Minister takes stock of issues to be addressed at UNGA High-Level Week

United Nations – 74th United Nations General Assembly – Press conference given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs

New York, 22 September 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,

Tomorrow, the United Nations General Assembly’s High-Level Week is going to begin against a background of international instability. It’s in these times of acute tension that we can appreciate the value of this forum, the opportunity it provides for talking, the opportunity it provides for defusing, as a last resort, dangerous escalations. We begin this High-Level Week with the fundamental beliefs which are the foundations of our international action: an unshakeable confidence in multilateralism and the determination to act to reduce tensions and look for negotiated solutions to crises.

But the goals of this High-Level Week aren’t limited to the short-term. Exactly one month after the Biarritz summit, we want to take further the concrete commitments made by the G7 for the future of our planet and for generations to come. In a world in a state of climate emergency, beset by violence and inequalities, a world turned upside down by the digital revolution, we – President Macron – will also be directing our efforts towards using the UN’s resources to help find tomorrow’s solutions.

Climate

The climate is the absolute priority of our action and of President Macron’s visit to New York.

The situation is serious. We’re on red alert, as the latest IPCC reports tell us, for both lands and oceans. But the IPCC also tells us that it isn’t too late to turn things around. Civil society, young people in particular – as was the case on Friday – are urging us to do more and faster. We’re listening to this message. To do so, we need to mobilize to a greater extent and at the highest level. The Climate Action Summit being held tomorrow, on the Secretary-General’s initiative, testifies to this collective awareness. It is one of a bold series of meetings on climate issues: the G7 Biarritz summit – which took many initiatives, including setting up coalitions looking at maritime transport, air-conditioning and the textile industry –, the Green Climate Fund Replenishment Conference in Paris at the end of October and COP25 in Santiago at the beginning of December.

The priority, matter of urgency is to implement the Paris Agreement so that the temperature rise can be limited to 2ºC, even 1.5ºC if possible. And for this there’s the essential COPs process. President Macron will be taking part in a meeting tomorrow to work on making COP25 a success, along with several heads of state, including President Piñera, who will be hosting COP25, Chancellor Merkel or the head of Italy’s government, Mr Conte. This meeting will be an important milestone and also make it possible to glimpse the way ahead to COP26 in Glasgow, the scheduled date for States Parties to the Paris Agreement to enhance NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions].

There’s also an urgency on the financial front. We’ve got to meet the goal in 2020 of providing €100 billion a year to the Southern countries in order to finance the battle against climate change. This goal is on track, because the OECD tells us in a very recent report that we’re ahead of time and that we had already reached €71 billion in 2017. That challenge is going well, but there’s also the challenge of replenishing the Green Climate Fund; France has decided to double its contribution compared to the previous Fund, with $1.7 billion.

Finally, we need to change our economic and financial practices so that all players integrate climate risks in their investments and that private finance is channelled more towards action to help combat climate change.

President Macron, whom the UN Secretary-General has tasked with looking at the issue with Jamaica and Qatar, will present proposals tomorrow.

Finally, active diplomatic efforts are being made. The American position is known, but positions have started to shift with the other players and we’ve persuaded Russia to begin ratifying the Paris Agreement, and we’ve persuaded India, which has joined us in the 2050 Carbon Neutrality Coalition.

And, lastly, the link with biodiversity – and this is a very high priority. Biodiversity will be at the heart of our action next year with the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille in June 2020, then the biodiversity COP in Beijing in October – all this should allow us to go further.

As regards climate, the role played by the Amazon forest and the planet’s [other] rainforests is crucial for regulating our planet’s climate and safeguarding biodiversity. And its future affects us all. We must now, with due regard for everyone’s sovereignty, combine our efforts – countries of the Amazon region and financial backers – to find new ways together to support economic development which respects that unique area. This is why, with Chile and Colombia, France will propose launching an initiative for preserving rainforests, bringing together all the players concerned, particularly the states of the Amazon region and various civil society players.

