Global Policy Forum

Interview Given by M. Dominique de Villepin,


By James Bone

Le Monde
May 12, 2003

Q. – France, in the Iraq crisis, defended principles – respect for the law, the UN, etc. – but the war took place, and it looks as if the United Nations is going to have to play a marginal role in the peace... What lessons can be drawn from this?

THE MINISTER – As we have said from the start, a major power can win a war on its own, but building peace requires mobilizing everyone. We have to grasp the scale of the challenges confronting us, which are in no way confined to the Iraq crisis: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional crises. This is why, faced with such urgent matters, we wanted to exhaust every possibility of finding a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis. Over the long-term, it is only by basing our action on principles, founded on collective responsibility and political will, that we can hope to build a stable and fair international order. Ever since the end of the blocs, the UN's role has been more irreplaceable than ever. Some people think that America, because of her power, is capable of acting more effectively than an international community deemed indecisive, or even impotent. We firmly believe that the United Nations embodies a universal conscience transcending States. Between impotence and unilateral, preventive action, there is the path of collective responsibility and the difficult task of building a world democracy.

Q. – Which brings us back to the management of post-war Iraq, as envisaged in Washington.

THE MINISTER – Today we can clearly see the expression of two conflicting feelings: the hope aroused by the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the huge anxiety which always results from war and its trail of suffering, tragedies and injustices. There have plainly been three ways of viewing the war: that of the Americans, focusing on their military engagement, that of the Europeans and, finally, that of the Arab-Muslim world where the violence of the images has fuelled frustrations. Let us not underestimate the impact: war and peace are built first of all in hearts and minds. Let us not ignore the innermost workings of the human psyche: we shall not build the new world order without involving the peoples. We must today all rally to the effort of building peace: a new era is opening up, particularly since 11 September, which calls for shared vigilance.

Q. – Is the US-Spanish-British draft resolution a good basis for building peace?

THE MINISTER – It is an initial basis. Using it as our starting point, we have to give ourselves every chance of succeeding in Iraq, in re-establishing security and ensuring the political and economic reconstruction. There is still a long way to go. The US-British forces are claiming the status of occupying powers. This status, provided for by the Hague and Geneva Conventions, confers rights and duties: the powers involved must ensure the occupied country's administration without undermining its internal judicial order. In this case, they are asking for this status while seeking, in view of the magnitude of the task, to obtain an international mandate with exceptional powers.

Faced with this request, we need to demonstrate a willingness to help and a political will: the Security Council must support the coalition's action without, in so doing, abdicating its own responsibilities. For this it needs to base its action on principles. The first of these is the requirement for information and transparency: regular reports could be made to the Security Council, every three months for example, so that the Council has a clearer idea and assessment of the situation on the ground. Would it not also be right to create a commission charged with investigating the looting of the Baghdad museum?

Q. – In other words, ought the head of the Occupation Authority, in this instance the American Paul Bremer, to report regularly to the UN?

THE MINISTER – Yes, indeed. However, since the draft envisages appointing a UN representative on the spot, we need to agree on his mission and exact role. The current draft seems to us both too vague and too timid on this point. The second principle is the need for compliance with the legal rules. Besides the general immunity granted to the coalition forces, the current draft includes the idea of allowing the occupation authority to escape any legal responsibility relating to the exploitation of the oil. This could cause a problem and warrants careful consideration. Finally, third principle: there must be a strict, reasonable timetable for these arrangements, with any renewal subject to a vote on the Security Council. The latter cannot divest itself of its responsibilities or prerogatives. A system of automatic renewal at the end of a year, as set out in the draft, is very probably not the most appropriate one.

Q. – Do these three principles form the framework for the forthcoming discussion?

THE MINISTER – These principles must be applied in every sphere. For example, the sanctions are no longer warranted in the wake of the war. So we have proposed suspending them. To lift them definitively, as the draft suggests, we need to take into account the conditions laid down in the earlier United Nations resolutions. That requires gradually phasing out the Oil-for-Food Programme and concluding the disarmament inspection operations; on this point there will have to be international certification at the end of a cooperative process, the details for which will have to be decided between the inspectors and forces on the ground.

Q. – Second priority?

THE MINISTER – The rigorous definition of the conditions for exploiting Iraqi oil resources. In a country with the world's second largest oil reserves, we cannot allow any room for suspicion. There must be specific rules accepted by everyone, a transparent mechanism so that we can be sure that the Iraqi people will not be deprived of their wealth. The Americans have taken a step in this direction. Consequently, rules need to be established for distributing the oil revenue and ensuring that its management is placed under undisputed international control.

