The Importance of Multilateralism: A Conversation With Jean-Yves Le Drian

Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Don Pollard
Jean-Yves Le Drian

Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, French Republic


President, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

Minister Le Drian discusses the importance of multilateralism in confronting the foreign policy challenges facing France, including the Brexit negotiations, climate change, and the Iran nuclear deal.

HAASS: Bonjour. I hope everyone has had a bonne de journée.

Today, as you all know, is Halloween. And right now, in the spirit of the day, we have a treat—no trick, just treat: We have the foreign minister of France, Jean-Yves Le Drian. He has been foreign minister for about six months in the new government of President Macron, and before that spent I think it was about five years as the minister of defense of France.

Also here today, by the way, I want to welcome his wife. Bienvenue.

Also, the ambassador of France to les États-Unis, the ambassador of France to the United Nations, and the consul-general. The French are not just here in force, they are here in talent and experience. And we are—we and they are both better for it.

What we’re going to do today is the minister is going to give some remarks. He’ll do it in French. Then he and I will have a conversation. I will not try to do it in French, not to worry, and you will all have your headphones. And then we will save some time for questions from you, our members.

So, again, we are extremely pleased, and appreciate the foreign minister for taking the time to be with us here at the Council today. Mr. Minister, the podium is yours, sir.

(Note: Minister Le Drian’s remarks are made through an interpreter.)

LE DRIAN: Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, it’s a great pleasure for me to be with you here today to take advantage of the fact that I am in New York to accept the Council on Foreign Relations’ invitation.

France and the U.S. have a bond that I wouldn’t dare to qualify as “special,” out of respect for our British friends, but which has deep-rooted ties. And these are ties that are built by history. Over two centuries, we have fought together for freedom. Together, we have confronted the tragedies of the past century.

A hundred years ago, following a decision by the U.S. Congress and President Wilson, the American youth came to fight along the French side. On July the 14th last, by inviting President Trump to attend the parade in France, France wanted to pay a tribute to the heroism of your youth, but also to pay tribute to the longstanding history and friendship between our two people.

In the beginning of this century, we are extending our alliance by fighting together in the Sahel and in the Levant. And we’re also extending it as a result of the place occupied by the U.S. in the security on the European continent. I think today that America has few allies who have at the same time the political determination and the capacity to do that, and France is one of these allies.

Trust, which is the basic tenet of friendship, is precious in that it allows people to speak out freely, to be able to act together, and also to point out disagreements when necessary. And it’s under the umbrella of friendship and frankness that I would like to explain to you today the way I see the international framework, and how France and the U.S. are called to work together and live up to the challenges we have to face.

I am said to be a realist in foreign affairs. It might be, might be so. Well, I think what it means is just that I see things as they are. And we have to acknowledge today that the preoccupying disintegration in international relations is a reality. This is a reality that I’m concerned with, and I can imagine that many of us here share this same concern.

We are going through times of great tension, I think the most severe time since the end of the Cold War. Never before have dissentions and the level of conflicts been so high. There have been a great number and intensity in security crises—the spreading of hyper-terrorism, the severity—proliferation in a little number of very sensitive countries. So these crises, even if they have a regional character, it mustn’t allow us to underestimate their global scope, because they have to do with the security of our citizens here and in Europe.

And to this I might add the commercial tensions. The world has never been so interdependent, and some areas are growing very fast, spectacularly so. And despite globalization, cooperation is less and less easy. The flows of goods, of services, and of people have never been so high and so many. And still, we discover that some countries see trade as an uneven rapport—they can close down their markets and expect others to keep their markets open; they can loot technologies and intellectual property.

Security crises and economic tensions go along and explain a redistribution of power on the global scale. We have more and more strategies that are aggressive postures of power with some alarming risk-taking on behalf of some. They testify to an in-depth reshuffling of the international balance of power.