Global health

The second priority of the President’s visit is global health. The active efforts we deployed with our partners made it possible to bring the major pandemics under control: since 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has helped save more than 32 million lives. However, there’s a real risk of things going backwards today. The resurgence of epidemics and resistance to treatments and to insecticides are threatening the progress made. It’s really quite simple: if we want to give ourselves the means to save 16 million more lives and eliminate AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030, as provided for by the SDGs, we’ve got to raise at least $14 billion. And France will make the most of this week to continue mobilizing our partners, with a view to the replenishment fund conference in Lyon on 9 and 10 October 2019.

Digital technology

The third global challenge we’re concerned about is digital technology. The enemies of democracy have quickly discovered how to use new information technologies for their own ends. There’s a growing number of threats, which are endangering our institutions and, at times, our sovereignty. This is why France is championing an international order in cyberspace based on international law, so that the digital space remains one of freedom, exchange and growth.

In May this year, France and New Zealand launched the Christchurch Call, which aims to combat the dissemination of terrorist and violent content online, favouring transparency, openness and cooperation with [digital] platforms and civil society. This initiative builds on efforts begun by France within the European Union and on the initiatives begun within the OECD, G7, G20 and obviously the United Nations. The aim of tomorrow’s meeting is clear: to fight against the Internet being used for terrorist purposes, with due regard for human rights, basic freedoms and the principles of a free, open, safe Internet.

We must make digital technology a tool to promote democracy: to increase transparency and improve access to education, knowledge and culture. It’s in this framework that we took the initiative, with Reporters Without Borders, to form a new partnership – the Partnership for Information and Democracy – which is based on the cooperation of states, digital giants and media professionals, and is based on civil society too. It will be endorsed by the 18 partner states in a few days’ time. Its goal is to guarantee everyone access to independent, reliable information from different sources, at a time when there’s a proliferation of manipulated information.

Ladies and gentlemen,

France will also be involved in numerous working meetings devoted to crisis response. In addition to the meetings in which I’ll be participating and the bilateral ones I’ll be having with my counterparts, on Tuesday evening I’ll be chairing a meeting of G7 foreign ministers, and on Thursday I’ll have the opportunity to talk to the G5 foreign ministers and the Secretary-General, Mr Guterres.

Let me remind you of our priorities and expectations for each of the issues to be discussed this week.

Gulf crisis

Starting with the Gulf crisis, which is currently headline news. Given the rising tensions in the Middle East, our aims are constant: to ensure that Iran can never acquire nuclear weapons, but also, at the same time, preserve peace and stability in the region. The attacks carried out against Saudi Arabia on 14 September are a turning point because of their scale and consequences. We’re continuing to analyse the causes of them, based on the work done by the French experts dispatched over there. Full light must be shed on this because, as I said last week, it doesn’t seem very credible to us that the Houthis have claimed responsibility for the attack.

In this very serious context, the UN General Assembly must provide the opportunity to take political action in response to this crisis situation. Firstly, [to show] solidarity with our Saudi partner, who has suffered a serious act, and this week we’ll be having consultations with our Gulf partners. And secondly, to seek the parameters of a de-escalation, which requires both a firm, political response to the attacks, and dialogue about regional security and obviously, first and foremost, the question of missiles, which I remind you we’ve made a priority of our diplomatic action since 2017 – I remember the speech President Macron gave here to the UN General Assembly in September 2017. But nothing of this is achievable without preserving the Vienna agreement, with which we expect Iran to return to full compliance because the weakening of the agreement would only accentuate the risks of conflict linked to the Iran nuclear issue. On all these subjects, we, the President himself will have discussions with Germany and the UK, because the unity of the E3 group is a major asset for Europe when it comes to independently carrying weight on this issue where it itself has interests.

