Chairman, HIS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Inc.
Foreign Minister, Republic of France
French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius joins Daniel H. Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, to discuss climate change negotiations and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. Fabius describes the four proposed pillars of the conference: a universal agreement of standards, country by country commitments, public and private contribution to a Green Climate Fund, and involvement and investment by local government and various economic sectors. Fabius also discusses France's strategy and involvement in the coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and Iran's role in the issue.
YERGIN: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I'm Dan Yergin. I want to welcome you to the Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister of France.
I'd also like to welcome the members of the Council around the nation and around the world who are following this on live stream and to mention—I've been asked to mention that the next meeting at the Council is at 3 p.m. today with President Erdogan of Turkey.
Our speaker this morning has a very distinguished career. He's been--prime minister of France; he's been minister of economics and budget; he's been president of the National Assembly; and since 2012, foreign minister of France. He also on the side is the author of six books, which, to add to his illustrious career.
So with great pleasure, I'd like to welcome Laurent Fabius.
FABIUS: I will speak English.
Forgive my pigeon (ph) English. OK, I've been told to speak about COP-21 because France will chair next year in December 2015 the great international conference about climate change.
In fact, I'm not speaking about climate change. I'm speaking more about climate disruption because it's real disruption. And it's not for 2100; it's for now.
Yesterday there was a demonstration in the streets, and it was very chic because I was--I was (ph) Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and Al Gore and the new mayor of New York. But what was important is that there were a lot of people and through (ph) the world. And I think the awareness of the problem of--of climate disruption is more and more acute.
A few years ago, there were discussions about is it real? From a scientific viewpoint, does it exist or not? I'm not a specialist. Or, I was not a specialist, but I had to become because if I want to chair the conference next year, I want to know what it is about. And my belief is very clear. It's an enormous problem not for the day after tomorrow, but for now, not only because of environmental problems, but because if we don't do things, it will change in the worst way a lot of things, economy, immigration, risks of war, and therefore we have to act. Ban Ki Moon had a very good formula (ph).
Somebody asks him, well, Mr. Secretary General, is it possible to have Plan B? And he answered, `There's no Plan B because there's no planet B.'
And—and I think this one exactly. And I ask him the permission to borrow the formula (ph) because it's not only an excellent one, but--but--but very true.
Now what do we expect for next year? There will be intermediate steps. This week is climate week, and it's probably why we have chosen this subject today. And tomorrow, you will have in U.N., a lot of presidents, prime ministers, more than 100, a lot of CEOs, a lot of governors. And it means that there's a growing awareness. OK.
We shall have a series of meetings afterwards. And at the end of this year, we have an international conference in Peru, in Lima, which was supposed to go ahead. And then we shall prepare for Paris next year. And in between, next March, all the nations are supposed to deliver their commitment to the future.
The problem, you know it, is that today the risk is that if we are not acting very—in a very powerful way, the warming of the climate will not be only two degrees, but maybe five, four—five or six degrees. And when it comes to these figures, it's a real catastrophe.
Today we already see that because there is more and more extreme phenomenons. When it's a question of rains, when it's a question of typhoons, when it's a question of growth, if you compare things today, was – but it (ph) was in the previous times, they are more and more extreme. And therefore, we have to act in order to—because it's the main thing, to go to a low-carbon economy, if we want to keep under two degrees, which already will be very difficult.
Now what could be a success next year in Paris, as I said, we have tried to have four pillars to the conference. The first one, which is very, very difficult, is to have a universal agreement about what is legally admitted and what is not.
It's very difficult because, obviously, the position of the different countries, developing countries, developed countries, different continents are not the same. But if we want to—to keep control of this climate phenomenon, we have to come to an agreement. It's precisely because it is difficult that it is not left to only minister of environment, but to ministers of foreign affairs, because they are supposed—they are supposed to be good at finding agreements. I don't know if it is true.
The situation is much better than before. You have probably heard about failure in Copenhagen and different conferences. But today, the situation is, to a certain extent, better, because we have the two major images (ph).
I mean, U.S. and China, which as I see them, have decided to go in the right direction. U.S. at least, the government, President Obama, John Kerry and a series of people, a series of governors, a series of CEOs, have understood what all that is about. And I think U.S. is dedicated to go ahead.
