Iran/United States – Interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, to RTL (excerpts) (3 January 2020)

Paris, 3 January 2020

(…)
Q: Iran’s Supreme Leader has just called for revenge following General Qasem Soleimani’s death overnight. He was killed in a raid which the Americans and President Donald Trump claimed responsibility for. Does this American operation worry you?

The Minister: First of all it’s the next step in an escalation which has been going on for months. So what we feared is happening, namely that you can see an increasing standoff between the United States and Iran. Today, this morning, our priority is the region’s stability. We must create the conditions to guarantee the region’s stability. This means that in the coming hours, at the highest state level – Jean-Yves Le Drian and the President – we’re going to have contacts with all the partners, all the players in the region, because there are a lot of consequences. This has consequences on peace in the region, and we know it’s quite an unstable region. It has consequences on the Coalition against Daesh [so-called ISIL], the ability we may still have in the region to combat terrorism, which is still the first threat. And it also has consequences on nuclear proliferation. As you know, we’re being hugely vigilant to prevent that continuing.

Q: This morning does the French government – I wanted to say, does France – fear a risk of all-out war with Iran, between Iran and the United States?

The Minister: You know, military escalation is always a risk. And so all the efforts which the President and Jean-Yves Le Drian and France – since you put it that way – are making in every area, in every region of the world, are to ensure we create the conditions for peace and, at any rate, stability. And so, clearly, when such actions, such operations take place, we clearly see escalation is under way, at a time when, above all, we’d like to see stability and de-escalation.

Q: How? With what resources? Who does that mean talking to? So far President Trump himself, as we know, has shown little concern about the United Nations and, ultimately, about our ability to talk to one another. (…)

The Minister: It means talking to everyone. It also means talking to the players in the Coalition; you talked about that. It means talking to all the players in the region. It means talking to everyone surrounding the region, but it therefore means, above all, ensuring we continue to act in a multilateral framework. And this, as you know, is the President’s principle. When we say France is a balancing power, it means our role isn’t to get… It doesn’t mean taking sides, it means talking to everyone and ensuring that, for the French people, we can be players who work and function for the region’s stability.

Q: Are there decisions, or at any rate a voice to be raised, at European level?

The Minister: Clearly.

Q: On this issue specifically.

The Minister: Well, this issue is being followed at European level and involves foreign and defence ministers; the ministers who meet talk practically every month. Obviously there will be national and European consultations and obviously on this matter, as you know, the so-called Vienna agreement, the famous JCPOA, which was the agreement against nuclear proliferation in Iran, was signed by Germany, France and the United Kingdom. So we’re going to continue taking action which is of course coordinated. It’s extremely important and ties in with the whole issue of having a sovereign Europe, a powerful Europe, and being able to create the conditions for speaking with a single, consistent and therefore powerful voice on issues such as this.

Q: Might the [French] President be prompted to talk to the American or Iranian presidents today? At any rate, is this conceivable?

The Minister: Well, as you know, the President obviously talks to everyone. He has his own priorities. Obviously on a day like today, there are going to be very many contacts with everyone. I’m not sure they’ll be public but, at any rate, you can imagine that we’re talking to everyone.

Q: Are we waking up in a more dangerous world?

The Minister: Yes, we’re waking up in a more dangerous world. Military escalation is always dangerous. It’s dangerous everywhere, it’s dangerous in all areas and that’s why France is always working for and seeking conditions for stability, and so we’re going to continue doing this. What this shows above all is that, indeed at European level, we’ve got to work multilaterally, collectively and prevent powers from subsequently playing into each other’s hands in an unpredictable way. (…).

Translation by the French Embassy in London