Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in an Interview with Le Monde (Excerpts)

September 24, 2018

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

The Foreign Minister explains his desire to “restore effective multilateralism” to combat “actors who are demolishing it”.

Ninety-five Heads of Government, including President Macron, will participate in the UN General Assembly from 23 to 29 September in New York. The Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who will also be there, talks about the major issues at hand.

A year ago, when speaking in front of the UN General Assembly, President Macron positioned himself as the herald of “strong multilateralism” as opposed to Donald Trump. Has he been able to change the game?

Jean-Yves Le Drian: He definitely has. Diplomacy is experiencing a crisis, and this has become more evident in the past year. A basic principle, which is honouring one’s word and one’s signature, is overtly being challenged. A second principle, which is to agree on the facts to find a compromise, is no longer being adhered to because facts are being manipulated, refuted and rebuffed. If there is no shared, common truth, how can there be dialogue? Moreover, actors demolishing multilateralism are ratcheting up their methodical attacks.


Yet, there are not only “well-intentioned powers” in Europe, which are firmly committed to law and President Macron seems to be isolated…

“If the United States but also Russia or China tries to play some Europeans against others, this is precisely because the European Union is even stronger than it thought.”

It is now fashionable to criticize Europe and its weakness, while for the past 18 months it has made great strides, which are not recognized nor identified as such. And every step of the way, France has played its role and motivated its partners. President Macron sets the tone and very often others follow his lead. There was agreement in Gothenburg on social Europe which the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has proposed to include in the fundamental pillars of the European Union; an amendment of the directive on posted workers, which we thought could not be done; European agreement on digital strategy; and copyright protection. There was also agreement on the creation of the European Defence Fund with a significant proposal of the European Commission of €13 billion. Europeans have remained united in rejecting the trade dictates of the United States as was the case with Iran as well. The European Parliament recently recalled the basic principles of the rule of law when voting on Hungary.

And this is the paradox: Europe does not assume its role as a collective force, which it actually already is in the eyes of those who are not interested in seeing this rise in power. If the United States but also Russia or China tries to play some Europeans against others, this is precisely because the European Union is even stronger than it thought. In addition, those who think that a national solution can protect them from unbridled globalization achieve the opposite when they turn inward. The difficult questions ahead of us can only be managed within the European framework. The challenge for the next elections is to ensure both a powerful Europe and a Europe that protects.


With Iran, is France still in a position to be a mediator?

Our diplomatic capital lies in our reliability. We honour our commitments. We signed the Vienna Agreement and we will honour our signature as long as the Iranians honour theirs. This agreement needs to hold, and for now, it is holding. The last the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report has shown this. That being said, it is important to ensure that the results from which Iran can benefit are also adequate. This is why we are taking action in several different directions.

First, we need to get the United States to make a sound clarification regarding the economic sectors that are not affected by extraterritorial measures – in the pharmaceutical and agrifood sectors, there should be normal trade with Iran. Then, we need to define the financial mechanisms that are not affected by the Americans’ extraterritorial sanctions. We are working to do this with Germany and the United Kingdom but also with China, Russia and other countries which need to be on board. We are going to meet in New York to discuss this issue.

However, Iran needs to join discussions on the rest of the issues including the post-2025 nuclear situation, its interventions in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, and its burgeoning missile activity. This is what President Macron proposed to Donald Trump in April and what he has been explaining for over a year, no other suggestion has been put forward.

What should we expect from Donald Trump?

Like the Americans, we are extremely committed to non-proliferation. It is a major point of agreement for security everywhere in the world, be it North Korea or Iran. It seems that the US stance is different on North Korea and on Iran, and that we do not share its stance on non-proliferation either. If Donald Trump asks the Security Council to take a stance on non-proliferation, we will agree. What is happening with North Korea is encouraging; it has helped to curb tension in the area and to re-establish a strong relationship between the two Koreas. It is wonderful that there is finally a peace agreement. But it should hinge on the essential verified and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea. I will talk about this with Mike Pompeo, whom I will see in Washington, and with James Mattis, who will visit Florence Parly soon.