At the same time, the Chinese authorities are in the same mood. Why? Because most of you have been in China. It's a real catastrophe. And in Beijing and in different towns, it's sometimes not possible to go in the streets because of the pollution. And it's not only an economic problem, but it's a social and political problem, because there have been riots and you have a great number of people in international companies who do not want to work in Beijing or in some towns, because now it's impossible for—for—for reason of health.
And therefore, the Chinese have decided, as I see it, to go ahead, and there are conversation between China, U.S., ourselves and other partners, in order to know where is—what can be done.
Therefore, the first pillar is to try and have an international agreement, especially if it's differentiated, which means that obviously what will be required from a developing country will not be exactly the same as from a rich country—first pillar.
Second, before next March, it has been decided at the previous international conference in Warsaw (ph), that all the nations must give the proposals and even the commitments for the coming years—2020, 2030, and so on. It is not legally binding, but it will give to everybody an indication about what is a perspective, how we can remain, through national commitments and to degrees. That's the second pillar.
The third one is about finance and technology. When you discuss these matters with poor countries, OK, OK, it's good, but how can we finance it and what is the technology?
And we have to coin elements in that. Probably you have heard about the Green Climate Fund, which has been decided a few years before, but which is not capitalized. And probably tomorrow, when the heads of state and government will intervene, some of them will say, well, we shall put $500 million or $1 billion.
And the idea, the figure can seem to be enormous, but it's doable that in 2020 there can be, when you add public contribution, a private contribution because more and more, private companies are going into that direction, it can be $100 billion dollars a year dedicated to environment and climate betterment.
And the fourth element, which is rather new, is that we shall establish a sort of book about the actions, initiatives, which are taken by local authorities, governors, great cities, private companies, financing agencies, economic sectors, going into that direction because more and more people are understanding that it's not only a moral necessity, but an economic good investment, because it's the place where the improvements in productivity and—and rates of return can be excellent.
And, when you add these four elements, the international agreement, national commitments, finance and technology means, and different sub-governmental and economic sectors, you have the conditions of success.
Now, obviously, it will be very difficult to convince the international community to go into that direction. But it's probably one of the most important challenges we have to face. And, therefore—it will be my final comment because I've been told to be brief—you can wonder why—why asking ministries of foreign affairs to deal with that.
The answer is simple. It's not only a question of—of environmental technique; it's a question of peace or war for water. It's a question of migrations, because of the extension of deserts. It's a question of being able to get food to people, because if you have five degrees temperature, adding to five degrees, it's a catastrophe for all series of things.
And, therefore, as citizens, it's a real challenge. And each of us, in our different positions, we have to consider what we can do. Obviously—and we are discussing it—you have to combine ideal and reality, because we are dealing with real things.
But I think this challenge is probably one of the greatest ones, which is proposed to us, and I'm happy too—too that France would chair the conference next year.
Now, a last comment on that: I must precise (ph) to you that we have been chosen because we were the only candidate. And...
And—and it has been decided last year, and when we had been chosen, most of the delegates came to me and their speech was very very brief. Point one: congratulations. Point two: condolences. And therefore, we'll try to forget point two and to stress on point one.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
YERGIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. First, I want to join everybody here in congratulating you on winning the competition to host COP-21. As you've undertaken the planning for it, and looking back as you said on Copenhagen and so forth, what kind of lessons have you taken from the difficulties in the past to try to get to an outcome that you want to see?
FABIUS: The first time I went to this sort of conference—I was not in Copenhagen—but I was in Warsaw, last year, and I paid a visit to the specialists, with great respect, and I asked them not what could be a success, but what are the sort of mistakes we have to avoid? And at the beginning of the conversation, all of them were very modest, but afterwards, they delivered the same speeches. AndI think there many sorts of mistakes but particularly two sorts of mistakes.
One of the difficulties in Copenhagen is that there were a lot of climate disruption deniers. I know that in U.S. there is still debate, is it real or not real. But honestly in most countries the debate is over. There is a real problem. And therefore there is a difference between Copenhagen and now.
The second point, and I will learn the lesson—in Copenhagen, it has been prepared—well, you know, it was difficult to prepare. And the idea was that at the end, if great political leaders were coming, they could get—you know, have a conversation together and find a solution.
And they went together, and they didn't find a solution, or they—they were able to—to deliver a paper, but they came back to the assembly, and the assembly said no.
