Minister focuses on US, Middle East and Europe
Foreign policy – Italy/European Union/terrorism/Syria/United States/trade/Iran – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to LCI (excerpts)
Paris, 1 June 2018
Q. – Does the Islamic State group currently still possess bases or a territorial base in Syria, or has it been definitively eradicated? Where do we stand?
THE MINISTER – No, it’s not finished. There’s still a territorial base in Syria: in eastern, north-eastern Syria, between about 5% and 10% of the territory which Daesh [so-called ISIL] prevously had in the whole of Syria and Iraq; so it’s a small area, but there are still terrorist combatants…
Q. – That war isn’t over.
THE MINISTER – Even though the coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces are fighting this small presence, it’s still there. So we must be very vigilant and carry things through. There are also risks in the region of a clandestine Daesh that could rise up again in Baghdad and spark attacks. We’ve seen this. So the battle must continue. But on terrorism, there’s not only Daesh, there’s also currently the re-emergence of the al-Qaeda-linked movement; I’m seeing it in Syria in particular. We must also ensure vigilance against this new form of terrorism, this recategorization of a number of fighters into other terrorist organizations. So this battle against terrorism is a very long-term battle. It requires international cooperation and vigilance, not only abroad but also inside our country.
Q. – What do we do about the French male or female jihadists who are currently in Syria or Iraq and are going to be tried? I’d like to ask you about the case of Mélina Boughedir, whose trial is going to be held in Iraq in three days’ time – a trial for terrorism, crimes of terrorism, complicity in terrorism and failure to report terrorist crimes. She is liable to be hanged. Should we ultimately regard this as a matter for the Iraqi authorities and not our business? She’s French, she has three children in France and one child who was born over there. Is it a matter for the Iraqi authorities or for us?
THE MINISTER – First of all, we’ve ensured that the children are repatriated. Secondly, Mme Boughedir is a combatant. When you go to Mosul in 2016, it’s to fight. So she’s being tried where her acts of violence occurred; that’s the proper logic. She fought against Iraqi units; she’s being tried in Iraq. She’s being defended, and we’re ensuring our consulate follows the situation and her detention. But it’s for the Iraqi courts to deal with and issue their verdict on a Daesh terrorist who fought against Iraq.
Q. – Iraq is a sovereign country when it comes to administering justice in this case. If she’s condemned to death, France won’t get involved.
THE MINISTER – It’s not our role to get involved in rulings. We totally condemn the death penalty, which also exists in the United States; that hasn’t escaped you. So in Iraq, we’d like it not to be applied. We’ve let the Iraqi authorities know that we’re firmly opposed to the death penalty whatever the country, and they know it. (…)
Q. – The afternoon’s news is also about the shock of Donald Trump’s sanctions, protectionist measures against Europe. (…) Jean-Claude Juncker has already reacted in Brussels. Just now, Emmanuel Macron has said, “It’s an illegal decision.”
THE MINISTER – It’s a brutal measure; it’s an unacceptable measure. It’s the law of the strongest. But the life of the world, of international relations, isn’t the law of the strongest. International relations aren’t the Wild West. So we condemn [it]. We regard this measure as unacceptable. In the face of this measure – which also affects allies, whether it be Europe, Mexico or Canada, and there was already Japan –, in the face of these unacceptable measures, we’re going to take counter-measures and safeguard measures at European level.
Q. – Does that mean taxing some American imports?
THE MINISTER – It means proportionate measures, but it means proportionate measures to tax American exports. (…) I have to tell you, in this regard, that the European Union is totally mutually-supportive, united and determined. We were talking about Europe earlier; this is sovereign Europe showing itself, this is the Europe which protects, in a way, and doesn’t agree to its interests being challenged in such a manner.
