United Nations General Assembly – Press Conference of Jean-Yves Le Drian (18 September 2017)

Press Conference - Initial Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. PROLIFERATION OF CRISES AND INSUFFICIENT INTERNATIONAL CRISIS CONTROL

I am delighted to see you here as I attend my first United Nations General Assembly. I am pleased to present you with France’s priorities and to tell you how we intend to address them during this highlight of the international calendar.

This is a critical moment. It is marked by a troubling deterioration in the international environment. Never since the end of the Cold War have differences, tensions, and the level of conflict been so high, in a world that nevertheless is more interdependent than ever. Even worse, despite globalization, cooperation has become less evident, with the rules of the multilateral game increasingly called into question and the growing temptation to withdraw or go one’s own way.

Amid a growing number of crises, striving for concrete solutions is France’s priority, for two reasons: first, because these crises concern us, they affect our security and that of Europe; and second, because these crises compromise the international order by weakening the norms that govern it and the balances that underpin it.

In the face of this decaying situation, France has a special responsibility – because it has the means, because its voice carries weight, because it is seen as a balancing power. For all these reasons, France must be proactive, it must be creative, agile, and pragmatic, and at the same time a guarantor of such key principles as the respect for international law, and in particular, the UN Charter. It must also be vigilant when it comes to protecting vulnerable populations, or in the fight against impunity for the most serious international crimes.

It is in this frame of mind that the President, who will be arriving shortly in New York, and I will attend numerous meetings devoted to every sort of crisis – military and humanitarian, as well as the promotion of human rights and development. We will have the opportunity to meet with our partners to discuss the situation in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, and the Sahel, among others.

In this regard, allow me to expand upon a few of our priorities.

First, the crises.

2. CRISES

Because the UN’s first mission is to ensure international security, the President and I will be working especially hard in the days to come to move forward on the resolution of major international crises.

  • I will begin with the Levant.

That is our top priority.

As you know, Daesh is experiencing one military defeat after another. We can now anticipate a time when Daesh will no longer hold any territory. And we must be sure that in the future we will be prepared to deal with a more diffuse but still real threat from Daesh and Al-Qaeda.

Terrorism often draws its strength from a breeding ground. I’m thinking of Syria. You are familiar with the reality of the war that is raging there. We have seen more than 300,000 dead, half the population displaced, murders, torture, unspeakable suffering, chaos. After six years of deadlock, we need a realistic, pragmatic approach commensurate with a conflict that has grown increasingly international. Let me say once again: fighting Daesh and identifying the political conditions for ending the civil war are two faces of the same commitment to serve international security. This requires working together with all regional actors and the members of the Security Council. That is why the President proposed to establish a contact group bringing together representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council, given their particular responsibility, along with the main actors involved in Syria. The establishment of this group should make it possible to pool initiatives in order to move forward, reduce contradictions within the international community, and effectively support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, whom I met with yesterday. That is how we can help the Syrians themselves find the way to an agreement that thus far has proven impossible. The creation of this group will be on the agenda of the meeting of P5 ministers with the UN secretary-general Thursday morning.

France’s priorities are clear: First, the fight against terrorism. Second, the need for humanitarian access everywhere. Even where progress has been observed, more must be done. Third, the need for a political process taking into account the different components of Syrian society and the fate of these various communities, leading to a new Constitution. And fourth, France will remain committed to fighting impunity for the perpetrators of chemical attacks. The same holds true for the future of our whole system of collective security: one cannot violate the most fundamental norms without someday facing the consequences. As I said a few days ago at the Ambassadors Conference, France will soon be taking initiatives in this area.

  • Libya

On the subject of crises, I want to turn to France’s immediate neighborhood. We cannot allow the instability prevailing in Libya to continue, with the threats it represents for Libya’s neighbors but also for Europe. That’s why we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Libyan people in the face of the challenges they are confronting: to eradicate the terrorist threat on their territory; to control migratory flows; to curb all kinds of trafficking, which also threaten us; and in order to do these things, to restore the country’s political unity, a prerequisite for its security and stability.

It was with this in mind que that on July 25, the President hosted Prime Minister Sarraj and Field Marshal Haftar at Le Celle-Saint-Cloud. It was an important step, because they pledged in a joint declaration to unite against terrorism and lay the groundwork for an electoral process. We must continue these efforts in order to expand the consensus between all the Libyan parties. And the presidents of the two chambers –the State Council and the House of Representatives – have a major role to play. A few days ago, I myself visited Tripoli, Benghazi, Misurata and Tobruk. I observed great fatigue among the people, confronted with the country’s fragmentation. We will therefore continue our efforts to achieve an inclusive political solution. Ghassan Salamé, the secretary-general’s special representative, is leading this effort. I saw him yesterday evening. We support his efforts and have full faith that this mission will be accomplished. That is what the President will say on behalf of France at Wednesday’s meeting on Libya chaired by Secretary-General Guterres.