Libya

On Libya, we all know the arms route is a dead end. The truce observed during Eid, to which France actively contributed in support of the United Nations, shows that a path towards peace exists. That path requires a ceasefire and a return to the political process. I want to pay tribute to the efforts made to this end by the United Nations Secretary-General and his Special Representative. At the Biarritz summit, the G7 expressed clear support for an inclusive international conference, which will be followed by an inter-Libyan conference involving the African Union. We’re aware of the broad principles of an inter-Libyan conference: they’ve already been laid down in Paris, Palermo and Abu Dhabi during previous meetings. We must set off again from there in the direction of a lasting political solution. That’s necessary for the Libyans, it’s necessary for the stability of North Africa and the Sahel, but it’s also necessary for the security of Europe. And it’s also essential in order to put an end to the situation of migrants in Libya, which is no longer acceptable. But the first condition for that is the unity of the international community, and in particular the unity of regional players. We’ll talk about this on Thursday, in the presence of the UN Secretary-General, at a meeting which I’ll be chairing alongside my Italian counterpart and in which we wanted to involve the most influential regional players: namely the P5 – the permanent members of the Security Council – plus Germany, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey, and the regional organizations: the European Union, the African Union and the Arab League.

Syria/Daesh

Syria is also one of our priorities. On the ground, the fight against terrorism remains our first aim, because Daesh [so-called ISIL] remains a threat to the Middle East, Europe and our national security. After Daesh’s territorial defeat, the challenge is to eradicate the terrorist networks whose attacks are resuming in Syria and Iraq, and to act to eliminate the factors that enabled Daesh to take root. The challenge is also to ensure that Daesh’s crimes don’t go unpunished: that’s the purpose of the meeting organized by Iraq and the Netherlands on Thursday, in which I’ll be taking part. We’re particularly mindful of the situation in the north-west of the country, where the regime and its allies are engaged in a stubborn and indiscriminate military operation, whose first casualties are civilians and which risks dispersing the terrorist elements present in Idlib. We’re aware of the framework for resolving the crisis. It was set by Security Council Resolution 2254. On this basis, and beyond the first step of forming the Constitutional Committee, we must build a comprehensive and inclusive political process, and to that end we stand by the UN Secretary-General and his Special Envoy.

Sahel

In the Sahel, we’re continuing our political effort of development and security. At the G7 summit in Biarritz, President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and President Kaboré proposed launching a new Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel. The goal of this initiative is, on the one hand, to broaden the scope of the international community’s support for all the regional players, from the Gulf of Guinea to the Lake Chad basin, while drawing on the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which remains fully relevant. The aim is also to further extend support to domestic security forces in order to more effectively combat the trafficking and crime that fuel conflicts. As part of this approach, we’ll provide more coordination and encourage reforms to domestic security forces. There will be a meeting on this before the end of the year, and I’ll be presenting this Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel on Wednesday with my German counterpart Heiko Maas, during an event organized by Secretary-General Guterres. And I’ll be presenting the same mechanism and the same initiative with my colleague Heiko Maas the following day at a Security Council session devoted to the issue.

Ukraine

Finally, I’ll have the opportunity to discuss the Ukraine crisis with my counterparts, at a time when some encouraging developments have just occurred – I’m thinking in particular of the prisoner exchange of 7 September, the largest since the conflict began. These steps forward should enable trust to be restored between the various stakeholders, with a view to a potential new meeting of heads of state and government in the Normandy format. The four Normandy-format heads of state agree, albeit cautiously, that this meeting at the highest level could inject new momentum into the negotiation process and ultimately pave the way for a resolution of the conflict.

Multilateralism

I’d like to finish by saying a word about our approach. The symptoms of a real savaging of the world are accumulating and endangering the multilateral edifice we collectively built to learn the lessons of the two world wars: the unleashing of violence in conflicts, resulting in ever more casualties; language challenging the universality of the principles governing international action; and self-absorption, unilateralism and nationalism. Our strong belief is that we must react and protect this edifice, enshrined in international treaties and patiently built by the forces of progress. That edifice in no way threatens the sovereignty of our countries. On the contrary, it guarantees it and protects us all from the law of the jungle.

I’m thinking first of all of international humanitarian law, which sets out the basic rules of humanity in war and aims to protect civilians. Seventy years after the Geneva Conventions, France is promoting, together with Germany, a call to action for humanitarian personnel, to ensure that those who provide first aid, emergency aid to civilians in war zones are no longer targeted. Twenty-six countries have already joined.