And, therefore, the modest lesson that I've drawn from that is that we have to have a lot of work, a lot of work, before. On my agenda I have put a series of meetings, terrible, next week, international meetings, because everyone has to be able to express what are their difficulties. And you have to take into account these difficulties and to try and find a solution.
But the idea that the supreme political leaders can solve a question at the end of the day, it's the wrong idea.
Therefore, we shall try to pay a lot of work, to be humble, modest, if the political leaders can help us by statements, excellent. But the job must be done before.
And it's the reason why this year, it's important, in this Climate Week, to have good work. It's important that in Lima next December, we can make progress and step by step, in the G7, G20, in special meeting, to have progress. And it doesn't guarantee the success in Paris, but it will maybe permit it.
So you—France has put a lot of emphasis on the financial aspects. You did in your remarks. Of course, you're here not only in the home of the U.N. but the home of world finance.
Maybe say a little more about this fund, this $100 billion fund, and who—what would be the mechanisms? Who would allocate it? How does the money get used (ph)?
FABIUS: Well, it's not already very clear.
First, this fund, Green Climate Fund, has to be capitalized. The experts consider that if we have between $10 and $14 billion dollars, by a leverage effect that's on and adding what is done by private companies, by different financial agencies, it can come to $100 billion. And I think—I hope—it's not difficult to come to $10 billion or $14 billion dollars.
The only one country, which, up to now, has committed itself, is Germany. They have promised $1 billion.
France will deliver the figures tomorrow or the day after tomorrow when the president comes, and I think we shall reach the figure. Afterward, we have to precise the way everything is handled and the way—how it goes.
And public finance will be important, OK. But what is probably much more important—and there have been words on that. Henry Paulson has published a report and you know.
When you are thinking about what are the sectors where you can have innovations in the future and earn a lot of money, OK, you have information technology, all that stuff.
But in the (inaudible) energy sector and environmental sector green gross, there is a lot of—of possibilities, which are not only from an accounting viewpoint interesting, but also from a financial viewpoint. And we hope, you know, this question of green bonds is—you have a lot of things.
And if we're able to show to the economic community that it's not only, from a moral (ph) point of it, I may say so, useful but from an economic viewpoint where the things to do, it—it will be (inaudible).
YERGIN: One of the things on the discussion—and I think it's been some discussion in Paris about this—is an international financial transaction tax to help finance that. Do you see that as something that's going to be on the agenda?
FABIUS: It has been decided at the European level—you know that—not for all the countries, but for some countries. And among the countries, Germany, France and some others.
But there are discussion, because some people say, "No, it's not a good idea," and it will be counterproductive because some countries will accept it, some other countries will not and therefore, the finance will go where there is no tax.
At the present level, it's not a problem. If it was increased in rate, it could pose a problem.
Today, it's not—well, we—we could not have a general agreement on that. In the coming years, I don't know. But today, it's possible for European countries, but I think it would be an illusion to hope to have that for the next year.
YERGIN: France is unusual, in a unique position among the major industrial countries. You're about 4 percent of world GDP but about 1 percent of emissions. A good part of that reason is because of nuclear power, 78 percent of your electricity.
Do you see—as you look not at France, but as you look at the developing world and the rest of the word, in terms of dealing with climate, do you see a role for nuclear on...
YERGIN: ... the scale of France?
FABIUS: Yeah. And I see an evolution even within the so-called environmental specialists. In the old times, the old days, a lot of ecologists were against nuclear. I don't mean that they are pro-nuclear today.
But there are different elements, because as you know, when you speak in terms of carbon emission, well, nuclear does not produce carbon, and it makes a difference. There is the problem of waste, but there's no problem of carbon.
France is in a particular situation, because it's the nation where the proportion of electricity coming from nuclear energy is the highest. It's about 75 percent.
Now decision have been taken to have a more balanced, you know, figure, and we shall, in coming years, come to 50 percent, 50 percent nuclear and 50 percent renewable and so on. The figure remains very high. It will be the highest. But it's more balanced.
But as I know, because I'm in charge of foreign affairs but also on foreign trade, that many countries are interested today by nuclear energy. The first one in the future will be China. The perspective are enormous.
