Minister discusses Middle East, Africa and Brexit
Foreign policy – G5 Sahel/Libya/Middle East/SOS Chrétiens d’Orient/Algeria/Sahel/Brexit – New Year greetings to the French Diplomatic Press Association given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (excerpts)
Paris, 27 January 2020
Q. – You were talking just now about the Sahel. Florence Parly is in the United States to talk to her American counterparts and try to persuade them not to disengage from the region. As you see it, to what extent would France, Barkhane, the G5 Sahel and perhaps the Europeans be capable of doing without the United States in the Sahel?
THE MINISTER – I don’t want to second-guess decisions that haven’t been taken by the United States of America. We’re in a phase in the Sahel where there’s been that meeting in Pau, which in my opinion was a summit of unity, a summit of clarification and a summit of remobilization, at a time when we can clearly see that the threat and risks have moved to another level where what’s at stake is a much larger area, a destructive dynamic which now attacks states, aims to destabilize states – with an approach that may lead to these threats spreading into the Lake Chad region, too. (…)
This means our whole security is at stake, the security of the countries concerned, the G5 countries but also the neighbouring countries, and also Europe’s security: it’s our southern border. It was absolutely necessary to inject new momentum into the battle, but also ensure the battle is accompanied by strong measures in terms of states’ presence on their own territory and support for development.
In this regard, before I forget to mention it, I’m going to chair a meeting with all those intervening in the development field, in Nouakchott in a few days’ time, to ensure that this fourth pillar of the Pau summit is indeed implemented.
In this framework, the United States is wondering about the logistical support it’s providing and how sustainable that support is. We hope it will realize that the challenge of terrorism also exists there [in the US] and will be clear-sighted enough to keep this partnership. I’d like Florence Parly’s mission to achieve good results.
Q. – The United States is important for the logistical dimension but also for the intelligence dimension.
THE MINISTER – Logistics and intelligence.
Q. – And so, to push the question a little further, is that still a cause for concern for France?
THE MINISTER – (…) We hope good sense and an overall appreciation of the crisis will prevail in this matter.
Q. – You said in your short speech that you’ve seen Europe has regained control. To what extent, in what sphere do you get the feeling or the evidence that Europe really has regained control?
THE MINISTER – Quite simply because since 3 January there have been three concomitant European initiatives, which hasn’t happened for a very long time: the Berlin initiative, the Pau initiative and the initiative on Iran.
All this is a constant focus of discussion, of partnership, of identifying the challenges, between the various European Union countries, including here and including, first of all, with our major partners, namely Germany and Britain, but also with the new High Representative – so much so that I believe a new momentum has been created, and it was tangible at the major meetings I mentioned.
So we’ve regained control. That doesn’t mean we’ve got any results, but at any rate Europe hasn’t gone quiet. Proof of this is that, on the part related to the Pau summit for example – although I could mention other examples – it was the European Union together that decided to mobilize willing players to strengthen the military provision, through the special force Takuba, which is going to be set in motion, among other examples.
Q. – A very quick question on Iran. Are you optimistic about saving the Vienna agreement?
Q. – I’ve got a question about the United Kingdom, which you’ve talked about several times and which is an important partner of France in the security and defence fields. How do you accommodate maintaining close relations with that country, when the EU is going to discuss the future relationship after Brexit and there are a lot of challenges and divisions linked to that relationship? (…)
Q. – Four members of the voluntary organization SOS Chrétiens d’Orient have been kidnapped in Iraq, including three French people. Have you received any information, any leads regarding claims of responsibility, ransom demands or any indication whatsoever of where they are?
Q. – For a long time Algeria has applied double standards in the Sahel. With Abdelmajid Tebboune, whom you met last week, may things change?
THE MINISTER – We’re very committed to compliance with the Vienna agreement. And it’s precisely because we’re committed to compliance with the Vienna agreement that we triggered the dispute resolution mechanism provided for in the Vienna agreement. To show the Iranians, on the one hand, that they can’t start gradually unravelling or hollowing out the agreement by taking measures every two months. That we couldn’t accept it, because it meant the Iranian partner calling the Vienna agreement into question, so we’re going to begin discussions with them on compliance with the agreement. We’re also very committed to the Vienna agreement because the essential goal is to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and ensure nuclear proliferation doesn’t spread in the region. You can imagine what it would mean today if that country, and indeed others, happened to have nuclear weapons, and hence the confrontational radicalization that could create. And in this respect we disagree with the American position. You know, they know and we say that it was precisely to save the Vienna agreement that we acted in that way and will continue to act in that way. I think all the serious reasons support that, and I hope we can succeed.