Like any transition phase in a struggle for power, we live at a time where breakdowns and possible surprises are the yardstick for reasoning and taking strategic action. Leveling out of the powers make conflictual strategies possible, and they spread out on territories in which countries try and have a hegemony, but also in new spaces or regions that are disputed—whether we’re talking deep sea, outer space, or cyberspace. We’re seeing postures of intimidation; some others who are obsessed with developing areas of influence, where the planet would be shared among just a few big ones, like struggle for power.

Proof of the instability to which these crises or these strategies lead are the crises that are multiplying at these points of connection between these areas of influence. Imperialistic attempts can be the result of regional powers when they take advantage of the weakening of states and use the support of armed forces. This international order is very unstable because it considers that competition is the standard on a basic power struggle, permanent power struggle, in which the rule of law has no role to play.

Likewise, we can see a weakening of the international regulatory institutions, with an increasing questioning of the rules for these international or multilateral gate. There are more and more attempts at withdrawal. People act as lone rangers. But multilateralism is only effective and legitimate if the most powerful accept to use the power they wield in the framework that is defined by law. And it is specifically this self-restraint, to use a word used by President Truman in his speech on the State of the Union in 1950—specifically, this self-restraint that we can no longer see in some cases.

The crisis of multilateralism, the crisis of international cooperation and standards, and the ways of finding a remedy to this is what I would like to discuss with you.

Now, what kind of world order do we have today? Instability that is characteristic of these transition times goes along with an increasing uncertainty of the very nature of the new world order and the rules that organize it. For example, there is the way that some authoritarian states take advantage of the situation to weaken the body of rules that for years has developed in the field of human rights, the protection of vulnerable populations, or fighting impunity for the severest international crimes. And for liberal democracies, we can’t just stand by and look at things happen and just sink into the situation. We have to give ourselves the means to allow the rule of law to prevail internationally, and we will only be able to do it if we have a very clear understanding of what is at stake here internationally. And that’s the condition to have a new order in which cooperation prevails.

Of course, competition is legitimate in an open and multipolar world. This does not sort of mean that this is just ruthless competition. I know that the U.S. have a complex relationship to multilateralism, that they actually triggered in 1919 and then again 1942 to depart from it on a regular basis. But as a European, I can tell you that the old continent is there to remind ourselves that the times of turmoil are also the most threatening of our common rules, if there is no common trust to ease the tension and allow for collective solutions.

And I think it’s based on this conviction that the French have voted for a president who is deeply European. He’s a head of state that was elected on the basis of his project for cooperation and integration, rather than a simple status quo of the existing powers and the balance of powers. Today I think the understanding of the standards is more important than ever in the face of the global challenges we all have, whether you’re talking about security, climate, trade, health, education. In all these fields, the interdependence of our world is such that the proper answers are necessarily the result of coordinated international action. The uncertainties and breakdowns and disintegrations all over the world make this even more important than in the past, and they’re absolutely necessary today. A collective approach, a multilateral approach, is not just one option amongst others. It’s an absolute necessity.

And despite the disagreements that pervade right now on the topic, we’ll carry on affirming with the American administration how important it is to have the USA commit to promote the standards of international multilateralism to guarantee transparency and visibility. And this is what we need now. And that is why France will carry on playing an active role in the multilateral forum. And it’s with this in mind that I have dome to New York to close our presidency, chairmanship of the Security Council, and in order to reaffirm our commitment to this. President Macron has already done so. And he had said, with quite a bit of panache in his speech at the General Assembly.

Our multilateral commitment aims to finding a solution to security crises, because security is a common good, the first and foremost. And I’m thinking of the terrorist threat. This is a priority that we all share. And the main threats today are Daesh and al-Qaida, and both need to be fought. In the Levant, Daesh is about to be defeated militarily, thanks to the joint efforts of the international coalition, in which France and the U.S. have fought together, and also thanks to the support of our Arab and Kurdish partners on the ground. And this should strengthen us in our desire to act together in a coordinated way.