Russia, as well, is producing. But you have projects in India, South Africa, in Turkey. You have the particular situation of Japan, which is a nuclear country. You had the catastrophe of Fukushima, and therefore, they had to restart the elements.
Obviously, nuclear energy is possible only if security is very, very tight, and France is the highest for that. But I think there is a perspective in the future. Sure. Sure.
YERGIN: One difference between the U.S. and Europe on dealing with climate is around natural gas.
YERGIN: Our emissions are down about 12 percent. A big part of that is natural gas. The Obama administration has made gas an important part of its climate agenda. What's the attitude in Europe about using more gas, developing more gas...
FABIUS: You mean shale gas?
YERGIN: Well, it's shale gas both in terms of producing and in terms of using gas.
FABIUS: Well, there are different attitudes and different problems.
On shale gas, there are some countries which think that it is a great perspective, and there are more and more wanting to—to go into the direction, for instance in the U.K. Some of the countries had great expectations in the research field, but maybe they'll be disappointed. I'm thinking about Poland. Some of the countries, as is the case of France, are reluctant about the possible side effects of shale gas.
Well, obviously, a major thing, it's not to be for or against shale gas. Shale gas is interesting at a certain price. If it is too costly to produce it, because you have constraints of environment, it's useless. And in the territory of U.S.—I don't know what is European in that (ph)—but the—the way, you know, you invest (ph) territories and therefore you can produce in time (ph) shale gas at very competitive level.
So far as Europe is concerned, I think the attitudes of different countries will be different, but some countries will, obviously, use it. No, gas, generally speaking, it's major resource. But—and it will—where does it come from? You have some countries, which are producers. But many of us are importing from Russia, from Qatar, from Norway, from different countries.
But up to now, the European policy has not been very efficient because what can be—what must be the aims of an energy policy: A, security; B, the price; C, the fact that it is compatible with environment. These are the three major elements.
And yet, when you're looking at these criteria, three, up to now, European policy has not been very efficient. And it is one of the major objective of the new commission, because you know there is a new commission. We have to be competitive. We have to deal with environment constraint, and we have the problem of security, particularly because of the Ukraine problem and Russian problem.
Therefore, my guess is that in the coming years, energy question and, particularly, on gas would be one of the major—it would be put at the top of the agenda of all our European countries.
YERGIN: Right, well, I think that provides the transition for us to turn to two major foreign policy areas that are very much on your concern (ph). One, Russia/Ukraine, the other the Middle East.
And we'll start with the Middle East. We'll take a few more minutes of discussion, and then we'll open it up to all of you here. You don't use the term Islamic State. You don't use the term ISIL or ISIS. You use the term Daesh—Daesh. Would you explain why? I think this audience would be very (inaudible).
FABIUS: Yes, I can explain. Well, obviously, the problem with those one is not a problem of how to call them. It's a problem of how to—to beat them.
But the—the—and you know, it's—it's an enormous problem. Because these guys, they're not interested only in controlling Iraq or Syria. Their attitude is simple. Either you are with us or we kill you. And it's not only to the so-called caliphate, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, all that is in the (ph) caliphate. It's not only the region, but it's all of us.
And when was it? This morning or yesterday an order, if I may say so, has been given to kill all the Americans and the Europeans, and particularly, the French. OK, if it's not a question of, you know—well, for us, the question is to defend ourselves. That's what it takes (ph) to defend ourselves.
Now the question of how to—you call them. I think it's a strange thing to accept to name one's adverse—adversary exactly by the name it wants to be named. No. They call themselves Islamic State. First, they are not a state. They have no legitimate state.
And second, in French—maybe it's different in other languages—there are confusion between Islamic, Islam, and Muslim. And the idea that they would represent all the Muslims is a stupidity. And that's the reason why, in French, I refuse to call them state and Islamic, because it is precisely what they want us to call them. And I refuse that.
And the Arab world, which is a bit—derogatory, is Daesh, and, therefore, we have chosen to call them this way. But once more, let's not insist on that. The important thing is that these people have to be fought and to be destroyed.
YERGIN: A little over a week ago, France hosted a meeting with 30 countries to discuss this about a coalition. Can you give us some sense of what—what that coalition means and how you see it coming together and what it will do?