On the four people from SOS Chrétiens d’Orient who have disappeared, we’re following this very closely, including with the voluntary organization concerned, but for the moment we have no additional information to give you. In these kinds of situations, I’m generally very discreet. That’s generally the best way to achieve results.
On Algeria and President Tebboune, yes, I believe there’s a diplomatic renewal on the part of the Algerian authorities. We’ve seen it with the implementation of the Berlin agreement. We’re seeing it because Algeria took the initiative of bringing together, in Algiers, the neighbouring countries directly affected by the Libya crisis. And I also noted during my meetings with both Mr Boukadoum, who is my Algerian counterpart, and President Tebboune a desire to be much more active in resolving the Mali crisis and the Sahel crisis. So much so that Minister Boukadoum visited Bamako himself to chair the Algiers Agreement Monitoring Committee; as you know, if all goes well we should manage to strengthen the implementation of the Algiers agreement, which so far hasn’t even started to be implemented. For a very long time, Algeria wasn’t really present at these discussions, but it turned up itself in Bamako a few days ago to chair the Agreement Monitoring Committee, as is its right. I sense a much stronger desire by all the players to cooperate than before, and that’s a very positive sign. We even considered – I’m telling you here – Mr Boukadoum and I going together to a forthcoming Agreement Monitoring Committee meeting to express our desire to ensure that the Pau agreement is implemented.
On Brexit, we’re at the start of a new stage. It was said several times, it was said, it was written, it was implied that the United Kingdom could possibly create dissension in Europe’s unity, concerning the withdrawal agreement. That didn’t happen. We saw total unity from Europeans on this. Why? Because everyone clearly appreciated their interest in the matter and because individual interests weren’t separate from the collective interest.
And it’s the same now, insofar as it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain the integrity of the internal market during the discussions which are going to take place. So it’s in everyone’s interest for the agreement to be comprehensive, as was the case for the discussion of the withdrawal agreement. So I’m rather optimistic about this, even though I clearly understand that we’re entering a phase of negotiations which isn’t going to be straightforward. Michel Barnier will be mandated by the 27 in a few days, he’ll be given a mandate to negotiate, so that there’s a comprehensive agreement, with the knowledge that the end-of-year deadline is extremely short, and that you can’t have a comprehensive agreement with a rushed-through agreement. There has to be a serious agreement which can allow a comprehensive agreement. I think those involved are totally aware of this. I haven’t got any major concerns in that respect. I believe Europe held firm, and I don’t see anything which would indicate to us there are splits. We’re talking about all this to our European friends. I’m going to the Netherlands tomorrow. I’ll be accompanying the President to Poland next week. This discussion is taking place, but I haven’t sensed any potential rifts in the future discussions, with unity being in everyone’s interest.
Q. – I wanted to talk about the Berlin conference and Libya. Yesterday we saw a United Nations communiqué denouncing a resumption of weapons deliveries. We’ve also seen an increased number of flights from the United Arab Emirates over the past few days delivering weapons. What measures can the Europeans and France take to implement this arms embargo?
THE MINISTER – Firstly, maintaining the truce is the first step. Maintaining the truce and moving to a ceasefire. They aren’t the same thing: a ceasefire is more official and binding, a truce is very temporary. To do this, it was decided in Berlin a week ago on Sunday that a so-called “5+5” – five on one side, five on the other – Military Committee will convene in the next few days to work out how to maintain the truce and turn it into a ceasefire which will subsequently provide the necessary opportunities for the dismantling of the militia, institutional reunification and also financial reunification – in order for that country’s resources to be fairly shared – and afterwards the political process. Those are the stages of the 55 points, because there were, after all, 55 points of agreement in Berlin. The 5+5 committee must convene and decide how the arrangements for moving from a truce to a ceasefire will be implemented, and it must convene under the authority of Mr Ghassan Salamé, the United Nations special envoy, in the coming days.
On the embargo, we must now be able to implement the means to get the embargo respected. This will be the case at the 5+5 meeting, but there will also be a European initiative, since – as I was saying – Mr Josep Borrell, the High Representative, announced that he was looking at what means the European Union could immediately put into practice to get the embargo respected, not just by sea but land and air as well, to stop either side resuming weapons deliveries which would also intensify conflict in that country. That’s where we are at the moment. The conference needed to take place, everyone needed to be there. It did and they were. There had to be firm points of consensus; I think there were. The challenge now is to implement each of the points, keeping an extremely close eye on them, even if there are – I saw this too via various reports – a few rifts, but they’re relatively infrequent compared to what we’ve seen before, so this mustn’t be allowed to drift./.