  • The Sahel

To continue on the subject of crises, terrorism still represents a threat in the Sahel, as recent attacks have shown. Terrorist groups know no borders and are fueled by trafficking, particularly drug trafficking and human trafficking. In the face of this challenge, France supports a collective, coordinated, global response.

First, we fully support the efforts of the UN and MINUSMA. We support the effective implementation of the Algiers Agreement; that is the key to stabilizing this region. Much remains to be done. And I will attend an event on the implementation of the Malian Peace and Reconciliation Agreement with Mr. Guterres and President Keïta. The unanimous adoption of a resolution establishing a sanctions regime against all those who hinder the implementation of the peace agreement is specifically aimed at strengthening our collective action in this area.

France is also in favor of strengthening the G5 Sahel Joint Force. This regional initiative endorsed by the African Union, unanimously supported by the Security Council, and supported by the European Union offers a coordinated response with respect to security. With this force, Africa strengthens its commitment to the fight against terrorism. The G5 Sahel Joint Force may serve as a positive model for future African peace operations. In this connection, on Monday – today - the President will take part in a meeting attended by the heads of state of the Sahel, the UN secretary-general, and the EU High Representative.

France itself, as you know, is engaged on the ground with Operation Barkhane. But apart from the military and political dimensions of our efforts, we are also engaged in the region’s development. It is the combination of these three dimensions – defense, diplomacy, and development – that may guarantee an end to the crisis. And that’s why France has adopted the Alliance for the Sahel initiative, which we launched in July and on which we are working with the G5 countries.

When it comes to our commitment to the Sahel, France is in it for the long haul. We will host a ministerial meeting on this topic during our Security Council presidency a month from now.

  • CAR

This week, I will also attend a meeting on the Central African Republic with President Touadera. But I want to express my concern over the surge in violence by armed groups in recent months, particularly in the center and southeast of the country. It has resulted in numerous victims. It is therefore urgent to implement the joint roadmap for peace and reconciliation in the CAR, adopted on July 17 in Libreville by the Central African authorities, the African Union, and the countries of the region.

  • Burma/Myanmar

In this enumeration of the main crises we are facing today, there is the tragedy of the Rohingya. The crisis that has been going on since August 25 is unprecedented in its severity and can leave no one indifferent. Along with longstanding discrimination against this population, a third of the community has now been forced into exile. 60% of the refugees are reportedly children. This situation calls for a collective response by the international community. We reiterate our call for a halt to the violence against civilians forced to flee in massive numbers and demand that the Burmese security forces guarantee their protection and reestablish safe humanitarian access. We expect Madam San Suu Kyi to make a strong statement tomorrow to this effect, and we hope an effective dialogue can be established based on the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, chaired by Kofi Annan.

3. DEVELOPMENT

The urgency of crisis management should not divert attention from the need to ensure our actions are based on a long-term approach.

  • ODA

We must adopt a comprehensive approach, as I stated just now, combining security, political legitimacy and economic and human development. This will ensure stability and lasting peace. This is the reason for France’s commitment, a commitment made by President Macron, to increase our ODA to 0.55% of GDP by 2022, with priority given to climate, education, gender issues and fragility in Africa.

  • Climate

With respect to climate, we want to guarantee and preserve the results of the Paris Agreement. This agreement must be implemented and it is irreversible. There is no alternative solution to achieving the goal of 2°C, just as there can be no solitary or unilateral action in this area. Those who avert their gaze now will also suffer the consequences of climate change.

That’s why the Conference of the Parties in Bonn from November 6 to 17 is also important. I will be there. The goal of this COP23, under Fijian presidency, is to prepare for the Facilitative Dialogue which is the main instrument for implementing the Paris Agreement, with a view toward ensuring that the states maintain a strong and ambitious commitment. In perfect synergy with the COP23 discussions, we will again address the implementation of the agreement and notably its funding during the Paris Summit on December 12; an anniversary date. Furthermore, as you know, we intend to hold the next IPCC meeting in France during the first half of 2018 in order to support international climate commitment. But we must go further on the environmental front. This is the goal of the Global Pact for the Environment that President Macron hopes to launch; the first summit focusing on this pact will take place on Tuesday. We will address, together with an inclusive Group of Friends, the challenges posed by such a pact. As Laurent Fabius rightly noted, environmental law is fragmented and incomplete: The goal of this pact is to combine in a single text international environmental rights and principles, in order to further advance them through a process of multilateral negotiations, which we will launch after the summit.

