French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Interview with the New York Times (Excerpts)

September 21, 2007

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran

[The interview was conducted in French and translated by The New York Times.]

. . .

Q. - You have mentioned Iran, and lately there has been much confusion over French policy. You have said - including [on Thursday night, on French television] - that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would be unacceptable.

THE PRESIDENT - I confirm that. I confirm that. Iranian research into military nuclear technology is putting the world at grave risk. This is unacceptable, just as military nuclear capability was unacceptable for Libya or for North Korea. Iran is a great country. The Iranians are a great people. Iran is a great civilization. Iran is entitled to play its full role. Iran can have access to civilian nuclear technology. Iran has an extremely important role to play in the region. And Iran has better things to do than try to obtain nuclear weapons. I want the Iranian leadership to understand this without a shadow of ambiguity. But I am ready to explain that in order to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, we must strengthen sanctions. For my part, I don't use the word "war."

Q. - But would you be so kind as to explain the expression you use in your address to the ambassadors, in which you speak of a "catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran." Would France be prepared to...

THE PRESIDENT - That is what I do not want. That is what France does not want. And between these two extremes there is a path for negotiations, for sanctions, for firmness, and for discussion. There it is. Everything together. It is not true that there is no solution other than submission or war. There is a whole range of decisions that the international community must take in order to convince the Iranians that they are headed toward a dead end. Just as we succeeded in convincing the North Koreans. Just as we succeeded in convincing the Libyans. We are not condemned to the two extremes.

Q. - But would France be prepared to use force to prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb?

THE PRESIDENT - But that is precisely the choice I reject in my expression - "either acceptance or force." It is exactly what the Iranian leaders want. I am not obliged to fall into this trap. Between submission and war, there is a range of situations, of solutions, such as strengthening sanctions, which eventually will produce results.

Q. - Concerning sanctions, for example, there's talk of recommending to companies such as Total or Gaz de France that they end their activities in Iran. Is that...?

THE PRESIDENT - France will not have two lines. France wants to tell the Iranians: no military nuclear weapon. And we are not seeking to negotiate through the intermediary of private companies' contracts. We have only one line. That's it. And therefore we strongly urge French companies to refrain from going to Iran as long as the international community has decided to apply sanctions. And if the sanctions are not enough, I would like there to be a third series of stronger sanctions, with the understanding that sanctions can only work if there is unanimity and so we must get everybody on board.

Q. - But this strategy is really new for France. It's a complete break with France's traditional policy that resists applying sanctions, or even to think about sanctions, outside the framework of the UN...

THE PRESIDENT - I prefer UN sanctions, but the third series of sanctions will be approved, I hope, by the UN. But for the European community itself to apply sanctions, that is not unilateralism, that is an international, a multilateral decision. Therefore, it is fine by me.

Q. - But is this political strategy different?

THE PRESIDENT - Listen, I'm not going to do an extensive analysis of what was being done previously; I'm trying to be consistent with what is being done now. There you have it. France's position, it's that: no nuclear weapon for Iran, an arsenal of sanctions to convince them, negotiations, discussions, firmness. And I don't want to hear anything else that would not contribute usefully to the discussion today.

Q. - But can you explain precisely what your proposals are to increase economic and financial pressure on Iran, because there's talk of a sanctions mechanism at the European level, either by the European Union or domestically.

THE PRESIDENT - I don't have to go into details. What I want to achieve is for Iranian society to realize the dead end into which the attitude of some of its leaders is leading them. What I would like is for there to be a genuine debate in Iranian civil and political society so that Iran can see that, like all the other countries of the world, it cannot survive in total isolation. There it is. And the sooner they understand it, the less time the Iranian people - who are not to blame in this affair - will have to suffer the consequences.

Q. - It is difficult...

THE PRESIDENT - It is difficult... This is an international crisis that must be managed with a great deal of sang-froid, with a great deal of firmness, with a great deal of thought. That is what I am trying to do. In any case, I will not go further. That's that. Because it is not France's policy. There's no point in mentioning other alternatives. It's completely counter-productive.

Q. - Some say that France's policy on Iran is similar to American policy on Iran. Is it correct to say that at this stage, for France as for the United States, "All options are on the table?"

THE PRESIDENT - For me the question regarding Iran is not to know whether or not we are close to the United States. The question is to maintain the unity of the international community with regards to Iran. After that, I'll leave it up to the commentators to judge whether we are closer or less close.

What's more the expression, "All the options are on the table," is not mine. And I do not make it mine. I have explained what our strategy was and I will stick to it. That's it. I am quite ready to talk about the United States. But I am not determining my position based on the position of the United States alone. The Russian position, the Chinese position, they count for getting sanctions. We can't have as the alpha and the omega the French position or the position of the United States...

Q. - In the English-language version of your book "Témoignage" [Testimony], you refer to Iran as "an outlaw nation." This doesn't appear in the French version. If Iran really is an outlaw nation, does the doctrine of containment apply, or does it [the regime] have to be replaced?

THE PRESIDENT - I wouldn't say that Iran is an "outlaw nation," a nation on the outside, since that would mean that the Iranian people themselves are on the outside [of the law]. I think that the Iranian people are first and foremost victims rather than being guilty. I think that some Iranian leaders have set themselves outside the international community. But not the nation, because the Iranian people have a right to live, a right to prosperity, a right to peace, a right to development.

Q. - [Foreign Minister Bernard] Kouchner said he would like to go to Tehran if he's invited. Why?

THE PRESIDENT - I don't think that the conditions for a trip to Tehran are present right now. We can talk things over in the halls of the United Nations. A trip to Tehran is something else.

. . .