FABIUS: Yeah, there has been a series of meetings. One in Jeddah was U.S. and Arab countries. And then a larger one in Paris that President Hollande and myself chaired with Iraqis, as well with 30 countries, entities, not only Arab countries, but countries coming from all over the world. And here, in—when was it—Friday, we had a meeting chaired by John Kerry because right now U.S. are presiding over Security Council with a lot of countries.
And the idea is always the same: how to cope with this Daesh problem, and if you want to cope with it, we have to be the largest possible coordination and coalition. One or two elements in that.
First, they are in Iraq right now. And one of the lessons of history is that you cannot have a victory coming from a group (ph). People in the country have to get committed. And therefore, it belongs to Iraqi first to act. It was not possible before because the Iraqi government, as you may know, was divided between the Shiite, the Sunnis and the Kurdish. And the previous government who was presided by the Shiite, was very, very tough, particularly towards the Sunnis.
And it explains why—when Daesh came in, they were able to beat the Iraqi army so quickly because part of the Sunnis have a—had an alliance with the army saying, OK, maybe Dash is bad, but the previous government is worse. And therefore, my first point is that we have to have a political inclusive attitude and government of Iraq in order to change this. It is what is taking place right now. And therefore, the first element is to a support political new way.
Second, you have to have a humanitarian action because this country and the countries around is in a terrible situation. You have two million people displaced in Iraq. And today, it's more than 40 degrees Celsius, but within a couple of months, four months, it will be zero degrees. And therefore, we have to establish some sort of humanitarian bridge with them.
And third—and first, we have to have a military and security action. U.S. and France have decided, because we were asked to do so by Iraqi, to ensure air protection, which (inaudible) troops. But obviously, we have to enlarge those who will be able to—to come to this military element. And it is precisely what we have discussed in Paris, what we discussed last Friday.
And I think in the coming days, some announcement will be made. It's very important that it should be felt, not only by Daesh against western countries, fight, but that many Arab countries will join us in this necessary movement.
YERGIN: Right, so let me just ask you a couple more questions before we open it to the floor. You've expressed concern about the jihadist threat within Europe, within France.
YERGIN: How big of a threat is it?
FABIUS: It is a real threat. It's a real threat. The other day I was discussing with a specialist, and sometimes specialists are right.
You know this famous quote—we can do humor even with serious matters—there was a definition by a French humorist. What is a specialist? Do you know the answer?
YERGIN: I think everybody in the audience is getting nervous.
FABIUS: The specialist is somebody who is wrong, but along the rules.
YERGIN: Wrong, but...
FABIUS: Along the rules. Abiding the rules. Right.
FABIUS: OK. Forget it. Forget it. Forget it.
FABIUS: It's terrible.
QUESTION: It probably works better in French.
FABIUS: Until now, it was OK with you and now. What—what did you ask...
... The question?
YERGIN: You were talking to a specialist.
FABIUS: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
YERGIN: What are those specialist?
FABIUS: Let's become serious. I ask him how many nationalities in Daesh, 51—51, from all over the countries, even Australian, we were discussing with my Australian colleague—American, Europeans, French.
So far as France is concerned, the numbers are, unfortunately, impressive. Between those who were in Syria or in Iraq, those who have been killed, those who are right now fighting and those who, according to our intelligence, are wanting to go, 930 people.
YERGIN: In—in France?
FABIUS: In France. And a few years ago, it was 30 people. And it is the same in Belgium, and it's the same in different countries. Therefore, the question is what you do?
On Thursday, there will be a meeting in the Security Council—or in U.N.—no in U.N., chaired by President Obama about how to fight against foreign fighters. And we have been obliged to change (inaudible). And you have to have a complete action and very good coordination between the different nations.
What are the main points? A, it could surprise you. You have to establish a channel between the families and the authorities. In order to make it possible for the families who wanted to alarm (ph) their soldiers. Because you have many families who are ordinary families—not at all terrorists—in which you have a young man or a woman who suddenly, for different reasons, decides to leave. And these families must be in a situation to give alarm (ph). Therefore, we have organized that.
Then before they leave and when it is for terrorist prison, you have to stop them. We had to change the law, and now it's possible to cancel not only passport, but ID, any document in order to prevent them from going there. Most of them are going to Syria and Iraq through Turkey, and it's not necessary to have a passport to go there. You can have only the ID.