4. REVITALIZING MULTILATERALISM

  • UN reform and multilateral initiatives

In all of the crises that I’ve mentioned we are paying the price for a lack of international cooperation. We are paying this price due to the duration of these crises and as a result of their intensification. This is notably true with respect to the division that is undermining the Security Council. Yet the collaboration between the P5 members, their unity, is key to resolving many crises. This is the purpose of the contact group on Syria, as I mentioned. France wants to be a unifier, it wants to unify the Security Council, which has too often been divided over the last few years to fully play its role.

The UN must be better able to respond to the crises in a concrete and effective way. Like all institutions, its functioning could be improved: We are all convinced of that. That’s why France fully supports the secretary-general in his determination to reform the organization to make it more effective, more transparent, more responsive. We share his global vision of the three pillars of the UN – peace and security, humanitarian affairs and sustainable development – an indivisible whole. This global view is essential.

In general, the UN must decompartmentalize its action because experience has shown the extent to which security issues, emergency issues and development issues are intertwined. President Macron will take part in the high-level debate on peacekeeping hosted on Wednesday by the Ethiopian presidency of the Security Council and France also supports the secretary-general’s commitment to ensuring that the UN lead by example in the fight against sexual abuse in peacekeeping operations.

Ladies and gentlemen, the crises of the last decade – whether humanitarian, security, health or environmental – have clearly shown that the fates of states were linked and that the response to international challenges called for closer cooperation. In this context, we have a responsibility to defend the frameworks for action and the collectively determined rules of law, while making a commitment to strengthening the UN system, and having the capacity to support new forms of global governance, especially those that respond to the social and technological transformations of our time. This is what we have done with respect to climate change, through the method adopted for the Paris Agreement, bringing together states, NGOs, and civil society actors, and it’s a method we want to pursue and strengthen. That’s why President Macron will host a dialogue on Wednesday with a panel of NGOs, which I and Nicolas Hulot, Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, will attend, in order to explain our priorities as well as to involve civil society as closely as possible in our initiatives.

  • Non-proliferation

In addition, the uncertain strategic context that I described in my introduction justifies ensuring that our multilateral approach to key international challenges is rigorous and credible. In the area of non-proliferation, France refused to take part in the negotiations on a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons because such an approach can only weaken the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; however, in the current context, it is clearly the most balanced instrument and consequently the most robust in terms of limiting the risks. In this respect, resorting to catchphrases would be irresponsible. We can create a safer environment through concrete actions. That’s why I will take part in the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: indeed, this is concrete, credible and realistic progress in the area of non-proliferation.

That’s why we will also ensure that the Iranian nuclear deal is strictly enforced, while some important deadlines are looming with respect to the timeline for its implementation. It is in this context that we intend to pursue our discussions on this issue. A meeting involving all countries that negotiated the agreement – the Six + Iran – will take place on Wednesday.

  • Cybersecurity

I spoke of multilateral creativity. This is what we must also do today with respect to the digital world and cybersecurity. We will address this challenge this morning during an event devoted to this new challenge which requires greater diplomatic commitment. It will provide an opportunity for me to promote a vision of governance involving state and private actors; indeed, firms have a responsibility and a role to play in protecting and ensuring the stability of the digital space. Here again, France will take the lead in promoting the regulations needed to ensure an international order that is just and beneficial to all.

Furthermore, the mobilization of the international community to combat online radicalization and the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes is essential. The Security Council resolutions, notably resolution 2178, as well as the secretary-general’s plan of action to prevent violent extremism, provide a particularly appropriate framework for action and cooperation, in which we will participate.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the agenda for President Macron, for myself, for Ministre d’Etat Nicolas Hulot during this ministerial week. As you can see, French diplomacy is active working on all fronts with respect to resolving the crises and promoting multilateralism in order to continually try to achieve concrete results.

I am available to respond to your questions.

Press Conference - Questions from the Press

Q. A topical question about the Kurdish referendum. There’s currently huge pressure from the international community on the Kurds to abandon or suspend the referendum. I wanted to know if France has joined in initiatives to propose alternatives to the Kurds. You met Mr. Barzani recently. I wanted to know if, in your view, he might be flexible about abandoning or suspending the referendum?