There remains the most important question, that of the political process. A legitimate, even if initially-temporary Iraqi administration has to be put in place. And who, if not the United Nations, can confer international legitimacy? The draft resolution must clearly lay down the principles and political conditions so that the process is beyond reproach. There must be a specific timetable, transparency and nothing arbitrary about the choice of the men. At the end of an initial phase of making the country safe, the United Nations will have progressively to take responsibility for the political transition under the auspices of the Secretary-General's representative, as was the case in Afghanistan, Kosovo and also Bosnia.

Q. – What are the chances of the draft resolution being passed?

THE MINISTER – We have begun consultations with all our partners, our American and European partners of course, but also our Russian and Chinese ones and all the members of the Security Council. There is a shared concern, awareness of the difficulties, the points on which we shall have to try to progress and make headway. We are approaching this stage in an open and constructive spirit. We shall make proposals capable of allowing us swiftly to finalize the resolution.

Q. – You do not feel that the Americans are approaching this discussion with a "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude?

THE MINISTER – Everyone is well aware of the importance of the issues and of their responsibilities. The aim is to build peace, and it is in everyone's interest, starting with those who are committed on the ground, to map out a way ahead which enjoys broad international support, including in the region.

Through Iraq, what is at stake is the way the international community manages crises. We think that we are stronger when we obey principles and rules, and act with a common political will. Similarly, we think that a multipolar world based on cooperation, not rivalry, is more capable than a unipolar one of mobilizing everyone to do everything they can.

Q. - You spoke of a common resolve. Do you also see this on the American side regarding the Middle East?

THE MINISTER - We welcome the recent American initiatives to relaunch the peace process in the Middle East. Today we have an opportunity to seize, with a new Palestinian prime minister and the publication of the road map. In order to move forward in the Middle East, there has to be a mobilization in the whole of the region. That means that everyone has to do his part: on the Israeli side, by renouncing its policy of settlements, gradually withdrawing from the autonomous areas and allowing normal life to resume in the territories; on the Palestinian side, rejecting violence and continuing with reforms. Once the road map has been adopted and published, the timetable has to be respected. Europe and the US, like the other members of the Quartet, have a special responsibility to encourage the process and ensure the follow-up. And let us not forget that peace must be comprehensive. In that perspective, the Syrian and Lebanese tracks must be addressed by adopting a specific road map. I welcome Colin Powell's tour of the region. I've been there twice myself and will be going to Israel and the Territories before the end of the month. We want to overcome the cycle of violence and the absence of comprehension, and end the quarrel over preconditions.

Q. – Are you thinking about Yasir Arafat whom the Israelis want to sideline? When you see the Palestinians, will you be seeing everybody?

THE MINISTER - Absolutely. It's not a question of the personality of this person or that. The time has come for all to be united. Let's not divide the Palestinians. There's a prime minister, and we welcome this. There's also an elected president. We have no reason to cut off contacts given what Yasir Arafat represents to the Palestinian people today.

But aside from the political dynamic, let's not ignore the economic aspect. In his recent speech, President Bush proposed a trade initiative with the countries in the region. This is exactly the direction of the European action for nearly ten years since we set up am ambitious partnership between the European Union and the 12 Mediterranean countries in 1995, founding it on considerable financial efforts (13 billion euros for 2000/2006) and on the prospect of a free trade zone for 2010. Lets mobilize for the region's economic development when we see that investment represents only 0.5% of the total of world flows.

Q. - You say that it's not in anyone's interest to try to settle accounts over Iraq. Colin Powell says that France will have to pay a price for opposing the US.

THE MINISTER - People have gone on a lot about Colin Powell's comments--he's a man of dialogue and conviction with whom I'm in contact all the time. I can see clearly the polemics that some people would like to start. This all strikes me as unfounded. Let us reject the twin traps of Francophobia and anti-Americanism. For my part, I've often been asked about the links that the administration and certain American businesses might have had in the past with Saddam Hussein's regime, including support for the program of weapons of mass destruction. I've consistently refused to engage in polemics of this kind. One cannot allow oneself to be governed by temper, still less by rumors.

Q. – In the present context, what importance do you give to Franco-American relations?

THE MINISTER - The ties between France and the US run very deep. I'm always mindful of the fact that the desk I work at is the one used by Vergennes when he signed the order sending French troops to support American independence. No one forgets America's commitment during the two world wars. Today, we must build a true partnership around the two shores of the Atlantic, between America and Europe, based on responsibility, respect and equality. The US has an interest in a strong Europe. We saw this when the euro was introduced, which has also benefited the US economy. We are convinced that it is also the case with defense. This requires Europe to take on its full share of the effort. It's in this perspective that the initiative taken by the four at the Brussels summit should be understood.

September 11 produced a trauma in the United States—the extent can never be emphasized enough--and an immediate show of solidarity among the people of Europe. If we want to move towards a more stable and more just world, we must do so together. Rivalry makes no sense. The duty of leaders is to work for common solutions, to seek areas of understanding in order to build and move forward.

Translated by the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.