Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Regarding Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's Comments on Iran (Excerpts)

September 18, 2007

[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]

. . .

Q - What did you talk about during the "off the record" session?

We wanted to correct the inaccurate reports that have been seen and heard here and there based on comments made by Bernard Kouchner.

There are both technical and political elements.

The technical elements have to do with the context: the two resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council, 1737 and 1747; the preparation of a third resolution which is under discussion since we all note that Iran has still not complied with its international obligations, namely complete cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and suspension of its enrichment-related sensitive activities. So we're preparing a third resolution at the UN with a meeting of the political directors of the Six at the end of week in Washington then next week in New York at the UN at ministers' level.

It was also reaffirmed that if the progress was insufficient at the UN, we will act at the European level as we've already done. We are discussing this with our European partners. Only yesterday the minister of foreign and European affairs, Bernard Kouchner, discussed this with the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, who agreed to consider sanctions in the European context.

This is the context in which you have to see the statements Bernard Kouchner made on September 16, in the context of the Grand Jury RTL-Le Monde-LCI, continuing what the president had told our ambassadors on August 27. The president said everything had to be done to avoid being confronted with the alternative which he termed "catastrophic," "the Iranian bomb or bombing Iran." When the minister, Mr. Kouchner, said that everything had to be done to avoid the worst and that the only way to avoid it was to persuade the Iranians to meet their international obligations, that is exactly the same idea. It means that we must continue the dialogue with Iran but also continue with sanctions so long as Iran doesn't comply with its international obligations.

Q - In response to a question, you said, talking of sanctions, that they would not be unilateral but European. Well, for the rest of the world, European is still unilateral. So outside the UN framework, what is your position today?

At this point there are UN sanctions and the measures we've adopted in Europe. We've said that France is applying sanctions in the European context. It's not a unilateral framework.

Q - How would you describe the sanctions in the European framework, outside the United Nations? Are they unilateral at European level or not?

Europe is multilateral by definition. When I talk about the European framework, it means what we are discussing and deciding as the EU 27. We have adopted measures at the European level, among 27 states. These are not unilateral measures since they're taken among 27 states.

I would also remind you that since 2003 Europe's approach has been to offer Iran a very ambitious program of cooperation, including in civilian nuclear energy, in exchange for the suspension of its illegal activities. The Europeans were joined in this approach by the US, Russia and China. But Iran has rejected this offer, and that is why we are engaged in adopting sanctions, sanctions that have been unanimously voted by the Security Council.

Q - Do you sense that we're heading for a war or towards bombing Iran?

The minister simply said that everything had to be done to avoid the worst. And the worst in international relations is war.

Q - He spoke of "preparation for war."

He said that war had to be avoided and therefore his aim was to continue the dialogue to avoid the worst. You will note moreover that there were statements yesterday on the same lines by our German partners. The objective is to find a long-term diplomatic solution.

Don't have Bernard Kouchner saying what he didn't say and doesn't think.

Q - There's the agreement between ElBaradei and Iran-what is called the deal on work and transparency which should lead at the end of the year to a general evaluation of the Iranian nuclear program… Why aren't you waiting for the end of this program?

We don't want to wait to the end of the year. Iran must comply with its international obligations and must do so immediately. We welcome the overture it made recently with regard to the IAEA, but this is not enough. Iran continues to refuse to honor its international obligations, and that is why we're continuing to examine sanctions.

(…)

Q - Has there been an evaluation of the two old UN resolutions against Iran?

We note that Iran continues not to implement its international obligations and therefore that these two sanctions resolutions didn't have sufficient effect. That is why we're considering new sanctions.

Q - Can you tell us about the new resolution?

For now, it is still under discussion. The idea is to go further, by considering financial measures, as Bernard Kouchner said.

Q - Does France still have confidence in Mr. Elbaradei in spite of his reaction to the minister's comments?

What did he say about the minister?

Q - He said that war should be avoided.

But no one wants to go to war, especially not the minister.

Q - So Mr. Elbaradei doesn't understand. Does he then still have France's confidence?

I don't see the problem. Mr. ElBaradei has said we shouldn't go to war. We are all convinced of that, and the minister the first since he's said that it should be avoided at all cost. So there is no reason to change our attitude of support for Mr. Elbaradei.

Q - So you still support him?

There is no reason not to continue to support him since we share the same objective.

(…)

Q - Do you have the names of Iranian leaders who could also be targeted by these sanctions?

Look at the texts that are public, that have been published, you'll find the list of names there.

Q - The United States has called the Iranian "Revolutionary Guards" a terrorist organization. Would France do the same in the European Union?

This prospect, which was discussed in the press in the US, would relate to an American decision. The European list, which is the result of decisions taken unanimously by the 27 members, isn't the same as the American list. Decisions taken by the American authorities are not necessarily adopted by the European Union.

Q - Wouldn't there be consequences from a tougher French position on Iran? Aren't there other matters that are also affected by a change in the French position on Iran? I'm referring to the Middle East and to Lebanon especially. Aren't you worried there'd be a deterioration in these relations and maybe consequences on other issues?

I don't share your interpretation. You see a tougher position, and I'm telling you that Mr. Kouchner simply said that it is essential to avoid the worst, exactly what the president said on August 27 when he emphasized that the alternative, which I reminded you of, had to be avoided. You've perceived a tougher position in the minister's comments, but our position remains strictly the same.

Q - Can you confirm that the minister's comments were reportedly poorly translated because there are sometimes errors in translation between the French and Arabic? Are you confirming that there's nothing new in France's position? France doesn't want clearly to launch a war against Iran?

You raise the problem of translation. The minister spoke in French, and I've absolutely no idea what the Arabic translation was. That's perhaps one of the reasons for the misunderstandings. I don't know.

Q - In Arabic its war. People have been thinking of another Dick Cheney, another Mr. Bush, who wants to start a war? Things have to be weighed, the situation is terrible in the Arab world now.

I can tell you what the minister said in French. I can see the misunderstandings in reading the press, but I confirm what I've already told you: what the minister said was that the worst had to be avoided. He insisted on this. This is exactly what President Sarkozy said.

(…)

Q - The minister has spoken about this question of alignment with Washington. Is it possible to speak of somewhat closer relations with the US on Iran, Iraq and the Middle East?

We have very good relations with the United States. Mr. Kouchner is going to Washington at the end of the week. He'll be meeting with Condi Rice before going on to New York. We talk about all subjects with the Americans, and the fact of doing so in complete friendship, transparency, and trust certainly doesn't mean alignment. I'd like to recall that we are allies but we're not aligned.

Q - Has the minister spoken with Ms Rice in the last few days?

Yes, only just recently. He talks to her on a regular basis.

Q - Mr. Kouchner said that if necessary he was prepared to travel to Damascus. Is it the same for Teheran or the reverse, his counterpart could come to Paris?

He didn't speak about Teheran in those terms.

Q - Are there still negotiations going on between Paris and Teheran?

At this time we're having discussions at the European level and the UN, and we hope these discussions will be productive.

Q - I mean through intermediaries?

Intermediaries or no intermediaries, we are endeavoring to convince Iran, in the multilateral context, to comply with its international obligations. There's nothing new from this point of view.

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