Interview with Nicolas Sarkozy - International Herald Tribune

Excerpts from interview with Nicolas Sarkozy

International Herald Tribune

Sunday, September 23, 2020

Following are excerpts from an interview with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France on Sept. 21, 2007. The interview was conducted in French and translated by The New York Times.

Q. You explained the major lines of your foreign policy [in a speech last month] to your ambassadors, and now you are preparing to attend your first United Nations General Assembly. What initiatives would you like to raise in New York? What are your objectives for this meeting?

A. I want to defend the idea that France will always campaign for peace and for there to be peace in the world — I say peace, not stability. Stability for me is not a sufficient objective. Stability means that you tolerate a certain number of things that aren’t necessarily tolerable. Peace. We will achieve peace through multilateralism, I believe in the legitimacy of the United Nations. No one country alone can impose its own law on the world. That is the reason why I believe that peace will be the result of multilateralism. I believe in justice because we will not achieve peace without justice, and I will raise the issue of superprofits on certain raw materials, not in the spirit of taxation but in the spirit of reason. We can’t have superprofits on the one hand, and superpoverties on the other.

I also believe that in order for there to be peace, we must refuse to give in to the fait accompli of certain unacceptable situations. I am thinking in particular of Iran. And I think, finally, that we must fight for great principles that are universal principles. And these are the ideas that I would like to develop at the United Nations, keeping in mind that France embraces its friendships, wholeheartedly. And precisely because France wholeheartedly embraces its friendships, it reserves the right to extend its hand to all. I know where my family is. I know where my values lie. I know what my ideas are. But I want — because I know who I am — to extend my hand to the one who is different. And that is where France’s specificity must lie: [as] a country that does not doubt its values or its alliances, and precisely because it does not doubt its values or its alliances, it has the strength to extend its hand to everyone on the planet.

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.

A. 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…

A. 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?

A. 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 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…?

A. 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…

A. 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?

A. 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.

A. 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…

A. 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?”

A. 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?

A. 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 Teheran if he’s invited. Why?

A. 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.”

Q. With respect to NATO, you told your ambassadors that you wanted a renewal in its relationship with France renovated … Is France prepared to return to NATO’s integrated military command, and in what circumstances?

A. First of all, I have no problem with NATO. Let me remind you that France is a founding member of NATO, and that of the 26 member countries, 21 are European. So that’s something I would like to be kept in mind. We founded NATO with our American friends, and 21 of its 26 members are European. We have to stop presenting NATO as some kind of boogeyman. That’s the first point. The second point: we are in NATO, we are even one of its main contributors, in financial and human terms. That’s not something I am making up, may I remind you. So, is there a need for a change? It is a possibility which, if we are going consider it positively, hinges on two prerequisites that must be met.

The first is that I want to fight for European defense. Regardless of NATO’s importance, Europe must be able to defend itself effectively and independently. Europe cannot be an economic power without ensuring its own security. So I would make progress on European defense a condition for moving into the integrated command, and I am asking our American friends to understand that. A Europe capable of defending itself independently would not be a risk to the Americans. It would be an asset. Third point: it goes without saying that if we were to consider such a move, it could take place only insofar as room would be made for French representatives on the governing bodies, at the highest level. These are the two fronts we are working on.

Q. Do you have a rough idea of when the work will be finished?

A. It’s not so much the work that must be done as solutions provided. I’m also waiting to receive answers from various parties. This is in fact a very serious problem for Europe, the fact that really only four countries are contributing to Europe’s security: Britain, Germany, Italy, France — and Spain to a small extent. That’s it. It’s a serious problem. You can’t have only four or five countries ensuring the security of 27.

Q. But could you explain a little more about the circumstances in which France might be prepared to return to NATO’s integrated military structures?

A. I want to pay homage to your persistence, to your concern for raising burning issues in a perfectly ordinary way. I have answered this question. There are two prerequisites. Without progress on these two prerequisites, there will be no reintegration. Once we make progress on these prerequisites, we can talk about the opportuneness of reintegration.

Q. [Defense Minister Hervé] Morin has said that we need to continue on the path taken in 1996 and that we have to clarify France’s position in NATO. What does that mean?

A. France can only resume its place if room is made. It’s hard to take a place that isn’t reserved for you.

Q. You have given new strength to the way France projects its influence in the world. Is France back?

A. Well, I hope so. First of all France is back in the European Commission which I see as an ally and not as an adversary. France is back in Eastern Europe, because France has much to say to the peoples of the East. France is back in the United States, because I want to tell the American people that the French people are their friends. We are not simply allies. We are friends. I am proud of being a friend of the Americans. You know, I am saying this to The New York Times, but I have said it to the French, which takes a little more courage and is a little more difficult. I have never concealed my admiration for American dynamism, for the fluidity of American society, for its ability to raise people of different identities to the very highest levels.