Q. – We’re losing our bearings. Is Donald Trump’s United States still our ally?
THE MINISTER – It’s our ally because we’re together against terrorism, we’re together on the situation in North Korea, we’re together in certain struggles in Africa. We have disagreements that we express. But what strikes me most is that since the advent of Donald Trump, there’s been a kind of desire to systematically deconstruct the whole international legal corpus which the nations agreed and have agreed on, whether it be UNESCO, which the United States is withdrawing from, the climate agreement, which the United States is withdrawing from, the World Trade Organization, which the United States no longer wants to hear people talk about, or even the Paris-based OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, [of which] a meeting was being held yesterday and today; there are 35 members, including the United States; 34 members agreed on a text and not the United States.
Q. – So we must do things without them.
THE MINISTER – There’s a kind of growing isolationism, unfortunately: what was previously called “America first” is in the process of becoming “America alone”. In the face of this, we have to get organized to develop multilateralism.
Q. – Without them.
THE MINISTER – With them, we hope. We don’t want there to be a trade war. We think this militant isolationism President Trump has developed will, at some point, end; we don’t talk only to President Trump in the United States.
Q. – Aren’t we in a new world, which will last for dozens of years, in your view…
THE MINISTER – We’re in a world of power relationships and by adopting this kind of measure – I’m not just talking about the customs measures you’ve just been talking about, but also other measures, other withdrawals from international cooperation – all this leads to complete chaos, which favours power relationships.
We’re in favour – President Macron in particular – of the development of multilateralism. I was struck, during President Macron’s visit to Washington, first of all by the firmness President Trump showed in his isolationist approach, and then, at the same time, the clarity of President Macron’s speech and the applause he received when, in Congress, he defended international cooperation and multilateralism. The world is here; either it chooses regulation – in the strategic, commercial and cultural fields – or it chooses power relationships. (…)
Iran nuclear agreement/European companies
Q. – And then there’s another issue which has put you at odds with each other: when you talk about Emmanuel Macron’s speech to Congress, he also wanted to get the United States to stay in the agreement with Iran; in the end, this didn’t happen. France wants to save this agreement. But admittedly, do you really think you would manage to protect French companies – Total, Engie, Peugeot, Airbus –, European companies and others from American sanctions if they continue trading with Iran, so that they remain in Iran? Has progress been made on this in the past fortnight?
THE MINISTER – Firstly, this agreement must be maintained.
Q. – Yes, but that’s a position of principle.
THE MINISTER – Not exclusively. It’s a position of security. The Vienna agreement, which was discussed with the United States, which the United States signed, which was discussed with the Europeans, China, Russia and the Iranians for 12 years, with moments of crisis, is, at the end of the day, an outcome which protects us against the nuclear threat and Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. So it’s important to keep it.
Q. – But French companies…
THE MINISTER – The Iranians believed that in exchange for this agreement, they could have economic benefits which would allow them to develop. So now the Americans are saying “we’re pulling out”. Just because they pull out doesn’t mean that the agreement doesn’t continue. The agreement is continuing.
Q. – Except that they’re threatening to impose sanctions on French companies which trade with Iran.
THE MINISTER – They’re threatening to impose sanctions on French companies which invest in Iran, if they have a link – even a tenuous one – with the United States, even if this only means they pay in dollars. So we must put a mechanism in place today, for two reasons – to protect our companies and also protect the agreement, which is our own security…
Q. – But has progress been made in the past fortnight on this?
THE MINISTER – We’ve made progress on one point, the application of a European rule which dates back to 1996, which we’ve readapted and which allows us to protect ourselves today, to protect our companies against this American pressure. But that isn’t enough. We must establish a financial mechanism which is immune to the dollar – so one which uses euros or is linked to other currencies –, allowing us to make our companies working in Iran secure and also allowing Iran, which is remaining in the agreement, to ensure that its oil production, for example, can be exported. But the danger is that Iran withdraws from the agreement. If it withdraws, we’ll go back to a situation of very great instability in that region – which doesn’t need it – with risks of war. So this is why we value the agreement and will do our utmost for it to survive, be maintained, with Iran’s participation and its commitment to honour its commitments. (…)./.