Alain Juppé on Syria, human rights and French diplomacy
Excerpts from the interview given by Alain Juppé, Ministre d’Etat, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, to France-Culture
Paris, 15 March 2012
SYRIA/ARAB LEAGUE PLAN
Q. – You said that a regime which oppresses and massacres its people, as in Syria, can’t last long. So, from what you say, this regime is going to fall. What are we going to do afterwards? Won’t civil war be unavoidable?
THE MINISTER – I don’t think so. The Arab League has got involved and proposed a plan; this was a milestone in the conflict. These are Syria’s neighbours, who are the main people affected. The Arab League is asking – and this is true enough when you read its plan properly – not for Bashar al-Assad’s departure but for power to be transferred to his vice-president to form an inclusive government in which the opposition could be represented; and then for an electoral process to be prepared with free elections.
This is the plan to resolve the crisis; likewise the Egyptians – again, with difficulty – are trying to carry one through successfully; the Tunisians have done so. In Tunisia a constituent assembly has been elected – and things are progressing – and the Libyans are preparing to do this.
That’s the way out.
Q. – Meaning that the Assad regime is going to fall but not completely, otherwise we’d be in unknown territory…
THE MINISTER – No, I’m saying that the goal is to give Syrians the chance to express themselves freely. This must be done through elections which are free – as they were, on the whole, in Egypt and Tunisia, and as they will be, I hope, in Libya.
Q. – Does this entail what’s being called a “Yemen solution”: exfiltrate Bashar al-Assad, promising to spare his life and give him immunity somewhere in the world?
THE MINISTER – That’s for the Syrians to decide, when the time comes, in the framework of the settlement plan we’re supporting.
Q. – You said the Syria problem was preventing you from sleeping?
THE MINISTER – Of course it’s extraordinarily frustrating. Of course I’d like to find a solution to stop this massacre. I told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that we would gather information to convince the international community to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, because war crimes have been committed. I had a meeting with Ms Amos, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. She went to Homs and said she was horrified by what she saw. War crimes are being committed and, from my point of view, they’ll have to be punished; it’s the International Criminal Court’s job to do this.
Q. – In general terms, do you say, like Hubert Védrine [former Foreign Minister], that “human rights-ism” is not a policy?
THE MINISTER – In general, I’m more or less in agreement with him on everything, but I absolutely disagree with him on that.
Q. – The human rights ideology doesn’t solve conflicts.
THE MINISTER – Of course not; [but] the White Paper that Louis Schweitzer and I proposed to the government a few years ago states that defending human rights and democracy worldwide is one of the driving principles of French diplomacy.
Q. – It’s not making much headway.
THE MINISTER – Of course it is. We always take the same line. In Africa, for example, the number of countries in which relatively free elections are currently taking place, in the name of democratic principles and respect for human rights, is impressive: Niger, Senegal etc. We criticized what was happening in Senegal, and what’s happening? The Senegalese people have shown great democratic maturity. The first round went ahead appropriately and the second is being prepared peacefully. There! This human rights policy is scoring points.
Q. – In Russia, Mr Putin was re-elected because of economic and growth issues, not liberalization of the regime or human rights!
THE MINISTER – We’ve also said Russia must change. We’ve noted the criticisms of how the elections went ahead. We’ve also seen that the people who said there were irregularities nevertheless admitted that Putin had been elected. We’d like the regime to evolve.
I’d like to take my reasoning to its conclusion. The defence of human rights and democracy is a fundamental principle for us, because in the medium term I don’t think there’s a single regime in today’s world that can ride roughshod over its people’s rights for long. Even so, we defend France’s interests. You’ll tell me that’s doublespeak, realpolitik… No, I think it’s about being firm on the principles while taking the realities into account.
Q. – France maintains the second- or third-largest network of diplomatic agencies and embassies worldwide; it’s all very expensive. (…)
Do you think it’s reasonable for a country like ours to continue maintaining a network of embassies in countries that ultimately are of little interest to us but are perhaps of interest to the European Union as such?
THE MINISTER – I think we must ask ourselves another question. Does France still have the ambition to have a great foreign policy? Does France think she has a role to play on the international stage? Is there expectation in the world about France’s position? My answer to those questions is a definitive “yes”. (…)
Q. – Is that the same as the EU’s answer?
THE MINISTER – No, it’s a message that’s often consistent with the EU’s, but France’s voice carries much further than the EU’s on a number of issues. (…)
I think France must continue to have an autonomous foreign policy, coordinated with Europe’s but conveying the French message. We therefore need a diplomatic network. You said the Quai d’Orsay had made efforts; it’s the civil service which has reduced its staff the most in the past 10 years. On the one hand, we’re being told that we’re “stripped to the bone” and no longer have the resources, and on the other we’re being told we still have too large a network. I think today we have a well-calibrated network – in particular a cultural network that is unparalleled in the world and very important for spreading the influence of our language and thought. (…)./.