We have been obliged—it's not in our tradition, that you have to act (ph)—to give the possibility when there is a hint to stop them. Then you have to have a great surveillance of all that before that and coordination before—between the different nations, because it can go this way.
Then, when they are, if they are, in the battlefield, we have to organize ourselves through different means, I will not detail, to have elements. And we have to explain to these young people, especially to the young girls, because you have girls who are 13, 14, 15 who are wanted to get there for a different reason. But, in fact, they are prostitutes when they are there. They are slaves, sexual slaves. It's not at all what they wanted, but they are.
And then, when they have fought, if they fought, and if they come back, obviously, you have to punish them. And, therefore, we had to change the law because before the law made it possible to punish only if it was a coordinated action. Now, you can punish people for individual action.
And then, if they come back, you have to have very tight surveillance, because these people are dangerous, very dangerous. And they are all the more dangerous than it's a different attitude between Al Qaida and the so-called Daesh, because Al Qaida was not wanting to have the control of the territory, and this one, they have the caliphate.
And Al Qaida, at a central level, was ordering a series of crimes, but it was centralized, if I may say so, while these ones, there are general orders and afterwards, every individual must act the way they want, which means that this will not be a business for—for two months. It will be long thing, and that we have to be coordinated and to work together very seriously, and to explain to the population what is at stakes.
Because you will have people say, well, that's far away. What are you doing there? We have already a lot of problems. It does exist in France, probably it does exist in the U.S. It's not our business and on.
It is our business. If we don't do it by solidarity, let's do it by selfishness, because we are concerned. But it's difficult, and especially in these times, we are discussing about a crisis, economy and so on.
You know, people are saying, well, it's far away. It's far away. No, it's not far. It's not far. And it's needs, on behalf of the governments, leadership, leadership.
YERGIN: Well, thank you.
Let's turn to the audience now. Microphones will come to you. Stand. Your name, your affiliation and really concise questions.
The first question right there.
QUESTION: Good morning. My name is (inaudible) of (inaudible).
The minister of France has been a proponent of bringing Iran into the coalition. You have had differences with the U.S. on—on this matter, because the U.S. would like to discuss the regional role of Iran.
What sort of conversations are you having with the Iranians about their role in Syria, in Lebanon? And in light of the meeting, yesterday, meetings, between—Minister Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, and the Iranian foreign minister on one hand, and then the Iranian and the Saudi ministers on the other hand, are you—did you learn anything that makes you encouraged that things will go on the right—in the right direction?
FABIUS: Well, it's a complex question, and I don't want to be too long.
The question of the participation of Iran to the Paris conference or to any conference about Iraq and Daesh has been raised, because they are close, geographically close, and they are opposed to Daesh. The question has been raised that it was possible to have them only if a consensus was obtained, and it was not the case.
Why? Because some Sunni countries, you know that Iranian al-Shihad (ph), did not want it, having the—the—being afraid that if they participate to such a conference, it could be interpreted like a push in favor of Mr. Bashar al-Assad. And, therefore, there was no consensus, and, therefore, they did not come in.
But it is true that because of their geographical position and because of what they say, its attitude towards Daesh, they—they can do something, not in the coalition, in—in the narrow sense of—of this word, but more generally speaking.
But, anyway, and that's another aspect, you must not establish confusion between this question and the question of nuclear weapon that we are discussing now with the Iranians. When I say "we," it's 5-plus-1 on the one hand, and the Iranians.
The Iranians did not ask us to have a melange between the two, but, anyway, we have said, and I have said, that these were different questions because the question of nuclear is a question per se. And I very often say, in this matter—and I was happy to see that John Kerry has taken this expression.
Well, when we discuss about nuclear things with Iran, and particularly—well, there is a difference, enormous difference, between civilian uses and military uses. So far as civilian uses are concerned, OK. Perfect. So far as the atomic bomb is concerned, no way.
And I've very often said that it is not possible in this matter to be half-pregnant. Either you are pregnant or you're not pregnant. Either you are able to have the bomb or you are not able to have the bomb. And it's a question on which I've always said to the Iranians we cannot have a confusion between the different subjects.
The question of atomic bomb is a question by itself, which is different from the other question. And, on this question, I want us to be clear, you have to be clear, we have to be clear. And we are discussing that right now. As you know, the dead end is 24 of November, and we are discussing it right now.
Michael Gordon, right up here in the front.