Our responsibility now is to act towards stabilization, reconstruction, and reconciliation. In Iraq, we need to encourage very fast a new political momentum or institution that is respectable among the components of the Iraqi society. In Syria, after six years at a deadlock, we need to have a realistic and pragmatic approach that is in line with the conflict that has grown more and more international. Fighting Daesh and finding the political solutions that will end the civil war are the two sides of the same coin to the service of international security. Bringing down terrorism goes through bringing back civil peace.

And this is the whole meaning of the initiative taken on by President Macron to federate the initiatives of the members—permanent members of the Security Council to reduce contradictions within the international community and to support effectively the work done by the special envoy of the secretary-general of the United States, Mr. Staffan de Mistura. Actually, and I will come back to this shortly, we always have to find new formats that allow us to act together in crisis situations, while at the same time respecting the global role of the United Nations. I would like to add for Syria that a few days after there was the report of the joint investigating mechanism that was put in, that we need to work collectively to fight the impunity of perpetrators of chemical attacks. I mean, it has to do with the future of our collective security system.

The connection between regional format and multilateral action is something that we’re doing and we’re heralding in Sahel against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb with what we call the G-5 joint force. This apparatus brings together the states that are directly concerned by the terrorist attack in the region. And this is a regional initiative that is supported by the African Union and by the Security Council. And it requires the strong support of the international community to be able to ensure its ramping up.

This is a major topic, because it’s the first time ever that the states concerned—I’m talking about the African states—have decided to ensure their own security themselves. And if we don’t get it right, if we can’t live up to this requirement, it will be a total failure because we won’t have been able to succeed in a major operation for the security in Africa countries, but also for our own security. And that is the message I extended yesterday to the Security Council. And I hope it is understood and heard here in the U.S.

Over and above the terrorist threat we’re also facing risks of conflict between states. In the past few years, our citizens were probably less attuned to this reality, but things are changing now, probably as a result of different crises which—or, through which the strategies led by different powers, destabilizing power, are shaking up the situation. I think these crises will find no solution outside of a multilateral framework. And I’m thinking DPRK, which requires a strong and united answered by the international community.

This is the way that President Trump has decided to follow, and France is supporting him with Resolutions 2371 and 2375, that condemn the latest test and reinforce the regime of sanctions and the implementation of the existing sanctions. This is a way of constraining Pyongyang—the only realistic way of going about it. And it is to force Pyongyang to give up its projects for proliferation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think the first pillar or basis of international order is trust. I mean, in that, the international society is no different from other forms of society. Without trust there is no dialogue, there is no possibility for exchanging views. And it’s even more so in the international order because if the rule of law can be imposed through the International Court of Justice, there is no way to enforce it. And this is a responsibility that is held by the Security Council. And the permanent members have an essential responsibility. It is to instill trust in the effectiveness of the U.N. and its ability to understand what is real, what is true. And that is why I wish that the Security Council can extend the JIM mechanism, joint investigation mechanism, in Syria. If they couldn’t do so, they would just show their lack of interest for establishing the truth.

The other condition for building trust is keeping one’s word. The destabilizing actions carried out by Iran in Syria, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Yemen, or in the Gulf region—whether directly or through the groups it supports—these initiatives cannot be tolerated. And I’m stated this very bluntly. Likewise, for ballistic activities carried out by Iran, which are incompatible with the resolutions of the Security Council. This attitude runs contrary to our interests, and runs contrary to the U.S.’s interests. This attitude is a threat to the security of countries in the region. We certainly share the objective to curb this policy, because he cannot accept interfering and the desire for hegemony that they testify to.

This principle, this idea, we communicated very clearly to Tehran. I will have the opportunity myself of going to Tehran in the next few days. But I think firmness associated with trust, it’s the whole challenge that the JCPOA holds up. And the JCPOA, which was the result of very important efforts in an adaptive multilateral configuration, which was validated by the international community. And on this point, the position of France is very clear. Tehran must not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon, neither today nor in the future. And from that point of view, the JCPOA signed in Vienna in 2015 allows us to guarantee this objective for at last the next 10 years.

