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France on NATO, Afghanistan and Iraq, February 2 & 6

'[T]here is nothing else on the table', French Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin, February 6

'Visit to New York, Press Briefing given by M. Dominique de Villepin, Minister of Foreign Affairs', February 6, 2004.

Q. - Speaking of working together, I believe the Secretary said he would talk to you at lunch about the use of NATO in Iraq. Did it come up, and what was the upshot of it all?

THE MINISTER - Of course we discussed NATO. And the priority for us today is the role of NATO in Afghanistan. We all agree on that. Of course, regarding Iraq: we know that NATO is providing technical assistance to some of the members of the coalition, for the time being, but there is nothing else on the table, and we believe that whatever may be considered in Iraq besides what exists needs to be done at the request of a full Iraqi sovereign government. And it must also be done with the agreement of the Security Council.

Source: French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, http://www.diplomatie.fr.

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[T]he position of the Iraqi interim government...[and] the role of the UN..will be essential', French Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, February 6

'Statement by the French Foreign Ministry Spokesperson', Paris, February 6, 2004.

Q- The U.S. secretary of defense demanded a NATO role in Iraq. What is France's position on that? Should a multinational or NATO force have UN approval?

With regard to sending French troops to Iraq, you heard what Dominique de Villepin said yesterday on Europe 1, from Mexico. He very clearly said that this question isn't even being raised right now. As for other formats, there's no specific deadline for discussing this topic or for making decisions about it. Obviously, the position of the Iraqi interim government, once it is constituted, will be fundamental, just as the role of the UN and its analyses and suggestions will be essential.

Q - Does France have any objections on principle to a NATO role in Iraq?

There are questions of principle; there are also practical and political considerations. Obviously, the primary question is: Will a request come from the Iraqi authorities? And beyond the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty, a crucial step, what will be the configuration of the international presence in Iraq? There are several components to this: the attitude of the provisional government in Baghdad; the role that the UN will assume in the meantime. In short, we have to look at all this as a whole, not just as a simple question of principle. The conclusions that the international community eventually makes will be based on a global analysis.

Q - If I remember correctly, France, along with Belgium and Germany, opposed a NATO action in Turkey before the war in Iraq.That was a position of principle.

France wasn't opposed to NATO providing logistical aid to the Poles in the framework of their participation in coalition forces. So you see that this isn't so much a question of theology as one of context. But once again, the question isn't being raised in those terms at the moment.

Source: French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, http://www.diplomatie.fr.

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'[W]e insist on our principles and we do not intend to budge', French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, February 2

'We will remain true to ourselves', French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie discusses relations with America, involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq and the European Security and Defense Union with Der Spiegel, February 2, 2004.

Der Spiegel :
Madam Minister, for the first time in more than a year, a French minister of your level was permitted to make an official visit to Washington. Is the punishment phase coming to an end?

Michèle Alliot-Marie :
It may surprise you, but I was received with great warmth and politeness, both in the White House and the Pentagon, as well as in the Congress and the Senate. The US government has clearly demonstrated its will to begin on a new page and to end the tensions between our two countries.

Are these gestures of reconciliation mainly due to the Americans' increasing difficulties and helplessness in Iraq?

The US government has at least acknowledged that our warnings were not without justification, that we did not maliciously throw diplomatic and legal hurdles in their path, but that we analyzed the situation to the best of our knowledge and belief, as well as on the basis of our knowledge of the region.

But hasn't quite a bit of suppressed resentment remained?

American politicians are pragmatists. They adjust their position to conform to changes in the situation. It doesn't make sense to cry over spilt milk. The decision to go to war was made unilaterally, but US failure in Iraq cannot be in anyone's interest. That would be a defeat for all of us, for the entire world.

So what does Washington concretely expect from France, and what do you have to offer?

We are prepared to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq. However, we insist on our principles and we do not intend to budge in this respect. Certain conditions must be fulfilled first.

Such as?

The Americans have known exactly what they are for some time: the end of the occupying regime, return of sovereignty to a legitimate Iraqi government, active UN involvement. My counterparts in Washington have assured me that these conditions no longer present a problem.

US civilian administrator Paul Bremer has already turned to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in an effort to convince the United Nations to re-involve itself in the pacification of Iraq. But is this truly anything more than just a tactical move?

Kofi Annan, with whom I also met in New York, essentially agrees with the French position. He believes that a UN return to Iraq following a complete transfer of power in early June is a matter of course. Until then, things will remain more complicated. The UN mission will have more of an exploratory, investigative and consulting character, but will not involve direct intervention.

And how does France intend to contribute to the stabilization of Iraq?

Together with our German friends, we would like to be active in areas in which we feel especially competent: in the training of military personnel, police officers and constables. I know that at least one other country - Japan - would like to be involved in this area.

And when do you expect to begin - before July 1?

Under no circumstances. The decisive issue for us is that a legitimate Iraqi government must request our assistance and that it must be provided under the auspices of the UN. We will not participate in an occupying regime, even if the end of this regime has been announced. Believe me, we will remain true to ourselves.

And what if this Iraqi government were to ask France to deploy troops under the banner of an international peacekeeping force?

We have already decided against that.

A final decision?