THE MINISTER – Thank you for that question, which is very important and highly topical. We’re already preparing for the post-Daesh era in Iraq. And as far as we’re concerned, the post-Daesh era requires inclusive political governance, which respects Iraq’s constitution and thus its federalist dimension, respects the communities making it up and respects Iraq’s territorial integrity.

This is the message I conveyed to Prime Minister Abadi at the end of August when I went to Baghdad. It’s also what I very clearly told President Barzani. In Iraq’s constitution, there are very important elements relating to Kurdistan’s constitutional autonomy. These must be respected, validated and secured, and this can be done through the dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil. I think any other initiative would be inappropriate.

Q. Thank you. President Trump has been cautioned by your country and many others against pulling out of the Paris climate accord, against decertifying the Iran deal. Do you see any evidence that his administration is being persuaded by any of this? For instance, the Secretary of State suggested that the United States might stay in the Paris deal under the right conditions.

THE MINISTER – The Paris Agreement was a huge step forward by the whole international community. It’s unprecedented in its scope, its commitments and the speed with which it has been adopted, since a year later it had been sufficiently ratified for it to be implemented. Today the ratifications are being confirmed: There are already more than 145. So we believe the agreement is going to be implemented. It will be.

We note President Trump’s statements about his intention not to respect it. For the time being, no concrete action has been taken and we can still hope to persuade him. At any rate, in order to persuade, international pressure must be strong and, moreover, we mustn’t stop implementing the Paris Agreement. This is why President Macron called for the climate summit of 12 December, to continue the irreversible implementation of the commitments made.

Q. I also have a topical question about the [North] Korea crisis. Yesterday the US and South Korea carried out maneuvers to simulate the bombing of North Korea. My question is this: in your view, is this posturing or a war-based approach? And an additional question: can we at last say, at this stage in the crisis, that we can’t prevent North Korea from having the nuclear bomb?

THE MINISTER – The nuclear and ballistic tests North Korea has carried out recently – and you’re aware of how this has been speeded up – are actions carried out in breach of the Security Council resolutions. These actions threaten international security and, firstly, regional security. So France very firmly condemned those tests. We think that this initiative has to be continued with a great deal of firmness within the Security Council and that the adoption of sanctions must be genuinely effective. That takes time. The sanctions decided in 2016 are being adopted today. The sanctions decided in 2017 will be adopted gradually.

France is determined for the international community to exert maximum pressure to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. It’s the only initiative possible: exerting extremely strong pressure through sanctions and bringing North Korea to the negotiating table. It’s an initiative which, obviously, certain countries could join in with. I think that China’s shift in this respect is interesting. But it’s an initiative which doesn’t require significant military action. I’ll leave President Trump to provide the necessary explanations for the rest.

Q. Mr. Minister, a question about the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA. Will other signatories like France use this occasion at the UN to try and persuade President Trump not to withdraw his certification and, if he does not certify and at least the US leaving by imposing huge sanctions, can the JCPOA survive if all the other signatories remain committed?

THE MINISTER – We’ve reaffirmed on many occasions – and the President will be sure to do so – the importance of the Vienna agreement and the fact it is being adhered to. We note that checks are being carried out, very strict ones, and so we’ll be keeping an eye on the very strict implementation of the agreement. We remain vigilant but today nothing has happened which makes us think the agreement isn’t being implemented. We think it’s essential to maintain it in order to prevent any spiral of proliferation, not least to deter indirectly the hardest parties in Iran’s government from getting involved in acquiring atomic weapons.

Furthermore, at a time when we’re experiencing the risks you’ve just mentioned concerning North Korea, it’s really important to maintain this policy. At any rate, that’s the position France will defend and we’ll try to persuade President Trump of the pertinence of that choice.

Q. The question is whether it can survive if the United States stays, or it can survive if the other signatories remain?

THE MINISTER – This will be a great responsibility, and it could lead to a process of proliferation which, at that point, it would be difficult to curtail. If one country can have access to nuclear weapons, its neighbors could move in the same direction. So the Iran agreement is absolutely essential.

Q. Mr. Minister, a couple of questions, if you permit me, on what you said regarding Syria: You said you were looking for main players besides the current members of the Security Council for the contact group. Are those main players the same as the guarantors, and I have in mind Iran and Turkey? And another clarification on your very important point on impunity. You connected it to chemical weapons; I don’t know if you meant to expand it. However, is it possible and reconcilable with your position as France to say that Bashar al-Assad would have to be part of the transition - so what if he is guilty? And lastly, how relevant is your initiative when the Russians are really running the show on the ground?

