Brussels, 6 March 2008
Q. – Canada is asking the allies for reinforcements in Kandahar, in Afghanistan. France is said to be looking at the possibility of sending troops instead to eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. Firstly, can you confirm that this possibility is being looked at and, if so, why choose to send the troops there instead of where the Canadians are asking you to?
THE MINISTER – We’re aware of the difficulties the troops engaged there are experiencing, particularly our Canadian and Dutch friends. You are right, requests have been made to France very openly and in a very friendly spirit, particularly by Canada. President Sarkozy has stated his view and said that we were going to raise the level of our engagement and we will do so. As you said, the choice of how we do so hasn’t yet been taken. There are in fact options other than east of Pakistan and Kandahar.
As you know in Kandahar, we have already brought significant aid: there are six planes over there, Rafales and Mirages, and a capability not only to operate, but also maintain them. So we aren’t ignoring the request concerning Kandahar, in the south, or the requests for assistance in the east, but the choice hasn’t yet been made. It will be made politically, for sure, by President Sarkozy, but it will also be in line with the imperatives and proposals of the French military staff.
Q. – Just a quick question: can you give us an idea of France’s plans for a complete return to NATO’s military structure or, more generally, what the plans are with NATO?
THE MINISTER – Yes, it was one of the obvious things President Sarkozy shared with everyone: the fact that we are ready to revamp our relationship with NATO to play our full role in it, at the same time as we very much hope, want, concurrently to develop a Defence Europe. I also stressed this in my speech and the two things aren’t incompatible, as I said earlier and the United States’ representative also stressed here. It won’t be simple, it never has been. It perhaps won’t be quick but it’s absolutely necessary. (…)./.