France was the most demanding negotiator in this respect. And we carry on keeping a close eye on the very strict enforcement of the commitments made by Iran, and namely, thanks to the work put in by the International Atomic Energy Agency. I think the circumstances of the debate in the next few weeks in America will be crucial. We hope that the Congress will not make a decision that might question the agreement. Dropping the Vienna agreement will deprive us from our means of controlling their nuclear program, without, however, finding a solution to the other problems. It would have very nefarious consequences on security in the region. And these consequences, in turn, would have an impact on the interests of Europe and on the interests of the U.S.

Ladies and gentlemen, in other crises that I have mentioned we are paying the heavy price for the lack of international cooperation. We’re paying the heavy price because of the dragging out of these crises and their deepening. This is true for the division that there is within the Security Council. The rapprochement between the members of the P5, their unity is the absolutely necessary condition to finding a solution to the many crises. But in the face of these crises, the U.N. must be able to provide a concrete and effective solution. Like any other institution, there’s always room for progress. And we’re convinced there are.

That is why France fully supports Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his desire to reform the organization to make it more efficient, to take its action more efficient, its action more transparent, and more reactive in the faces—in the face of crises. So we share his vision of a global action on the three pillars of the U.N.—peace and security, humanitarian affairs, and sustainable development. They are all a whole. Generally speaking, I think the U.S. has to de-partition its action because experience has shown us how much problems related to security and emergency in the development are linked, reaffirming the importance of the U.N. in the unstable configuration of our times I think goes to that. And I’m thinking of peacekeeping operations, by improving the consistency of their action with regional forces.

Now, I’m going to stop here because I don’t want to take too much time with my introduction. But I would like to say in conclusion that we need to have to be creative multilaterally. We need to be creative in our new forms of governance, because in all the cases of crises in the past decade—whether financial, or humanitarian, or security related, climate related—all these have shown that the fates of the different states was linked. And finding an answer to international challenges go through greater cooperation. And I think we need to be creative together multilaterally in all fields. And I think this is the challenge that we have to face up to for international stability. Thank you for your attention. (Applause.)

HAASS: We will both adjust our headphones as it turns out the minister is as challenged in English as I am in French. (Laughter.) We are both realists, but neither of us are linguists. (Laughter.) OK?

Thank you, Mr. Minister, for that tour de reason. And so I listened closely to your remarks. At the core was a full-throttled embrace of multilateralism. And then you were extremely diplomatic—(laughter)—as a foreign minister should be—and I will quote, “The United States has a complex relationship with multilateralism,” close quote. I actually don’t think it’s that complex. What we have in the current United States government is, for the most part, a rejection of multilateralism. It has withdrawn—

LE DRIAN: (In French.)

HAASS: OK. It has withdrawn from the TPP. It has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement. It has decertified Iran under the JCPOA. It has left UNESCO. And it is threatening to leave NAFTA. So my question is, how worried are you? And can there be successful multilateralism when the United States seems to increasingly reject it?

LE DRIAN: (In French.) (Laughter.)

HAASS: You’re welcome.

LE DRIAN: (In French.) (Laughter.)

(Continues through interpreter.) Not only for the quality of my relationship with them, at least this afternoon. I’m not a diplomat by training, but I believe in what I said. There might have been actually the way, the manner of saying things that are very strong. However, I mean, it’s true that when you draw up a list of the U.S.’s withdrawals you realize that there is quite a big agenda, quite a significant agenda. But still, I also see that in all the withdrawals that you mentioned, it’s not all black or white. It’s somewhere in between. The decertification of the Vienna agreement, but they’re still not pulling out of the agreement. The U.S. is not certifying it, but not pulling out. So the climate agreement, he has not followed in, but they haven’t withdrawn the funding. So pulled out of UNESCO, but maybe they’re thinking of coming back. (Laughter.)

I mean, I could give you all sorts of example. But what I could say is that what we mean is we need America to play its full role, and to ensure its responsibility as the first global power. And we need to have an America that takes part in what I call multilateral creativity. I mean, it can take all sorts of shapes. We don’t necessarily have to follow the U.N. bolt. But we absolutely need to have this kind of multilateral relationship to find a solution to crises. Not necessarily security crises only, but all kinds of crises.

