Minister highlights new opportunities for cooperation with US
Foreign policy – United States of America/multilateralism/Atlantic Alliance/Turkey/Egypt/Morocco/fight against terrorism – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France 2, via live link-up from Morocco
Paris, 9 November 2020
US presidential election
Q. – With Joe Biden’s victory, do you think the period being ushered in on the international stage is somewhat calmer?
THE MINISTER – There’ll no doubt be greater transparency, less improvisation, more clarity. I note that a genuine mobilization of the people, a genuine mobilization of democracy has been apparent in the United States, firstly because of the size of the turnout and also the clear result. In the end, it shows that the United States is a robust, living democracy which has to set a kind of example in a way. There was unrest, there were worries, concerns, and now we’re in a very much clearer situation. I think that’s rather a good thing.
Q. – You think the situation is clearer. One person would totally disagree with you: Donald Trump. He played a lot of golf over the weekend but believes the Democrats stole this election from him and he very much intends to make himself heard. Does this mean France considers there’s no longer any doubt about the conditions and legitimacy of the vote for the new American president?
THE MINISTER – President Macron has congratulated future president Biden. There are undoubtedly challenges being lodged, there always are, appeals are being brought, but there are also instruments in the United States for handling those appeals, be it at federal state level or the level of the Supreme Court. In the past we’ve seen much closer results subject to appeals with a decision by the US judicial authorities. So I’ve no worries on that score. I think we’ve got to trust the tools American democracy has given itself to ensure this election is legitimate.
Q. – But does that mean France definitively recognizes Joe Biden as President of the United States?
THE MINISTER – President Macron has congratulated him and I think he was right to do so.
Q. – Do you fear a bumpy transition period in the United States?
THE MINISTER – I think the main task Joe Biden set himself in his first statements is to pacify the country, to bring it together again. It’s fractured, it’s fractured geographically, it’s fractured socially, there are concerns, there’s unrest. This is the case in other democracies too. His primary task is to bring the country together again.
Q. – So there’s bringing his country together again and there’s also acting in the international arena. Do you think Joe Biden’s election spells the end of “America First”, the return of what we call multilateralism? Do you believe this?
THE MINISTER – I think some things will remain the same. If only the fact that the United States is increasingly turning towards the Indo-Pacific, towards confrontation-conflict-competition with China. All the same, this election should allow us to build the transatlantic relationship on a new footing. It’s a historic relationship, it’s also essential. But the nature of it must change, because for four years the nature of the world has really changed. There’s more brutality, more confrontation between powers, more risks, more threats. And so the transatlantic relationship must be built on a new footing, not like before, it’s not a case of going backwards, of an interlude we’ve just gone through in order to get back to how things were before – that isn’t right. We must now build new foundations, in a calm frame of mind. And I think that’s what this relationship will be all about.
And when these new foundations are being built, Europe must make its voice heard. Europe isn’t secondary to the transatlantic relationship. It must assert its sovereignty within that relationship. It has started doing this over the past four years. But there are major issues which must be initiated, centring precisely on multilateralism. What is multilateralism? It’s when States define the rules together and together decide to obey them. And this subject is also going to be on the agenda, not just when it comes to the transatlantic relationship, but the relationship in the international community too.
Q. – You mentioned the word “brutality”. Are you hopeful American diplomacy will be less brutal? And a second question to follow on: how do you rate Donald Trump’s track record on the international stage during his term of office?
THE MINISTER – To continue with multilateralism, there will certainly be opportunities, in several areas, which Joe Biden has already made clear – the climate issue, for one. The United States left the Paris Agreement; oddly enough, it definitively left the Paris Agreement a few days ago now, practically the day of the presidential election itself. Joe Biden announced that he’ll return to the Paris Agreement, he even announced that the United States wants to be carbon neutral by 2035. So those are commitments and opportunities for the transatlantic relationship, for a transatlantic Green Deal in a way, so we can effectively prepare the so-called COP26, which will be held in Glasgow next year. That’s an issue where there will be improvements. But there’ll be others too in the area of health. We can imagine that, with the United States having withdrawn from the World Health Organization, once Joe Biden announces that the issue of health is going to be crucial, the United States’ return to WHO will also be a factor for calm on a global level; likewise, the United States pulled out of the [dispute settlement mechanism of the] World Trade Organization which, as a result, no longer functioned since there was no longer a body to regulate trade disputes between the various countries of the world. It is important for the World Trade Organization to be given a new lease of life as well. Those are some absolutely essential projects.
Q. – There are other issues on which you perhaps have expectations of him; China, Iran, Iraq and relations between America and Turkey. Are these other urgent issues?
THE MINISTER – Yes, these are other urgent issues which will have to be discussed in the transatlantic relationship framework and also the framework of the Atlantic Alliance – because this is another issue of recent concern, to European partners in particular: there was doubt about the Atlantic Alliance. There was doubt both as regards the United States’ desire to be involved, but the United States also had doubts about Europe’s resolve. So we need to clarify this, which includes clarifying Turkey’s place in the Alliance and its commitments, because we’re witnessing Turkey very much rushing headlong into things in the European and Mediterranean area. From an Atlantic Alliance ally, this is unacceptable. So this absolutely has to be clarified.
Q. – So you’re talking to us from Rabat this morning. You’ve also been to Egypt in the past few days, at a time when France has been the target of attacks in Muslim countries ever since President Macron’s speech on separatism and after he said he didn’t want to renounce the cartoons, following the death of Samuel Paty. Are people still angry with France, where you are?
THE MINISTER – I met the Egyptian authorities – the political authorities and also the religious authorities; today in Rabat I’ll be meeting the leaders of Morocco. I think the message which France wants to get across is very clear: we respect Islam. It is a great religion. It is part of France’s history. It is part of its achievements; it has long been part of the French consensus. We respect Islam, especially since Islam is France’s second-biggest religion. There’s a sizeable Muslim population, able to practise its faith completely freely because the laws of the Republic allow it.
Q. – You’re saying to them: we respect Islam; and you’re also saying: we defend the cartoons?
THE MINISTER – But we’re also saying to them: don’t let yourselves be exploited, because what President Macron said was distorted, manipulated by social media and also by a number of players, be they from States or religious radicalism organizations; they mustn’t lead people into thinking that France is Islamophobic. And it’s that message I’ve come to deliver to all of them. France is the country of tolerance and does not stand for extremists or radicals committing intolerable acts such as murder in the name of their radicalism or trying to tear French society apart. And this is a fight we’ll share because murders, attacks on freedom, religious radicalism – they also exist in Muslim countries and create victims in Muslim countries. Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have been the targets of attacks. And so I’ve come to issue an appeal for this joint action in Egypt, and here in Morocco. (...)./.