THE MINISTER – The situation is developing very fast in Syria. New information arrives every day that suggests that Daesh [so-called ISIL] is losing ground. The greatest risk is that Syria’s future is determined by the military positions of the various parties at a given time. That would have two inevitable consequences: firstly a fragmentation of the state, which would then foster other forms of fundamentalism and radicalism that would take Daesh’s place.

Syria’s current situation leads us to think that it is important to initiate a political process immediately, as only a political process can avoid these deadlocks and this fragmentation and this indirect call for other forms of terrorism to emerge. That is why we need to move beyond the lines that have failed to produce solutions since 2011. And that is why France wants a contact group to be set up, based on the foundation of the permanent members of the Security Council and regional states concerned by this situation. That is the subject of our discussions on Thursday. I can’t give the answer before the meeting.

And that is also why it is important for there to be at the same time a de-escalation process, humanitarian access for all and an attempt to reunify Syria’s opposition. And that is why, too, we believe that we now need to show realism in two respects. Realism means not making Bashar al-Assad’s departure a prerequisite for negotiations. That is why President Macron has taken this initiative. Realism also means not leading people to believe that he can represent Syria’s future. I don’t see how millions of refugees who have fled the violence he is responsible for can return if he remains in power.

So we need to initiate a political process with all those capable of conducting it. That is today’s necessity, independent of prosecution on the chemical weapons and threats issue. We have already stated our views on this subject. We await the end of the inquiry by the UN joint investigative mechanism (JIM), which should present its conclusions soon. For our part, we are convinced that sarin gas was used.

Q.You mean that you want to replace the Astana process? Are you suggesting that the Astana process is over and you need to replace it?

THE MINISTER – No, Astana isn’t a political process. Astana is a process of resolving de-escalation zones over four individualized areas. The political process is necessary, and the process must be given every chance by supporting the representative, [Staffan] de Mistura, in his action. That’s what we proposed on Thursday morning.

Q. A question on the Central African Republic. With the worsening violence in the CAR, would France be ready to send troops to Bangui again to support MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic]? How will the Alliance for the Sahel be able to boost the creation of the G5 Sahel joint force?

THE MINISTER – On the Central African Republic, first of all, why did we intervene at the beginning of 2014? Because at the time, if there hadn’t been a buffer force we would have witnessed large-scale massacres between different communities, ethnicities and religions. France fulfilled its mission and Operation Sangaris stopped as soon as there was a presidential election, which wasn’t disputed by Mr. Touadera, an uncontested general election, a United Nations mission established in the Central African Republic to guarantee the peace process and, fourthly, a European Union mission aimed at strengthening the FACA, the Central African Armed Forces. From that moment on, France’s mission, mandated by the United Nations, was over and it was important for the Central Africans to take control of their destiny with the tools in place.

Like you, I note an upsurge in criminal acts of which civilians are the victims. There was an agreement in Libreville. I mentioned it in my initial remarks, and this agreement must be honored, as well as the tools enabling the agreement to be honored. They’re the tools the United Nations put in place. There’s a force called MINUSCA, which is a robust force and which must fulfil its mission. And there’s another force, namely the European Union force that is due to train the FACA for its mission. The message we’ll be giving President Touadera is, first of all, to strengthen him – he was chosen by universal suffrage – and ensure that the neighbors can put pressure on the groups they have influence over, so that the country finally experiences a bit of calm. So the return of a French operation isn’t on the agenda.

But on the G5 Sahel force, there is a small link; I imagine you were also drawing it in your question. What’s the big new thing about the G5 Sahel force? In terms of forces – because it depends what you include under the term G5 Sahel force – I’m talking about the joint military force, the determination to activate a tool shared by the five countries to protect their borders and combat terrorism. It’s not necessarily jihadist terrorism, as you well know: it’s often organized crime. But sometimes the two combine: that’s gangsterism. To combat this, the five countries have decided to pool their forces. For months, for years we’ve been talking about an African peace force, and today it’s a reality. It’s such a reality that the joint force’s headquarters have been established, they have a commander-in-chief, they’ve decided on the various forces – three groups of 1,500 troops – and, in the central area of the combat zone in Liptako-Gourma, it’s at a very advanced stage of technical preparation. So for us, it’s a considerable step forward for ensuring that gradually, in this zone, Africans themselves take responsibility for Africans’ security.

The Alliance for the Sahel, it’s true, will be implemented, presented, only when we meet at the end of this month, and I’ll be chairing a meeting on this. The distinctive feature of the Alliance for the Sahel is that it’s a very responsive development tool, which is rarely the case. Alongside the military operation to provide security, there’s an effective and visible development tool, especially in the same zones. That’s a great challenge and I think we’ll succeed at it.

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