What I’ve also noticed, to answer what you said, is that on many topics, on many issues—I was minister of defense for five years before I was minister of foreign affairs under another government in France, but also another government in U.S. So I have two different experiences. And regarding matters of security that are major issues, I was—had the same partners. When your ambassador to the U.N. yesterday, and even the secretary of state, said that you were going to help in the countries in Sahel to ensure their own defense. This is something I said in my speech. And I see that there’s a running thread here, because fighting terrorism in the Sahel, France is certainly the leader there. But the U.N. has benefitted from American support. The American support is still there.

And we’re talking about Levant, Middle East, and fighting Daesh, the U.S. are leading the coalition. Before and after, they’re still there. And we look at—when you start thinking of what is going to happen after Daesh, I mean, I hope the U.S. will still be there. I think they will be there. And we still need to have the format for negotiation of the different stakeholders. The crisis and the coalition in the Middle East is not only—in my opinion at least, is not there only to win over the war. It’s also there not to lose peace. So there’s a continuity there. And I was diplomatic and you were slightly provocative maybe. (Laughter.) But in the end, what can I say?

HAASS: You’re an optimistic realist. (Laughter.) I could follow up, but I won’t. Let me turn to Europe. And on one hand you have Brexit, and you also have what is going in Spain, in Catalonia. On the other hand, you have the emergence of a new dynamic between Paris and Berlin. So what is—what is your sense of now what is—what s Europe’s future likely to be? What do you think is in the realm of the possible?

LE DRIAN: Actually, I can’t—I can talk about these three issues. And I can’t put them on the same footing. Catalonia, first. Catalonia is an internal problem that is internal to Spain. We acknowledge only one single authority and one single country. That’s the authority of Madrid and the government of Madrid. And we sincerely want the internal crisis to be solved in the framework of the Spanish constitution. There is no link to be established between this deep crisis—deep crisis of the whole of Spain, with the other issues, I think that your other comments that you made about Europe. Now sometimes some commentators actually took that risky stance too, but I don’t share it. In the speeches, the Catalan leaders, they had very European desires. The fact that Europe said, well, we don’t share your opinion is an element of difficulty for Catalonia. And I hope that this crisis will reach an optimal solution.


HAASS: Can I just interrupt you for a second? Sorry. Could you imagine any scenario on which an independent Catalonia would be admitted to the EU? (Laughter.)

LE DRIAN: Well, independence of Catalonia—an independent Catalonia would not be validated by Europe. I can’t see how. I mean, I can’t see how the U.N. or anybody else could support and acknowledge an independent Catalonia. I mean, the status, the independence of Catalonia, was not even validated by an election that was objectively followed—that followed the rules, because the election that was organized was an election that was supposedly won by 90 percent. But only—there were only 40 percent of voters. The conditions, the organization of this election is a big dubious. So I don’t see this as plausible at all.

Now, to answer your question about Brexit now, the British made their choice. They made their decision and I think there is no going back. Last week I met with the two ministers—two British ministers which were most impacted by Brexit—the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ministry in charge of the implementation of Brexit. And we’re talking about what’s after. We talk as if it were already done. So we can’t possibly imagine that there’s any going back. You know, that’s not possible. So the separation is enacted. And we can only respect the decision, even if we’re very sorry about it. But it’s there. So what we need to do now is to implement the separation, the conditions for the divorce and the way we will be able to establish good neighborly relations in the future. But the two need to be separated.

A mandate was given from—was given to Michel Barnier by the 27 European countries to lead the negotiations. They’re difficult. They have to do with maintaining the status of Europeans in the U.K., and maintaining the status of the Brits in Europe, and the whole difficulty for financing the money that was invested by the U.K. in the past months to—I mean, how—what’s the bill going to be? What’s the bottom line going to be? And what about the border between Ireland and the U.K.? I mean, it has to do with four fundamental elements of freedom—the free circulation of goods and services and people and capital in the European Union. So all of this is being done by a Europe that is very solid, a Europe of 27 countries.

