Excerpts of the Interview given by H.E. Mr. Michel Barnier, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the « Le Figaro » Newspaper
(Paris, 25 May, 2004)
Question : Did the United States react the way she should have to the torture scandal in Iraq?
THE MINISTER: I want to repeat that those abuses reflect a dishonourable and shameful attitude on the part of those who perpetrated them. Those acts undermine the value system of our democracies. I still don’t know whether those acts were the work of a few sadistic or perverted soldiers or whether there was an organized system. The United States has reacted like the democracy she is. She has said what went on and dealt with it. We all have a right to the truth, starting with the Americans and the Iraqis themselves.
Question : It looks like the chain of command was implicated...
THE MINISTER: If it turns out to be a more organized system, those responsible and those in charge will have to be punished.
Question The United States seems to be sinking deeper and deeper, by the day, into a catastrophe in Iraq. France is a spectator. Can she help find a solution?
THE MINISTER: It’s true that we didn’t take part in this military intervention because we wanted to remain within the framework of the United Nations to the very end. To get out of the "black hole” of Iraq, which risks swallowing up the rest of the Middle East, we want to help the international community regain its bearings and its principles. This involves first and foremost respecting the law which, in this troubled period, is our common point of reference: if the objective is indeed the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty, then it is the United Nations that must organize an effective - and not an illusory - transfer of powers. Secondly, mutual trust must be re-established among allies by acting transparently and in a concerted way. That is the appeal the Americans must heed and it’s critical for the work currently under way at the United Nations. Finally, we must deepen our dialogue with the Arab world as with all Iraq’s neighbours, who need respect and to be listened to.
Question : By announcing that France would not send troops to Iraq either now or later, didn’t you show a lack of solidarity with the United States?
THE MINISTER: From the beginning, President Chirac has constantly emphasized that there can be no military solution to this crisis. That’s why France won’t send soldiers either now or later. But we intend to do all we can to help with Iraq’s political and economic reconstruction. We are prepared to train police and internal security forces. We are prepared to participate, within the UN framework, in the preparation of elections, establishment of the rule of law, economic reconstruction of the Iraqi provinces, in communications, water, energy, the environment...
Question : A draft resolution is being discussed at the UN to establish the conditions for transferring sovereignty on 30 June. What priorities does it have to include?
THE MINISTER: The Americans themselves set the date of 30 June for the establishment of a sovereign government. Let us respect that date and act in such as way as to ensure that the future government really is sovereign! That’s why we’re paying such close attention to the definition of its spheres of competence - the power to manage the economy, to run the police and justice system and ability to exploit natural resources. This government will be credible only if it has real powers and can thus convince the Iraqi people that sovereignty has really been transferred to them.
The government that will be formed on the basis of recommendations by the UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, must therefore be accepted by the different political forces and the main communities - Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. That’s why we continue to think it would be useful, before the official formation of that government, to hold a round table which would enable us to verify that it’s truly representative. The UN resolution should follow immediately after to reinforce the beginning of this process.
With respect to security, for a few months authority will have to be shared with the force formed from Coalition troops. And sharing means sharing: the Iraqi government will, at the very least, have to be consulted on the initiatives of that multilateral force. It must retain sovereign government authority over the Iraqi military forces. These points cannot be left obscure or for subsequent decision on which the Security Council wouldn’t have any say. Let’s be clear: this resolution cannot be a blank cheque.
Question : In your opinion, will the resolution have to specify the timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq?
THE MINISTER: It will be up to the Iraqi government formed as a result of the elections in January 2005 to say whether or not it wants to maintain this stabilization force. That’s an essential attribute of any sovereign government. And for us, the future resolution will logically have to refer to these elections, at the beginning of next year.
Question : The United States seems to want to restore an international consensus on Iraq. Is this possible?
THE MINISTER: We want to work constructively on the draft resolution on Iraq being discussed in the Security Council. We’ve had a lot of consultations and, together with Germany, have presented informal proposals to be discussed with regard to the draft resolution.
We all want the international community to be reunited. But that presupposes a partnership characterized by trust and based on clarity and transparency. We don’t want to preach, but we hope all the lessons will be learned from what has happened. I’d like the Americans to understand that when we speak up, what we say isn’t for or against them. We will always be friends and allies, and we’ll be very forcefully reiterating this with great gratitude on 6 June. Beyond the Iraq crisis, I want to endeavour, through a sincere dialogue but without glossing over anything, to reduce the misunderstandings with American citizens and restore a climate of friendship and trust.
Question : What points are you currently stressing with the Americans?
THE MINISTER: The new resolution on Iraq can’t be just one more resolution. Its aim must be threefold: to affirm the return of sovereignty and responsibilities to the Iraqis; clearly signal the restored authority of the United Nations and initiate in Iraq itself a process of political and economic reconstruction which is truly credible in order to convince the Iraqi people to support it. These are the imperatives I’ve just restated to my American interlocutors. (...) »