Korea and Iran to prevent proliferation. That was the case with Iran, and we think – we’re in disagreement with the Americans on this point – that the Vienna treaty is a treaty that’s being respected, and that this treaty has enabled and is enabling us to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, because if Iran obtained nuclear weapons there would be a risk of contagion, because the neighbouring countries could tell themselves: this danger exists for me, so I myself must obtain nuclear weapons. And at that point the contagion would spread and we’d risk having a tragic situation for the international community.
So we must ensure that respect for the 1968 non-proliferation treaty is an imperative for everyone, and on this point we’re in disagreement with the United States, but we take the same stance towards North Korea, because the fact that North Korea is obtaining nuclear weapons is also a danger for the whole region. It’s a danger for ourselves…
Q. – Particularly Japan…
THE MINISTER – But it’s a danger for ourselves too, because the current assessment of North Korea’s ballistic range puts us in danger.
Q. – (…) Can you confirm that Donald Trump has invited Emmanuel Macron to the American national day?
THE MINISTER – Yes, he’ll go to the United States in April.
Q. – In April, an official visit?
THE MINISTER – In April, yes, the end of April.
Q. – Is he going to meet Vladimir Putin soon at the World Cup?
THE MINISTER – Emmanuel Macron meets all the world’s leaders, he telephones them, he talks to them, because France talks to everyone, and that gives us strength to validate our arguments and get our position across. When the French President talks to President Trump, President Putin or President Erdogan – whoever it may be –, he says things very clearly and he highlights disagreement when there are disagreements, and I think it’s simpler that way; we have to avoid speaking ambiguously.
Q. – Do you think he’ll go to Russia for the World Cup?
THE MINISTER – I don’t know, I haven’t asked him; he really likes football, but I don’t know… (…)
Q. – South Korea and North Korea are competing jointly in Pyeongchang; extraordinary, isn’t it? Even the speaker of North Korea’s Parliament will be in South Korea; he’s going to go. What does that mean? Is it a good sign? Does it mean we may be on the path of renewed dialogue?
THE MINISTER – The question is, is this an Olympic truce or an Olympic dream? An Olympic truce may be an opportunity to talk; maybe the North Korean and South Korean authorities will do so; I hope so. An Olympic dream is the dream of peace regained, and if it’s an Olympic dream it would be a very fine moment.
Q. – Do you believe in that?
THE MINISTER – It mustn’t be ruled out; at any rate, it’s what I’d like. Even though North Korea has formed a joint ice hockey team with South Korea, it hasn’t given up its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and the necessary ballistic capabilities to deploy it. As far as I know, Kim Jong-un’s last speech at the beginning of the year, his New Year’s greetings, displayed this determination over and over. That’s what has to be fought against.
If by any chance North Korea were to obtain nuclear weapons, a nuclear weapon projection capability, firstly the countries in the region would be very vulnerable, but Europe would be too, because the projection capability would be very great: the range is nearly 10,000 kilometres, so it would be a considerable danger. So we must prevent that, and in order to prevent it the whole Korean Peninsula must be denuclearized, so North Korea must come to the negotiating table.
Q. – You also take the same position as Japan…
THE MINISTER – I’ve just come back from Japan; we had the opportunity to discuss it; the Japanese are worried. Clearly, if by any chance North Korea obtains nuclear weapons without anyone protesting, then Japan will say to itself…
Q. – It’s not only the Japanese: the Russians and the Chinese are worried too.
THE MINISTER – Absolutely. What I observe, however, is that you have to implement retaliatory measures, sanctions, to force North Korea to come to the negotiating table, and during the latest discussions at the United Nations, i.e. at the end of December, all the members of the Security Council, including China and Russia, voted for a new round of sanctions to force Kim Jong-un to come to the negotiating table. I hope the Olympic spirit will enable him to move forward. (…)./.