So, of course, there have been attempts by the British, that are quite human, to try and find diverging positions among the 27 European countries. But that won’t work. And now, of course, we’ll have to find an understanding further down the road on how we’re going to work together. I think it will be possible. At least there’s one thing, one point upon which we need to very clearly state our commitment, and in particular for France, which is the fact that our defense relations will remain intact, unchanged, France’s relations with Britain, and we stated it from the beginning and we say it every time we can. In January—I think January the 18th—there will be a Franco-British summit. That means that we carry on talking to one another, even if we’re still negotiation. And this, I think, will allow us to take a look at matters of the defense. And on security issues I think that the dialogue and the relationship will remain permanent.

And then there’s Germany, right? Is that where you were leading me?

HAASS: Yes. Yes, sir. Allemand.

LE DRIAN: I understood. I understood you meant Germany.

Well, I think there’s an observation, something you probably noticed yourself, is that the latest German elections, the results of the latest German elections show that there were in Germany two elements of populism, or seeds of populism. This is not restricted to France or some other countries. It’s kind of—it’s kind of—(inaudible). But it’s not—it’s not something that makes us feel better in Europe. There’s a slight fragility of Germany now in this respect, in the face of increasing populism. And we think it’s not only in Germany, but also—but also in France.

And we think that this denial of Europe that came about in the result of different elections and different surveys and opinion polls, this, I think, needs to reshape Europe, to revamp Europe. And I had the opportunity of saying so with you earlier on, but I’m saying here in front of this audience: Many were very happy about the election of Emanuel Macron, and rightly so. But many also said, OK, well, this is a good thing for Europe. This is added—this will give added momentum of Europe. And they are right in thinking that in the same year this same France, three months earlier, might have been contaminated by all kinds of populism on the right and on the left, and could have drawn France towards withdrawal and decline.

And suddenly, there was this opening in the skies, and probably the result of President Macron’s talent, but also probably due to the fact that he had the courage to say my focus is Europe and I’m going to build my campaign on Europe and I’ll put the European flag in my campaign, which is something quite bold, politically speaking. And it worked. It worked probably because, at a given moment, France understood that the future was not—actually was not correlated to withdrawal but more towards multilateralism and cooperation—this multilateralism I mentioned early on that allows us to reaffirm ourselves as friends in a greater concert of nations that makes us stronger.

And I think this speech and this way of thinking is something that we share with many of the political leaders in Germany. All of our joint responsibilities, I think, are to set the landmarks for a reshaping of Europe and that we want Europe to protect its citizens and we want Europe to protect not only its citizens but also its interests. And we shouldn’t feel ashamed in saying that Europe is a power that knows how to use the balance of powers and knows how to go into a struggle for power, even with the U.S. We’re there to defend our own interests, and this is a new element that we’re starting to understand. And I hope that Europe will be successful, because if we don’t we run the risk of having all the countries, including mine, having a return of populism that would be devastating and that would only lead to withdrawal. And withdrawal means nationalism, and nationalism leads to conflict.

HAASS: Let me just—OK. I’ll just ask one last short question, then we’ll open it up.

Your government recently conducted and published what it described as a strategic review. It has not gotten a lot of attention here in the United States. What is the most significant thing that Americans should understand about the strategic review?

LE DRIAN: Well, you’re very lucky because the person who actually drafted the document is here with me.

HAAS: I know.

LE DRIAN: There he is. So I certainly share all of his conclusions, but I think he’s the best-placed person to speak about it. Can you say a couple of words?

HAASS: Say one minute. Just get a microphone to him. Microphone. Just for one minute. You should probably introduce yourself, and then just one minute on this because, again, it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention here.

MR.     : (Through interpreter.) This is totally improvised. (Laughter.)

INTERPRETER: “I didn’t mean to trap you here,” says the minister.