It has been more than 20 years, 21 years maybe, since the United States Secretary of State has not been an American, or rather, has been an American from outside: Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condi [Condoleezza] Rice — a great example to follow. There are other things that I like less, but I feel very close to the values that are conveyed. That being said, it is not for me to pass judgment on this or that administration, on this or that political party. I’m not the one who chooses the president of the United States. I have to work with the American people who are our friends regardless of the president they choose. And the Americans have to work with the French president, regardless of the President chosen by the French people.

But having said that, France doesn’t deny itself the possibility of relationships even with people who have difficult relations with the United States [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chávez — one cannot forbid me from talking to Hugo Chávez because he has a problem with the United States. But I tell you that we are friends, and that we must work together. We border the same ocean, even if we’re 5,000 or 6,000 miles apart.

Q. You spent your summer vacation in the United States [in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire]. What did you learn about the United States? Because the part of the United States you visited is different from New York or Washington or Boston…

A. That’s right. Perhaps it was even the real United States. I adored New England. I loved Boston. I thought it was an extraordinarily beautiful city, with an remarkable quality of life. I loved the kindness and the simplicity of the people of Wolfeboro. I loved the way people made us feel welcome. I liked the countryside. I like the malls where people go shopping. I like the restaurants. I like swimming in the lakes. I like going jogging in the woods with my son who rides his bike alongside me. I like the way people are relaxed and uncomplicated. And I don’t see why I should have given up going to the United States because a small part of the French elite professes an anti-Americanism that in no way corresponds to what the French people think—in no way at all.

You know from the way we celebrate the [Normandy] landings that the French people are with the Americans, and the American flag is popular in France. I have said, moreover, that relations between France and the United States go well beyond the personality of Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Bush. There are people who will come after me, and who will come after Mr. Bush. And I see myself in the historic tradition of [French military leaders during the U.S. Revolution] [the count of] Rochambeau and [the Marquis of] Lafayette. At the time, there were 20 million Frenchmen and four million Americans. And it was the genius of Louis XVI to understand that this young, American democracy had to be helped. France was there. With Lafayette and Rochambeau. Rochambeau refused to receive the sword from the British — he gave it to [George] Washington in a magnificent gesture. Lafayette is a great figure in French history because he was the godfather of relations between the United States and France. We have never been at war. We have always helped each other. We have always helped each other. I don’t see why we should see ourselves as enemy nations. It makes no sense.

So maybe the problems we’ve had stem from the fact that we are both countries which believe — and not all countries believe this — that our values are universal. For my part, I think that the French and the United States are much more alike than they think. Much more. It is rare to find countries in the world that think their ideas are universal. The Germans don’t, nor do the Spanish and the Italians. Nor do the Chinese. They think themselves to be universal for themselves, I mean within their empire. In the United States and France, we think our ideas are destined to illuminate the world. And perhaps that is the source of the competition between us. It’s perhaps the fact that we are alike.


Q. There is a quotation in your book “Témoignage” that I’d like to read… about France’s image. You say: “I imagine for my country only the top place in Europe… This new France will be a country that resumes its leadership of Europe and that is listened to in the international arena.” What do you mean by this?

A. I can’t be criticized for wanting first place for France. I think France has a special responsibility in Europe as a founding country, and one of the most populated. If France doesn’t take the lead, who will? That’s why I proposed the simplified [European Union] treaty to break the current deadlock in Europe over the Constitution. That’s why I suggested setting up a “committee of wise men” to reflect on Europe’s future. I believe that France has a special responsibility, not to go forward alone but to propose ideas. And what has been the problem in Europe these past years? It was that there were no more ideas. An overwhelming void. What is the solution for Europe? Debate. Ideas. Projects. Hope.

Q. There have been other initiatives from France since you were elected: Kosovo, Darfur, Lebanon.

A. The Strait of Gibraltar is 12 kilometers [7.5 miles] wide. I think the futures of Europe and Africa are linked … I have been telling the European nations that Africa is our problem. Africa’s problems are liable to become our problems.

Darfur — we cannot allow genocide to take place. And so which have strongly pushed the creation of a hybrid force in Darfur, and for a European force in Darfur on the Chad side. It is entirely in our interest. It is in our interest to help monitor the Somali coastline so that ships can unload food and avert a massive famine. That’s our interest. It’s in our interest that Lebanon continues to be the different, variegated country that the Middle East needs. It’s in our interest that in Kosovo the Albanians and the Serbs refrain from killing each other, because this is Europe, because it’s the Balkans, and because everyone must understand that it’s Europe’s business. France is inclined to be concerned about all these situations because France has a message for the world.