The political conditions for deploying French troops to Iraq are not in place today. That is why such deployment is out of the question.

You remain in agreement with the Germans in this regard?

You may rest assured that our positions are identical in principle, even though we have not yet planned any specific measures for possible training assistance.

The example of Afghanistan shows how difficult political reconstruction and the transfer of sovereignty can be. Are free and general elections - as the Shiite majority in Iraq is demanding - the only way?

We are open in this regard. There is no absolutely correct way. The important thing is that the Iraqis must reach a certain consensus. The legitimacy of an Iraqi administration consists in its recognition by the people and by the international community.

That could be difficult. The attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad demonstrated that even the United Nations can be viewed as part of a foreign occupying force.

Yes, the situation has deteriorated considerably. From the very beginning, France has urged that Iraqi sovereignty be restored as quickly as possible - immediately, really - following the end of hostilities. Meanwhile, a lot of time and, unfortunately, a great deal of credibility has been lost.
Power cannot be transferred to what is little more than a puppet administration. Nothing is gained without inner legitimacy, and without it the situation cannot improve. There are forces that would like to unleash a global war between the Islamic world and the West. We must be extremely careful not to stumble into this trap.

Your warnings may be justified, but aren't France and Germany, measured against superpower USA, essentially condemned to taking a passive role as helpless observers and participants?

You don't want to spend the entire interview questioning me about Iraq, do you? We are not just warners and know-it-alls. France and Germany, as well as Great Britain and other European countries, are united behind the common cause of transforming the European economic superpower into a political power that can protect its citizens, its interests and its values in the world. To do so, we need a common defense.

Doesn't that involve a great deal of wishful thinking, when you consider how divided the Europeans really are? We have not even been capable of ratifying a European draft constitution until now.

The development of a European defense has remained largely unaffected by these differences. It is progressing more quickly than the movement to establish a common currency did at its time. The European rapid intervention force reached its objective last year: It can mobilize 60,000 troops, 400 aircraft and 100 ships within 60 days. In addition, we even plan to develop a high-speed crisis and intervention force that would consist of 1500 troops and could be deployed within 48 hours. That would a global first.

Are the Americans impressed by these figures?

This is what my counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, told me in Washington: I have been hearing this talk about a European defense union for the past ten years, and for the past ten years I've seen nothing but declines in European defense spending. I believe that I can convince him that the opposite is true. A Europe with its own defense is no longer a fervent wish, but is now a reality.

The United States will perceive this reality as competition as soon as it leaves the framework of the UN.

Well, just as an aside: If the Americans are becoming suspicious, it means that they are taking us seriously. But the issue is not one of competition, but of supplementation, of complementarity. The consolidation of European defense strengthens the alliance, which is ultimately the most important pillar of our security.
At the end of this year, NATO will transfer its command over the international forces in Bosnia to the EU. Then Europe will continue this stabilization mandate in the Balkans, just as we have continued a military operation in Macedonia, albeit a small one. Our deployment in the Congo is another important example. Nowhere do our actions jeopardize the role of NATO. There is plenty of work for both.

Nonetheless, the strong suspicious remains, especially in the United States, that France is mainly interested in independent European defense because it is not part of the military leadership structure of NATO.

France makes an important contribution to NATO's international peacekeeping missions. We have made a commitment to provide significant funds to support NATO's rapid deployment force of a little more than 20,000 troops - 25 percent during the first alarm phase. I reminded the Americans that in 1995, President Chirac was even willing to reintegrate France militarily into NATO structures. At that time, it was the United States that refused to provide the necessary gesture of approval.

What should that have been?

We expected that in return Washington would transfer the Mediterranean command to us or another European state. Ok, so the opportunity has passed, but NATO is changing, and we are full participants in the expansion of this new NATO.

Then why did the establishment of an independent European headquarters generate so much resistance and polemics in Washington?

This small planning and command headquarters is simply necessary when Europe takes action in areas where the NATO alliance will not intervene. In doing so, we are not competing with the NATO headquarters - Shape - in Mons, Belgium. 3,000 officers work at Shape. About 50 work at our headquarters. I believe that even Donald Rumsfeld is more relaxed about this following my visit. Misinformation has also been a factor here.

But you cannot deny that an insurmountable contradiction exists between the French vision of a multipolar world based on international law and the American tendency toward unilateralism and preventive action?

This difference does exist. Perhaps the Americans understand that there is a Chinese pole, a Russian pole, and possibly even a Latin American pole that includes Brazil. But they also view the United States and Europe as a single pole. When we emphasize our independence, they sometimes perceive this as aggression. We must work on eliminating this misunderstanding, partly by our setting a good example in such areas as fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.

Will the ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the landing at Normandy in early June, which will be attended by the German chancellor for the first time, renew the connection between old Europe and superpower USA?

This ceremony is a strong symbol of friendship and solidarity. I very much hope that President Bush will attend. It will be an opportunity to celebrate a commonality of values, one that unites our democracies and has overcome the rivalries of yesterday.

Madam Minister, we thank you for this interview.

The interview was conducted by Spiegel editor Romain Leick.
Translated by Christopher Sultan

Source: France Ministry of Defence, http://www.defense.gouv.fr/.

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© 2003 The Acronym Institute.