LE DRIAN: No, no, it’s out of respect and consideration.

MR.     : (Through interpreter.) Well, thank you, Minister.

(Continues in English.) Are we speaking—

MR. HAASS: There’s no pressure at all.

MR.     : Are we speaking French? Yeah.

HAASS: Whatever you prefer.

MR.     : I’ll speak in French.

(Continues through interpreter.) First of all, the strategic review was a collective piece work. A committee of sort of civilians and military (resolved ?) to draft this new strategic review and took three months to do so. The conclusions are very similar to what—(inaudible)—Le Drian just said right now. And it’s a good thing, happily enough. But I was struck by the convergence—of the convergence—

INTERPRETER: May I interrupt the speaker? There’s no more microphone. The speaker’s microphone, I think, is off.

MR. HAASS: Really?

MR.     : I don’t think so. (Laughs.)

INTERPRETER: No, no, no, it was on before.

MR.     : Oh, I’ll tell it in English then.

INTERPRETER: No, no, no.

MR.     : OK, sorry. There is a huge convergence in the French debate between the militaries and the diplomats to consider that we’re living in a transitional period where we should focus on the prevention of crises, which means global approach, integrated approach between the different dimensions: development, diplomacy, security, ultimately military action. And that’s what Jean-Yves has been promoting right now in the U.N. That’s also the agenda of the U.N. secretary-general. So there are—and it’s also the agenda of the European Union. Of course, we have to convince other partners to get on board. It will not be easy, as you were mentioning. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s probably the only way forward. Otherwise, it will be a period of anarchy. This is the main, I think, idea in the review. Sorry for that.

HAASS: No, thank you very much.

Let me open it up now. We’ve got some time for some questions from our members.

Ambassador Wisner.

Q: Mr. Minister, thank you very much for a clear and most welcome message.

At one point in it you touched on the question of Iran, and I think you found a lot of resonance among those who believe that the agreement, the JCPOA, must continue to provide a framework for containing the nuclear problem. But you went on to say that certain aspects of Iranian behavior are unacceptable, and you listed a number of them. You’ll find very few who disagree. But what is unacceptable assumes something that is acceptable. So as you talk about or think about Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, the crises that you mentioned, what in your mind is the acceptable nature of an Iranian presence and action in the region?

LE DRIAN: Well, we mustn’t get the issues confused. I think there mustn’t be any confusion here. First of all, there’s one thing regarding (collaboration ?) with Iran, there’s the nuclear issue. And I would just say that in my capacity, even more so right now than a few months ago, the major crisis that is looming in security is proliferation—nuclear proliferation. A major challenge is nuclear proliferation. And the chemical proliferation—we might be able to talk a little bit further—and nuclear proliferation, that’s the major risk over and above any other kind of consideration. And this is the reason for which that we need to prevent Iran and that we still need to prevent Iran from acceding to nuclear weapons, and likewise for DPRK. And on this issue of nuclear, we consider that the Vienna Agreement is an agreement that prevents Iran from accessing modern nuclear power and that right now nothing shows us or testifies to the contrary. And we can say that the nuclear package needs to be dealt with separately, including in all sorts of other international fora given the importance and the risk involved in all of the aspects of nonproliferation.

France, when the agreement was signed—or even before the signing of the agreement—was the country that was the most demanding as to the guarantees. My predecessor, Laurent Fabius, was in place at the time. And I was at the Ministry of Defense, and he considered—and France was very more demanding—and more demanding than U.S.—and we considered the agreement was robust. And I think if the agreement exists, it needs to be abided by. And I think nothing could be worse for the future in fighting proliferation if we didn’t abide by the agreement and respect the signature, because otherwise, after that, there is nobody to pass an agreement with. And if one day North Korea were to come back to the table and negotiations, what kind of guarantee would they have of any kind of signature of an agreement on denuclearization. That’s one thing. But this, certainly it doesn’t prevent us from being very demanding and very firm with Iran on other issues. If we’re talking about ballistic elements, for example, in the normal respect, I can’t remember the numbers of the—can you remind me of the number—31st. I mean, I got the numbers wrong, but anyway. Resolution 2341—so 2331 of the demands that Iran does not develop any ballistic activities.