Amid the crises gripping today’s world, effective multilateralism based on law and respect for shared rules is the best way to resolve the conflicts and challenges we all face. Multilateralism is both an approach and a goal: an approach because it’s based on the idea that peaceful dialogue between responsible and committed nations provides the best chance of success; a goal because we share the conviction that a world governed by multilateralism is more respectful of countries’ sovereignty and more capable of creating the conditions for peace and development. In a word, multilateralism is a humanism.

To recall these guidelines, especially here at the UN – the cornerstone of the multilateral system – is no longer platitudinous or obvious. In the face of doubt, cynicism, challenges and the difficulties international organizations may face, it’s necessary to reaffirm our commitment to multilateralism.

To believe in multilateralism is not only to repeat a mantra, it also means taking action; and in order to make up for insufficient commitments in relation to our global needs, it also means taking action to reform and modernize existing organizations, and taking action to lead strong initiatives where needed, especially where governance is absent or non-existent.

That’s why France, Germany, Japan and Canada, later joined by Chile, Mexico, Singapore, Ghana and others, were behind the creation of an Alliance for Multilateralism, to give a voice to the vast majority of countries that believe in the effectiveness of international cooperation. More than 50 ministers from every region of the world have already confirmed their participation in this initiative, which will take place during the coming week. So I invite all partners of goodwill – states, civil society stakeholders, international organizations – to take part in this high-level meeting due to be held this week.

Because I believe ultimately that the best response we can make to the destructive discourse of those who question the international order is to promote a project of humanism in the 21st century, and to champion a positive agenda for multilateralism at the service of the universal principles which are the very essence of the United Nations, where we are going to be for a week. Thank you for listening.

Iran/JCPOA

Q. – My first question relates to the attacks you mentioned against the Saudi oil installations; how have these attacks compromised, or destroyed, French efforts to save the nuclear agreement and bring the United States and Iran closer together? Can we already conclude that there will be no meeting between Presidents Trump and Rouhani in New York? And the third point, you mention a strong political response following these attacks. What form could this strong political response take?

THE MINISTER – First of all, I recognize that there were opportunities for exchanges and conversations in Biarritz aimed at achieving a positive result consistent with Iran’s return to the Vienna agreement, the JCPOA, and therefore the renunciation of further measures, a few financial facilities to allow dialogue to continue, and the fact that negotiations are starting on the post-2025 nuclear programme and regional security as a whole. The possibility for dialogue was there. The parameters for negotiation have narrowed, the space has shrunk, since Iran has implemented a third series of measures in violation of the JCPOA, and then there is the 6 November deadline with, potentially, a fourth scenario. What’s at stake for the discussions that may take place this week is knowing if we can resume this de-escalation process that was initiated and which has been evident. So it is possible. And at the same time there were the attacks against Saudi Arabia which are making the climate of tension even more serious. In this respect, I’m simply stating what is being said; the investigation is ongoing, we must establish what happened, express our solidarity with Saudi Arabia, note that it is taking the right initiative by calling for an international inquiry; we have committed to carrying out a special investigation with the agreement of the Saudi authorities in order to establish what happened, make what happened public, and, at that point, ensure that we have the necessary explanations. But it’s true that this context now makes the space for dialogue that I mentioned at the beginning of my response even more narrow.

I don’t think that a meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani is the number one issue; the number one issue is being able to resume the path towards de-escalation, with various stakeholders, and that’s the message that will be conveyed to those concerned, with whom President Macron and I will have an opportunity to meet in the coming days.

Q. – A follow-up question from what we were just talking about. It is now one week since those attacks on the oil installations in Saudi Arabia, I know you still have your experts carrying out their work, but certainly the US and Saudi Arabia have come to a conclusion, they say: Iran was responsible. What is your primary assessment of this? What is France’s view of Iran’s involvement? And on the current crisis, what is at stake and how dangerous is this moment for the world?