If you’ll allow me to continue with Kosovo, when we’re talking about Kosovo it seems very likely that Russia will stick by its decision to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution. The United States regards this issue as a test of the European Union’s determination with respect to Moscow. Is Europe ready to see Moscow dictate it its foreign policy or is it going to endorse the decision?

First, Kosovo’s independence is inevitable in the long term. Second, that Russia should want to regain its full place seems to me legitimate, and even desirable. Third, France wants excellent relations with Russia, but Russia cannot expect the rights of a big power without taking on the duties. Fourth, on the question of Kosovo, Europe has to remain united. It is all together that we must in the end back independence for Kosovo. And if I’ve said it is not a question of months or weeks, it’s because I wanted to preserve that unity. And Mr. [Vladimir V.] Putin [President of Russia] must understand that no one wants to humiliate him, that everyone understands efforts he is making to restore Russia to its standing, and no one can criticize him for this. But at the same time he must understand that his interlocutors have convictions every bit as much as he does, regarding human rights, respect for minorities, the rule of law, and democracy. It is called a frank dialogue.

Q. Is that what you had with him at [the G8 summit in] Heiligendamm [Germany, in June]?

A. Exactly. Just that. I found the talks with him very interesting. He told me his side of the truth frankly. I answered with equal frankness. I believe in Russia’s role. Russia is a great power. But no great power can exempt itself from its duties.

Q. You even spoke, used the term ‘a certain brutality’ on the international scene. That’s rather strong language.

A. It wasn’t intended to be strong. It was intended to be clear…

Q. With regard to the United States: the presidential campaign is now under way. Tell us something of what you think about it.

A. First, I admire the candidates standing for the American presidential campaign. It’s certainly one of the toughest campaign in the world, the hardest along with the one in France. And I was quite fascinated last summer to see the many debates taking place within each of the political families. I thought: my God, what a long race! What energy you must have to put yourself through something like that! All praise to American democracy. Let me tell you, people who talk about the election in the United States in general don’t know [about the election]. But I can speak about it. It interests me. I watched, I listened, I found it very impressive and also it started from way back.

Secondly, I was also impressed by the quality of people running in each political party. When I watched the debates among the Democrats, there were seven or eight candidates at the same level. And no one was saying, ‘Mrs. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton is above the rest’. There are the opinion polls, but everyone is given an equal opportunity to express their opinions — that’s a fine lesson in democracy.

Thirdly, I’m very proud that a number of candidates, Mr. Giuliani [Republican hopeful Rudolph Giuliani] for one, have quoted my writings. I have had much admiration for Mr. Giuliani ever since he was mayor of New York and invented zero tolerance. I’ve been very pleased with it.

Apart from that, I get to host, when they come to France, all the most brilliant representatives of the American political elite. I’ve seen Mr. [John] McCain. I have met Mr. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger. I’m due to meet Mr. Barack Obama. I have met Mr. Al Gore and I will be very happy to meet all those who bear the hopes of part of the United States of America.

Q. If you were a betting man, who would you say the candidates are likely to be?

A. I’ll refrain from saying anything even though the situation on the Democratic side seems clearer than on the Republican’s, from what I understand.

Q. A lot of people are criticizing your relations with the Bush administration in Washington. And it’s an administration that will be ending soon.

A. The people who criticize this are very wrong. Each time I go to New York, I meet with Mr. [Michael R.] Bloomberg. For me, he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he is the mayor of New York. When I meet Mr. Bush or Ms. Rice or Mr. [Henry] Paulson [Jr.] [U.S. Treasury Secretary], for me they are not Republicans — they are the country’s legitimate authorities. And if tomorrow the United States was to choose a Democratic president, I would be delighted to have the same relations. There are many European leaders who are socialists, but that doesn’t stop me from working hand in hand with them. That would make no sense.

Q. What will be your message for President Bush when you meet him next week to discuss all these different subjects?


A. As you know, there are recurring issues in my talks with Mr. Bush. I think the United States, the world’s foremost power, should set the example when it comes to conserving the earth’s environment. The United States is flanked by two oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic. Global warming, rising sea-levels, are matters of concern to the United States. The big countries have to set the example, and the greater one is, the more one should take the lead in this initiative. It’s extremely important. And the United States has a role that it must play on this issue. If the United States respected the Kyoto objectives, we would be in a much stronger position to ask other states to comply with Kyoto than if the United States didn’t. It’s a global issue, and a subject of concern in our discussions.

