Minister calls for "whole truth" about Khashoggi affair
Foreign policy – Brexit/Khashoggi affair/Saudi Arabia/Yemen – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1
Paris, 19 November 2018
Q. – (…) Do you think the suspicions – and I mean suspicions – surrounding Carlos Ghosn, the boss of the Renault-Nissan alliance, about concealment [of income] from Japan’s tax authorities might cause long-term damage to a big group such as Renault, which is plunging on the stock market today?
THE MINISTER – There are people in charge of that group, they’ve got to take the decisions they deem necessary in the circumstances, and Mr Ghosn should also speak on the subject. I’ve no other comment to make on this situation, which is indeed somewhat unexpected.
Q. – And worrying, you might add, as Foreign Minister… and being in charge of foreign trade.
THE MINISTER – Worrying… worrying… it’s important that the situation is swiftly clarified.
Q. – Now, Europe. A time of uncertainty, with political chaos in Britain. The Europe ministers, including you, have endorsed the draft agreement, but things are seriously unstable on the political scene. You aren’t ruling out a no-deal Brexit today?
THE MINISTER – Britain made its choice. It dates back to June 2016: the British decided to leave the European Union. We regret it but it’s a reality which must be brought to its conclusion and, as you know, for close on two years now there have been negotiations on the basis of a mandate which the 27 gave Michel Barnier to establish the conditions for the divorce.
To understand clearly, there are two aspects: first, there’s how we divorce, what the divorce agreement is; that’s where we are. And secondly, how we’re going to live together afterwards…
Q. – It takes two to divorce; do they really want to divorce today?
THE MINISTER – It takes two to divorce and today the European Commission’s proposal, which was validated earlier in Brussels by the ministers concerned – I was there –, is the last proposal we can make for there to be a clear divorce agreement. It’s the last agreement.
Responsibility now falls to Britain to decide, and then, if it comes out in favour of the agreement – the so-called withdrawal agreement – another procedure will begin, that of identifying during a transition period how we’ll live together afterwards, from 2020.
And then there’ll be yet another negotiation, and if by chance that doesn’t succeed we’ll go back to the divorce agreement. So the process isn’t over but a very important stage is unfolding, but it’s now the responsibility of the British to decide.
Q. – The ball’s in their court.
THE MINISTER – Absolutely.
Q. – Now, the Khashoggi affair: the CIA is thought to have concluded that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was personally behind the journalist’s murder in Istanbul. Trump is playing for time; he’s speaking tomorrow. Despite the huge interests at stake – financial and geopolitical interests –, will we really find out the truth?
THE MINISTER – We’ve got to hope for this as much as possible. It’s an extremely serious matter. It concerns a murder first of all. It concerns the murder of a journalist. It concerns the murder of a journalist in a consulate. That’s a lot. And, as the President has said several times, we’d like the whole truth to be told.
Q. – …which you know already… the CIA knows the truth, our intelligence services know it…
THE MINISTER – There are loose ends today; when we say the whole truth has to be told, the circumstances and those responsible must be revealed. And once we come to an opinion on the subject ourselves, we’ll adopt the necessary sanctions – that’s been announced.
Q. – But what more do you need? There are the recordings, there’s the CIA report, our French intelligence services know as well – moreover, Germany has decided to impose sanctions.
THE MINISTER – Yes, but we’re working with Germany at the moment – I saw my colleague Heiko Maas earlier in Brussels –, we see eye to eye with them and we’re very swiftly going to decide on a number of sanctions ourselves as regards what we know. But we think it’s necessary to go further, because the whole truth must be known.
Q. – And then there’s the political, eminently geopolitical question; can the Crown Prince quite simply remain? Do you recognize that the West went too fast by portraying him recently as a tremendous modernizer?
THE MINISTER – He took some very strong initiatives that nobody expected: opening cinemas again, giving women the basic right to drive, allowing women to attend shows. It was a powerful new move. And he also initiated a far-reaching reform of Saudi Arabia to prevent the country from living solely off oil revenues over the long term.
So there were some very significant initiatives, a modernization project which was welcomed, including the modernization of accepted standards of behaviour. Yet today we’re seeing that it’s a little more complicated than that, but we’ve no intention of getting involved in the way the Saudi authorities as a whole resolve the matter. We simply observe today that there’s the Khashoggi crime, which is completely intolerable.
Q. – You’ll remember, a few years ago we talked about Erdoğan in the same way, about the tremendous modernizer; he’s the one today who’s providing the recordings, he’s providing the evidence. What’s your view on that?
THE MINISTER – In this situation – since it happened in Turkey – President Erdoğan is shouldering his responsibilities and intervening, giving information; it’s necessary for the truth and for establishing this essential truth.
Q. – But we mustn’t forget how he himself treats journalists and opponents in his country.
THE MINISTER – On several occasions I’ve had to emphasize to him the need to release a few journalists who were imprisoned. Fortunately it produced results. President Erdoğan is free to act as he chooses and he shoulders his responsibilities, but it’s useful that all the players who have information can help establish the truth.
Q. – To conclude, this terrible Khashoggi affair will perhaps – perhaps – have one concrete consequence, namely the pressure finally starting to be exerted on Saudi Arabia with regard to the war in Yemen against the Houthis, against the backdrop, remember, of a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. A meeting – it’s important – is planned in Sweden: who will be there? Which protagonists? And can you, today, demand a ceasefire and access to humanitarian aid?
THE MINISTER – I talked a lot about this today to my colleagues, the European Union foreign ministers, and it’s true this is a dirty war. It’s true this is an intolerable war in terms of its impact; the humanitarian consequences are tragic, half the population is hungry; help isn’t arriving, it’s being diverted, including medical help. The food expedited by the international organizations isn’t reaching the people who deserve to have it. And in the meantime, the war is continuing, the conflicts are continuing, the number of deaths is rising, perhaps 10,000 deaths since the start of this conflict, which, it’s true, originated in a defensive attitude on Saudi Arabia’s part.
Q. – Hence the urgency of access to humanitarian aid…
THE MINISTER – What’s new about this moment now is that a slightly weakened Saudi Arabia, and Houthis who are under pressure from Iran, which has no interest in getting any more involved in the conflict, mean that for the first time – at any rate since I’ve been Foreign Minister and even Defence Minister – we can see a ray of hope. And soon, at the beginning of December, there will be a meeting in Sweden with all the players. And the European Union has today insisted on the players attending this meeting initiated by the United Nations. We must take confidence-building measures; we must begin to de-escalate this forgotten war, this intolerable war, this war which can’t end with a military victory and can be resolved only through political compromise./.