PRESS CONFERENCE BY FOREIGN MINISTER OF FRANCE

20 January 2003

PRESS CONFERENCE BY FOREIGN MINISTER OF FRANCE

20/01/2003
Press Briefing


PRESS CONFERENCE BY FOREIGN MINISTER OF FRANCE


The Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, Dominique de Villepin, held a press conference at Headquarters today following the high-level meeting he convened in the Security Council on combating terrorism. 


In brief opening remarks, Mr. Villepin expressed support for a general convention against terrorism and another against nuclear terrorism.  France had also proposed the establishment of a counter-terrorism cooperation mechanism and assistance fund to help States strengthen national counter-terrorism arrangements.  He also sought improved control over radioactive materials worldwide.  A new timetable for such actions could be defined, perhaps through another ministerial meeting of the Security Council in September, on the sidelines of the General Assembly session or possibly in the context of a special session.  The dysfunction in the international community, which only served terrorism, criminal networks and financial centres that encouraged murky financial transfers, should be corrected. 


Unity was the key to success, and it was vital to maintain it, he stressed.  Terrorism, in fact, underpinned the other threats, including the spread of weapons of mass destruction, regional crises, criminal networks and illegal financing. 


On Iraq, he said it was not possible to separate Iraq from other proliferation issues.  What was done in Iraq had to be valid for every crisis, and if war was the only way to resolve that problem, “we are going down a dead end”.  The international community must be clear-sighted and show initiative and imagination.  The stakes were enormous, as it was necessary to preserve international unity.  Unilateral military intervention would be perceived as a victory for the law of the strongest, and an attack on the rule of law and international morality.  The choice, made collectively and endorsed by the entire international community, had been made for inspections in Iraq. 


Indeed, he continued, the inspections were taking place in satisfactory conditions.  He already knew for a fact that the Iraqi mass destruction weapons programmes had been “largely blocked, even frozen”.  Everything possible must be done to strengthen the process on the ground.  If allowed, the inspections should be taken to their conclusion.  Once inspectors presented their report to the Security Council on 27 January, all consequences would have to be considered, in order to make adjustments in terms of resources and personnel.  Iraq must understand that it was time to cooperate actively and provide the international community with a complete picture of its weapons programmes.  He would not accept any “gray” areas. 


Since it was possible to disarm Iraq through peaceful means, “we should not take the risk to endanger the lives of innocent civilians or soldiers, to jeopardize the stability of the region and further widen the gap between our people and our cultures”, he continued.  Nor should the risk be taken to fuel terrorism.  The unity maintained since the start of that crisis had been exemplary and must be the benchmark for handling other crises, particularly North Korea and the Middle East.


What was at stake in North Korea was the preservation of multilateral non-proliferation instruments, in particular, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of

Nuclear Weapons (NPT), as well as the stability of the region and elsewhere.  There, too, a gradual but firm approach was the most appropriate.  All bilateral, regional and multilateral options should be pursued in parallel, particularly at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and in the Security Council.  Also, the States in the region, particularly Japan and South Korea, must be closely involved at each stage. 


On the longest-running crisis of all -- the Middle East -- he said that on one side, terrorism struck the innocent, and on the other side, the sense of injustice bred hatred and frustration.  “We have a moral duty to act.”  As soon as the Israeli elections were over, it would be time to publish and immediately implement the Quartet's road map, which had been adopted on 20 December 2002.  In line with the road map, elections should take place in the Palestinian territories on a platform for peace, and an international conference should be held on the Middle East.  France wished to be resolutely engaged in a process that recognized the Palestinian State with provisional borders by a definite date.  The question of guarantees must be considered now -- guarantees for Israeli security, for justice for the Palestinians, and for the economic development of the entire region.


A correspondent asked the Foreign Minister to respond to the impression in the House that France was inconstant, that it vowed to restrain the “hyperpower” even as it prepared to send its own troops into battle, and always succumbed to pressure in the end.  He also asked whether France could abandon its call for more time for inspections and support a resolution within the next two or three weeks authorizing war in Iraq.


Mr. de Villepin said that France's position on the question of Iraq, as on all issues, was guided by strong principles, the law, ethics, solidarity and justice.  All of that had guided France throughout the preparation of Council resolution 1441 (2002), which had emphasized the need to move forward, in seeking collective security, towards the disarmament of Iraq.  The international community's sole objective was the disarmament of Iraq, for which there was a means in place, namely the inspectors on the ground.  France was faithful to its principles, everywhere in the world, and the international community as a whole, recognized that. 


The choice was whether to continue on the path of cooperation or move forward “out of impatience” towards military intervention, he said, adding, “we believe that today that nothing justifies envisaging military action”.  Moreover, the inspections, the choice that had been chosen, had only been under way now for 60 days.  Their work had been satisfactory, although his country was ready to assist in any way.  The inspectors were in a position to get more information.  Given the number of inspectors on the ground, today Iraq was not truly in a position to pursue fresh programmes, even if it wanted to do so. 


He said his country supported the choice made by the international community for cooperation.  As long as that advanced, “let us continue on the course that we have embarked on”.  If the United States decided at some point on unilateral military action, the first question France would ask would be what was the legitimacy of that action.  The second question would be what would be the effectiveness of such an intervention.  It was one thing to intervene militarily in Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein's regime, but it was a quite a different thing to unite Iraq and have a secure and stable Middle East.  What new divisions would emerge, what sense of injustice and frustration would be the result, leading to a situation that the international community could not control? he wondered.

The choice was simple, he reiterated:  continue patiently, but with the conviction that, through cooperation, Iraq would be disarmed at the end of the road.  That was France's conviction, and that had been expressed by the inspectors today.  It might be possible to reach the objective more quickly by a military shortcut, but, “let us be prudent”, he urged.  The world was in great disorder, it was ill and could not afford that kind of initiative.  Moreover, the risk of proliferation did not reside only in Iraq, but in North Korea and other States as well.  Did that mean that military intervention should be envisaged elsewhere?  Could military intervention alone, by some sort of magic, resolve all the problems of the world?


“Let us be responsible.  Let us affirm that the situation of the world was grave and that all problems needed to be tackled simultaneously”, he said.  The unity of the international community was a precious asset.  “Let us think before breaking that unity”, he added.

Asked if France was prepared to veto a resolution calling for military action if it was not provided with adequate assurances that Iraq was in clear violation, he said that President Chirac had said clearly from the beginning that he would not associate himself with military intervention that was not supported by the international community.  Military intervention would be the “worst possible solution” and only an “ultimate resort”. 


Regarding a veto, he said that France would shoulder all of its responsibilities and be faithful to its principles.  To France's inconstancy, he said his country would “go to the end” when it came to upholding its principles.  On the question of military intervention and legitimacy, as long as there was cooperation and as long as progress could be made through the inspections, then there was no point in choosing the worst possible solution -- military intervention.


To a question about whether France and the United States were on a “clash course”, he said his country's relationship with its American friends was excellent.  They spoke frankly and openly when they met.  In recent weeks, he had seen that the trust was strong in that relationship.  So, they could take different stands.  In finding solutions to the world's crises, it was important for the international community to take into account the feelings and frustrations of the peoples of the world.  It was time to ask all the questions if military intervention were to be envisaged.  It should be kept in mind that the objective was simple -- the disarmament of Iraq. 


* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.