The second issue is the territorial dimension of the conflict and the fact that the country’s extending in the region and especially while we’re trying to find a solution to the crisis in Syria. I mean, I’m less worried about (the extension ?) of Iraq. There seem to be—there seem to be in Iraq more political guarantees. I mean, I hope this lasts. But in Syria, of course, quite obviously in Yemen and Lebanon. So we need to be very firm and very demanding with Iran on these two issues.

But at the same time, we need to respect the agreement we signed. It’s as clear as that, as far as we’re concerned. And France’s position is to remain very firm in all aspects. If it were to happen that Iran did not abide by its agreement, we would say so, and we would draw the consequences. But it’s not the case. And I hope I was clear enough.

Q: David Andelman, CNN, opinion.

Monsieur le Ministre, I’d like to turn to Francophone Africa, if I could, particularly Niger, Mali, and Chad. Can you tell us what you think the role of France is or should be in terms of halting jihadist expansion in that region and what the role of the U.S. should be? We’ve heard there’s been some friction on the ground. And so how do you see the two countries working together, since you’ve been both minister of defense and minister of foreign affairs?

LE DRIAN: Well, the Sahel region—to talk about Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, there’s also Chad and Mauritania—is an area, it’s a region that is very fragile, and it’s a region in which some states are not totally well-structured and in which there have been for years—there has been for years now all sorts of trafficking, and in particular drug trafficking, arms trafficking that were reactivating, even grew stronger after the disintegration of Libya following the demise of Gadhafi. So—and it’s also an area in which radical extremism to develop. One finances the other, and they work together, and different groups that play the whole range of the spectrum.

In 2013, there was an attempt by Islamist groups to take over Mali and Bamako and to transform Mali, to turn Mali into a kidnapped state. It would become an Islamist state with all the consequences that you can imagine. Now, France intervened then upon request by the government in Mali, and with the support of the U.S., to prevent this from happening. And then we had to extend our military action because terrorism, of course, is borderless and groups don’t stay in one country. And our operation, our military operation, which is called Barkhane, with 4,000 to 4,100 men in the field permanently, are responsible for fighting terrorism in a very, very large area, and that’s not sufficient. All the more so that the terrorist groups have reorganized themselves and no longer carry out a territorial terrorist action like they did before. But they sort of hit—they have—they organized terrorist attacks. That is the less traditional way of performing their terrorist attacks, but it’s just as strong and devastating. And they have more limited groups, but still carrying out as many actions. So the—what I referred to in my talk that was echoed by the Security Council for three hours yesterday is the topic—the constitution of a joint force put together by these five African countries themselves to ensure their own security. This is a huge step forward, and it is a very exciting concept. And the fact that these five heads of state committed to this idea and that their heads of staff themselves followed the same logic is totally unprecedented. And we don’t want to miss this opportunity.

I’m saying this to Americans by answering your question on this point. I know—I know that there are questions that the American administration is wondering about the efficiency of the U.N. and the efficiency of peacekeeping operations and how much they cost. And this is an opportunity here, an opportunity because the Africans are organizing themselves and trying to ensure their own security in controlling their borders themselves that we, France, provide the support to the forces in the field. I mean, we need to make sure to do everything we can to make this successful. Because if we don’t, as I said early on—and any other experiment of this kind anywhere in Africa would be doomed to failure—all the more so because this initiative is supported by the African Union, which they’re putting the whole system to a test here. This is what I said yesterday. Sorry, I don’t have much time left.

HAASS: Mr. Minister—no, no, unlike an unnamed president of a certain European country, we have a tradition of being very punctual here. So I’m afraid we’re going to have to end the meeting here, and I simply want to say not just thank you for being with us today—and my apologies for those I couldn’t get to—but we look forward to seeing you back here on your future visits to the United States. (Applause.)


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