THE MINISTER – Yes, this moment is dangerous for the world. Yes, the situation is serious. It’s serious because of the scale of the attacks, because of what was targeted by the strikes, because it calls the sovereignty of a state into question, and because these strikes took place at a time when we might have had an opportunity for discussions. All this leads to a build-up. Yes, the situation is serious, but in this kind of situation we have to be careful to assess the true facts. And we, France, would like accurate information about what happened, who was behind the attacks, the conclusions made by the experts, so that everyone knows what to expect, beyond what has been reported. We need verification. Saudi Arabia took the excellent initiative to ask the UN to sanction an expert assessment; we do not have the results of this yet and I will wait until I get these clarifications before assessing the magnitude of the incident.

Brazil/climate/Amazon rainforest

Q. – I have a question about Brazil. Relations between France and Brazil are very bad at the moment; Brazil won’t take part in tomorrow’s major meeting on the Amazon, which is very important to President Macron. Will this week bring about not a reconciliation but the beginnings of a rapprochement since, after all, Brazil is one of France’s traditional allies? Will you be meeting with your counterpart? Can something be done to mend ties between France and Brazil?

THE MINISTER – Brazil is a great country, as you said, and it has a long history of partnership with France. I visited this past July and met a number of interlocutors, including governors. I had a three-hour meeting with my colleague, Mr Araújo, in Brasilia. We even agreed at the time to try to move forward together on the environment part of it; there were already difficulties in the Amazon forest. So all the elements are there for a good partnership. There have also been a few misunderstandings. We hope these misunderstandings will be resolved, especially because the challenges facing rainforests, whether it be the Amazon or forests in Africa or elsewhere, are sufficiently important for us to join forces, while respecting the sovereignty of each nation. And that is what we will do at tomorrow morning’s meeting.

Libya

Q. – According to the French plan on Libya, will General Haftar have a role in tomorrow’s Libya? And if so, which role, given also the fact that during the war he was guilty of criminal acts? And on this topic, is there an agreement with Italy? Thank you.

THE MINISTER – We are in total agreement with Italy; indeed my Italian colleague and I will be co-chairing the meeting I referred to a minute ago. It will be a ministerial meeting, which is important because it will include representatives of Security Council member states, plus neighbours, plus international organizations. The goal is to launch a political process. We are convinced that there will be no military solution in Libya. Those who think so are mistaken and could take that country in a tragic direction. This spiral must be stopped. The meeting that will be held today will, I hope, be the first step in a process that will culminate in an international conference. I’m not the one who can tell you what Marshal Haftar’s role will be. That’s up to the Libyan people, as the process calls for elections. The Libyans have great expectations for those elections, and a very large number of them have already registered to vote. It is that process that will decide everyone’s role. But first there must be a ceasefire, which will start the political process, and there will be an inter-Libyan meeting that will clarify the details of that process, especially the presidential and legislative elections, and any constitutional reforms.

Saudi Arabia/investigation into oil attacks

Q. – Please can you explain when do you expect the investigation on the attacks on Saudi Arabia facilities, when do you expect that investigation to end? And what difference does it make if those attacks came from Teheran itself or by Iran through the Houthis? And finally, you have been working on a mechanism for the financial arrangement between the EU and Iran; now with the increase of financial sanctions by the Trump administration, how impossible are your efforts to ease up the Iran oil sales? It is their main request; if you don’t have that in your efforts, how do you expect to convince the Iranians to cooperate? So basically, when is the investigation? Does it make a difference whether it is Houthis or Iran if Iran is behind it, and how about the financial aspect of sanctions, and Iran’s request that they should be eased? Thank you.

THE MINISTER – I believe I’ve already responded to some of your observations. The date for the end of the investigation is up to Saudi Arabia. Efforts are currently under way, and once the investigations are over, we will have information. What we hope is for those events, those actions, to be documented as clearly as possible; it is in everyone’s interest. Then, the international community will of course be entitled to ask for explanations. Before asking for those explanations, we must know who acted and why. For now, we must exercise caution. As for the discussions that we’ve initiated with the Iranian authorities – including potential financial arrangements, provided that the Iranians abide by the other commitments I mentioned a few minutes ago – this de-escalation process is still on the table, but actions must be taken and the Iranians in particular must say what it is they want to do in this atmosphere. (…)./.

Published on 30/09/2019

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