QUESTION: Michael Gordon, "New York Times".
Sir, a year ago, France was prepared to take military action in Syria as part of a coalition in response to the Assad government's chemical weapons attacks.
Now France is—France is acting in Iraq and taking military action in Iraq, but it's not prepared to carry out airstrikes in Syria.
Can you please explain the change of policy? If it's true that Daesh must be destroyed, why isn't France prepared to carry out airstrikes where two thirds of Daesh is located?
Is it because you fear that carrying out airstrikes in Syria would strengthen the Assad regime by attacking Daesh? Or do you think you don't have the international legal authority to act? And if it's your view there isn't the international legal authority to act, does that mean the United States also doesn't have the authority to act?
YERGIN: That's a very long question, Michael, many parts. Short answer.
FABIUS: Yes. Well, it—it makes sense. And there's no change of policy. There's no change of policy. Let me explain.
Last year, it was in August, I think, you remember that there was a chemical attack, which is proved. And chemical attack in legal terms is quite particular. You know that. And we were prepared to strike for different reason that it is not necessary to insist on.
Our partners, U.K. and U.S., thought it was not possible, and it was out the question that we shall strike by ourselves. Therefore, it was not possible to strike.
My own belief is that—but it's a debatable point—should it take place, the situation would have been very different, different in Syria, different for Daesh, and probably—maybe different in Ukraine as well. Full stop (ph).
YERGIN: Different in Ukraine?
FABIUS: Yes, because you have noticed that President Putin has been very active.
And we could discuss a long time why he's so active. But I think that maybe if you have the feeling that the environment is more open to new activity, you do that. But if you have the feeling that the reaction would different, OK.
Now I take your question today. We have received, France, a letter from the Iraqi authorities, asking us—asking from us to have air protection in Iraq, and we have decided to say yes.
According to the article 51 of the U.N. Charter and President Hollande ordered airstrike, which has taken place a few days ago. OK.
Now so far as—and the French president said that we do not have intention to do the same in Syria, I mean, by air, but that we shall help the opposition, moderate opposition in Syria.
Now from a legal viewpoint—and the U.S. has been required to act, and President Obama—correct me if I'm wrong—has said that is acting in Iraq and will act in Syria as well. I think it's possible to act. Therefore, the question is not a question of legality, international legality.
But first, France cannot do everything, and second, we consider that to support the moderate opposition and to fight both Bashar and Daesh is a necessity.
You may remember, because you seem to be an expert in that, that it has been the position of France since the beginning. And I can give you a few hints (ph). Maybe it should be a (ph) bit longer, but it's interesting from viewpoint of history.
It was my first conference in Geneva as minister of foreign affairs. It was in June 12—2012, OK. We were discussing about Syria, we, the P5 and some other guys. And at that time, remember that in Syria there was no Hezbollah, there were no terrorists, and Mr. Bashar al-Assad was close to be beaten. And the conversation between us was, "OK, he will be beaten, but where will he go with his family (ph)"?
It was June 2012, and our idea was to support moderate opposition, because in an Arab country or in any country, you cannot condemn people to say, "Either you choose terrorist or you have dictatorship." No. You can hope to have another choice.
But unfortunately, the moderate opposition has not been supported, really. And eight months later, there were Hezbollah, there were Iranians, there were terrorists, and there was a big—great difficulty, and obviously, Mr. Bashar was stronger. Then came the episode of the chemical weapons, and OK.
Now what do we have to do? We have, obviously—but I mean, it's not only France; it's a large coalition. Action must be taken against Daesh in Iraq and in Syria, because they can go to Syria. OK.
But action must be taken against Bashar as well, and anyway, the opposition must be supported. It must be supported in terms of means, of finance, and action and training, all that.
And France has said that in Iraq, we shall have air protection, and in Syria, we shall support the moderate opposition. That's our position. There's no shift.
YERGIN: Mr. Minister, in one of the great statements about diplomacy, you said recently, "We must stay in the realm of reality." I'm afraid that we also must stay in the realm of time.
And I want to apologize to the many people who had their hands up for questions, but the minister has a very tight schedule, so I think we'll have to conclude now.
I'd like to ask you all to stay seated while the minister leaves and just to say thank you to the—all of us watching on stream and all gathered here.
Please join me in thanking...
FABIUS: Thank you.