Q. About Germany. Angela Merkel and you have a friendly rapport. What are the issues on which you have the most in common? On which subjects do you find the most points in common, or feelings in common, and do you think that Europe can only really be strong on the international stage when France and Germany are very close in their views?

A. We have many points in common, Angela Merkel and I. I would like to pay tribute to the way she carried out her task as [rotating] President of the European Union and with respect to where Europe is heading, we pretty much agree on everything. That shows just how much I believe in the Franco-German axis. But let’s be clear about this: just because Germans and the French are in agreement doesn’t mean that the rest of Europe is going to follow us, and so I don’t see the Franco-German axis as the be-all and end-all. I want us to leave room for the British, for the Spanish, for the Italians, for the Poles, and I think it is very important to have all the other countries with us. I have always been very careful about that. So the Franco-German axis is essential for French policy, but we can’t reduce our European policy to a relation of twinship with our German friends.

Q. The way in which Ms. Merkel, for example, took up the question of human rights with Mr. Putin. Would you follow her example or not?

A. Absolutely. On this point we share the same convictions, the same values and, I would add, the same temperament.

Q. You’ve explained that France has no troops in Iraq. Iraq is affecting everyone, every country. Do you have an idea for resolving the problem?

A. First of all I think that everything must be done to prevent Iraq from breaking up. A fragmented Iraq would not be good for regional stability.

Second, everything must be done so that the Iraqis acquire institutions that enable them to administer the country and ensure peace between the various communities. And third, the sooner Iraq can manage, with economic assistance, without a foreign military presence, the better it will be for the Iraqis, for the region and for the Americans.

Q. Mr. President, does France have a role to play?

A. France does have a role to play. Bernard Kouchner was right to go to Iraq to deliver the message of the international community’s desire to help Iraq rebuild itself in peace and in unity.

Q. And are there specific initiatives?

A. No, there was the initiative to go to Iraq. That in itself was already a significant political gesture.

Q. Let’s talk about Afghanistan, the need to rebuild the country, to train the army, the police … Is it the same for Iraq? Does France have a role to play?

A. France has no mission to go into Iraq. But France considered it was its duty to strengthen its presence in Afghanistan in order to help provide the security the country needs to build a democratic and secure future.

Q. Today [Friday, Sept. 21] is rather a sad day for France because…

A. We have lost one of our training personnel. I would like to pay tribute to French soldiers who are taking risks in Africa, in Lebanon, in Afghanistan. It shows that we too are paying a heavy toll for our status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We pay in blood.

Q. But even so, France is convinced that it needs to play an even more active role in Afghanistan, to strengthen…?

A. That depends on the role. I think that the role we have to play in Afghanistan is to help in the construction of an independent, united Afghan state, so that it can live in peace, and so I would like to strengthen our teams of trainers, of officers, rather than the fighters themselves.

Q. What are the most important meetings you will be holding in New York this week?

A. Oh, I’ve got plenty of those. Because I will be meeting a good many heads of state. I’m very pleased to be meeting the Secretary General of the United Nations, with whom I’ll be having lunch when I arrive. I will be seeing [Columbian] President [Álvaro] Uribe to talk about [Franco-Columbian hostage] Ingrid Betancourt, and I’ll have the opportunity to see [ Betancourt’s daughter] Mélanie Betancourt in New York. I will be seeing a number of heads of state including [Afghanistan] President [Hamid] Karzai, [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas and [Brazil] President [Luiz Inácio] Lula [da Silva]. In short, I have an extremely tight schedule.


Q. You’ll be in the land of the dollar. Do you see the weak dollar as a danger?

A. I am not saying that it is dangerous. I am saying that I appreciate the policy of Federal Reserve Bank which clearly sees that priority has to be given to entrepreneurs rather than speculators. But of course, a dollar at 1.40 to the euro is a problem for the competitiveness of our economies. And beyond that there is the problem of debt. To put it bluntly: I’m in favor of liberalism, of competition, of globalization, but I think it’s time now to set new rules: more transparency, more ethics in financial capitalism. I didn’t much appreciate the way the credit ratings agencies rated savings plans ‘triple A’ one day and ‘triple B’ the next. This is not responsible, we need new rules and, when I had talks with Mr. Paulson, he agreed that regulating financial capitalism is imperative for every country in the world.


Q. I don’t understand the initiative concerning sanctions, the economic and financial mechanisms against Iran, because there are many different views in your government…

A. I have answered this question as clearly as I could, I have no intention of saying any more about it … Because the more these things are worked on confidentially, the greater the chance they have of being successful.

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