Iran – Interview given by Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1 (November 25, 2013)
Q. – The President and you yourself have continually warned that there would be no agreement without Iran’s commitment to give up nuclear weapons. Has it really committed itself to this?
The minister – Yes, this was explicitly provided for in the preamble to the agreement. There are two fundamental terms for understanding what’s going on and what France’s constant position is: “progress” and “vigilance”. When you look at the agreement which has been signed – which is a first agreement –, it’s these two terms which are important. “Progress” because it is indeed significant progress; and “vigilance” because we aren’t at the end of the process, it’s only a first stage. The progress of this process will have to be monitored all the time.
Q. – This morning, do you doubt Iran? Should we believe in Iran?
The minister – Iran is committing itself to giving up the prospect of nuclear weapons, that’s crystal clear. As we’ve always said, it can make progress on civilian nuclear energy, but not nuclear weapons. And also, in the same way – and the French were extremely vigilant on this point –, as far as the 20% enriched uranium stockpile is concerned, it’s going to be neutralized.
As regards the Arak reactor, which is dangerous because it poses a proliferation risk, because it produces plutonium which can be used for military purposes, it is stated expressly that there will be a halt [to its activities]; so it’s at a standstill. That’s the first stage: we’ve got around six months to implement and verify this. There will be a second stage which must be the definitive agreement.
France’s approach the whole time – as the President said, and I’ve continued to take this exact line – has been to make progress, because we’d like an improvement in security for the region and for the world, and to be vigilant.
Q. – You were saying right here recently: in a year, perhaps less, Iran will have a bomb. Is the threat receding this morning?
The minister – No, I didn’t say that…
Q. – It may get a bomb.
The minister – I said it could get a bomb and that there were unfortunately only two possible ways forward in relation to this: the right way forward, that of negotiation, which is what we’re doing; or we would arrive at solutions which would have disastrous consequences.
Q. – This morning, then, we’ve got to wait to find out if Tehran keeps its promise?
The minister – In the same way, when I talk about vigilance, it’s two-way, i.e. Tehran will be equally vigilant about us applying our commitments. We’ve committed, for example, to ease a number of sanctions; this is reversible. The same phrase, an important one, is used twice in a row, consisting in saying: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Q. – But does this mean that for suspending the sanctions, a decision from Europe is necessary…
The minister – Of course.
Q. – A unanimous decision – when are you going to take it?
The minister – It’s planned. In a few weeks, we’ve got a meeting of the Foreign Affairs’ Council and, at Mrs Ashton’s proposal – with our support of course – we’re proposing a suspension. But this suspension of sanctions is limited, targeted and reversible; it’s the same on the American side.
Q. – President Rouhani said immediately after the agreement: “Our right to enrichment has been recognized; Iran will continue its uranium enrichment as in the past.” He’s misread the agreement!
The minister – What’s guaranteed on both sides is an enrichment programme. The enrichment programme isn’t the same thing as the right to enrich under mutually agreed terms. The latter means it [Iran] can’t do anything and everything: there are clear limitations.
Q. – Yes to civilian energy, no to a military nuclear programme.
The minister – Exactly: that’s what France got included absolutely clearly in the preamble.
Q. – If there’s an even partial suspension of sanctions, will it be from December/January onwards?
The minister – Yes, it’ll begin in December.
Q. – And on that basis, can French manufacturers – for example, in the automotive sector, Renault PSA – consider themselves authorized to return to Iran to trade and work?
The minister – A number of sanctions have been suspended. Those sanctions do indeed include the automotive sector.
Q. – Are you sure France hasn’t given in and abandoned Israel, its ally?
The minister – I’m sure that this line of progress and vigilance has been maintained. We’ve been in constant contact with Israel. François Hollande was in Israel last week; the visit went very well. Likewise, Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, went to Russia a few days ago.
Q. – He says he’s worried.
The minister – He expressed this worry to us; we talked completely openly. You must also understand the context: the Iranian authorities sometimes make provocative statements about Israel.
Q. – Supreme Leader Khamenei…
The minister – Yes, as you remember, including last week.
Q. – He said last week, while you were negotiating: Israel is doomed to disappear. That’s not reassuring.
The minister – No, of course not. Those are provocations. In that context, I obviously understand Israel’s reaction, but at the same time we’ve worked to ensure that the security of all the countries in the region – including Israel – is better guaranteed.
Q. – But isn’t there a threat of pre-emptive, defensive strikes by Israel during this six-month period?
The minister – At this stage, no, because no one would understand it.
Q. – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are hostile to this agreement because it strengthens their assertive Shi’ite enemies. And what if they, too, engaged in military nuclear proliferation?
The minister – No, that’s not their intention at all. You must understand clearly that the goal of this agreement is “progress and vigilance”. I repeat: you can’t separate one term from the other. We’d like an improvement in regional and global security. But as long as Iran was perceived as a state that could build an atomic bomb and use it against another state, we had the opposite of security. We’re working to dismantle this and eliminate this risk.
Q. – Is Iran now becoming a regional power?
The minister – It’s been a major power for a long time.
Q. – Are you going to agree to it taking part in the Geneva conference on Syria, if it takes place?
The minister – That’s another issue; I’d like that conference to take place. Taking part in it will be all those who accept the principle of the conference, which is to create a transitional government including some regime elements and the moderate opposition. If Iran accepts that goal, it can take part; if it doesn’t accept it – I’ve discussed this with the Foreign Minister – it won’t be there. It says it will try to play a positive role. The positive role would begin with Hezbollah’s non-intervention in Syria.
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