Minister focuses on US, Russia, Middle East and Europe
United States – European Union/Russia – Interview given by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche
Paris, 19 February 2017
Q. – After meeting the new American Secretary of State for the first time, are you a bit clearer about the Trump presidency’s diplomatic agenda?
THE MINISTER – It’s still a little too early, and I admit that Rex Tillerson, in the meetings I had with him, remained general and cautious. He was more forthcoming on the Syria issue. He accepted that the fight against Daesh [so-called ISIL] was a priority and couldn’t be concluded without inclusive negotiation with the Syrian opposition and a political transition. I told him that if he wanted to defeat Daesh, it wouldn’t be through an agreement with Russia on the back of the Syrian people, and I think I was understood on that point. On the Middle East, on the other hand, I’m worried. In the wake of Donald Trump, Rex Tillerson suggested that the two-state solution – Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security – wasn’t the only one, when everyone knows there is no other. It’s very worrying.
Q. – Did you sense on Rex Tillerson’s part the same “pro-Russian” streak that seems to have driven Donald Trump’s team since the election campaign and still does today?
THE MINISTER – No, I didn’t get that feeling. He’s a man who – through his previous post as CEO of Exxon – knows Russia well, but who must now grasp it as Secretary of State. I mentioned the Ukraine issue, reminding him of that country’s history and the principle of inviolability of the borders, which was breached by the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Russian intervention in Ukraine. That’s why we imposed sanctions, which enabled us to negotiate the Minsk agreements. I sensed that he understood this approach, and I encouraged him to regard Russia with perspicacity and not naivety. We must talk to Russia, but not fall into line with it.
Q. – Do the investigations under way in the United States on Russian interference in the presidential campaign, and the resignation of the National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, explain this caution on the part of the people you spoke to?
THE MINISTER – Unquestionably. Senior American officials are probably hesitating to take stances that would later be contradicted by their president. But certain clarifications have already been made. For example, General Mattis, the new Defence Secretary, reaffirmed his support for NATO in Brussels on Wednesday, as did the Vice-President, Mike Pence, in Munich on Saturday. For us Europeans, NATO isn’t an “obsolete” organization.
Q. – Do you put on the same level the disappointment France felt with Barack Obama when he refused to bomb the Syrian regime in 2013 and the current doubts about the American ally’s reliability?
THE MINISTER – They’re not of the same nature. President Obama’s reversal on Syria didn’t lead America to cast doubt on a multilateral conception of how to handle world affairs. We’re facing much greater uncertainty and great unpredictability. All my colleagues share that observation. The complex and major challenges we’re facing don’t lend themselves well to deals. Likewise, you don’t solve any international crisis in 140 characters. In the face of perils, inequalities, terrorism and the major dangers in the world, if you don’t collectively tackle those problems head-on, if it’s every man for himself, then you’re opening the door to extremism.
Q. – A lot of people get the impression that Europeans are still in shock following Donald Trump’s election and that there’s no unity among them when it comes to opposing his vision of the world…
THE MINISTER – That’s changing, and this realization is largely due to Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on Europe. Even Theresa May felt obliged to say that, despite Brexit, it was in the United States’ interest to have a strong Europe as a partner. Europe is still a benchmark in this troubled world, and my bet is that the temptation to divide and rule Europeans won’t work, because the United States in no way has the means to compensate for the advantages the European Union offers its members.
Q. – Do you really believe that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin want to weaken Europe?
THE MINISTER – Certain attitudes or statements may suggest it. It’s enough to look at which candidates – namely Marine Le Pen and François Fillon – Russia expresses preferences for in the French election campaign, whereas Emmanuel Macron, whose language is very European, suffers cyber attacks. This kind of interference in French democratic life is unacceptable, and I condemn it. Russia is the first to recall that non-interference in domestic affairs is a key principle of international life. And I understand it. Well, France won’t agree, the French people won’t agree, to their choices being dictated. I repeat emphatically: it’s in the interests of Russia, the United States and the rest of the world to have a stable Europe which functions, shoulders its responsibilities and plays its full role supporting peace, prosperity and sustainable development./.