Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine
Interview with Le Monde Television (excerpts)
September 16, 2001

(...) This evening are the French authorities being kept informed of the American military preparations?

(...) At this moment, neither we French nor the other Europeans know anything more [than what has been made public] about a specific plan. (...) What is certain is that, after the phenomenal event of 11 September, that attack unprecedented in the United States' history, on their soil, the United States is going to hit back very hard. The whole world, I believe, will recognize that the Americans are in a situation of legitimate defence within the meaning of article 51 of the United Nations Charter.


Do the French leaders think they have to wait to find out what the Americans opt to do before determining their own position or are they analysing the various possible options and, if so, do they favour any specific ones?

The French leaders obviously have some ideas on how to combat terrorism, on all aspects of the fight against terrorism, on the methods to be used which must not only be punitive ones. But, in this instance, we aren't analysing the options in the United States' place. The United States considers herself attacked. She wants to retaliate and, of course, going beyond the predictable retaliation, the Americans want genuine, long-term global action against terrorism by all those who want to eradicate this evil. Action not simply to avenge or punish it, but to try and deal with its roots.


The first reaction was obviously on a human level: shock, compassion, solidarity.

Subsequently, what was important for us when it came to taking a political stand, particularly for us who are allies, friends and allies of the United States - admittedly not aligned with them, as we always say since we have our freedom, but allies in the real sense of the term too under the NATO Treaty - was to know whether we recognized that we were in the situation provided for in article 5 under whose terms an armed attack against the territory of one of the allies is regarded as an attack against all the allies. We recognized that. This was an expression of solidarity which the Americans had not asked for. They hadn't had time to do so. They had other things to think about.

The allies did this immediately, without discussion since it was a political position, a matter of principle, of dignity vis-à-vis what had happened. Article 5, drafted after long discussions in 1948, provides that subsequently each ally is free to decide how they will join in any possible action.

What sort of advice might France, for example, be prompted to give the Americans? Has she already counselled caution regarding the type of retaliation the US might be drawn to take?

Let me say that any advice we can give must not undermine the first response, that of solidarity and the recognition of the position of legitimate defence. We have, admittedly, to realize that we can't quibble on that point. Afterwards, I have high hopes that the American leaders will be able to devise a strong and justified response to what happened, without falling into the diabolical trap which must have been planned by the attacks' instigators. I think they will succeed in avoiding this risk, and it's very certainly something they are already working on.

And what is it?

When we see an attack as monstrous as this one, we'd prefer not to analyse it at all, but to go no further than a feeling horror and condemnation. But there are, and always have been throughout history, ulterior motives of some sort behind all terrorism, including suicide attacks. If you are in any way familiar with the fanatical, extremist literature of certain Islamist movements, which of course no-one confuses with Islam itself, you can clearly see a sort of desire to bring about the famous clash of civilizations. Somewhere, they must be hoping that after this attack on the heart of the US, there will be massive, indiscriminate retaliation, muddling up all the targets and setting the entire Arab-Muslim world against the Western world in a wave of unprecedented misery and hatred.

When President Bush says that it's necessary to hit the perpetrators of terrorism and also those protecting, harbouring or financing them, do you conclude that this applies to, for example, the Afghan people or the Taliban or Saudi Arabia where some people are openly financing Bin Laden?

There isn't just a military dimension to the fight against terrorism. We are in a very serious phase in which, obviously, there is going to be military action, but I noted that Colin Powell has himself already said that the action wasn't going to be just military, which is obvious. In the fight against terrorism, we are in a situation where it is a matter of reacting to a terrorist operation. The reaction will essentially, to start with at any rate, take a military form. But if we want to destroy the terrorist networks there has to be action on the police, financial and tax fronts. On France's behalf, just over a year ago, I signed at the UN a convention designed to step up the fight against the financing of terrorism. We must now find ways of concretely applying it.

So there are all sorts of methods of fighting terrorism and we must also fight the causes which fuel it.


Without implying any lack of solidarity, can I ask you if you are afraid that an initial military response will be designed more to assuage public opinion than be really effective as regards eradicating the perpetrators of this terrorism.

I think, so far, what has been said and done by the United States has been very resolute - clearly something very significant is being prepared - but very responsible. I don't think they have gone to extremes. (...) I don't think they have been caught in the grip of any desire for all-out destruction.

Even when using the word "war" as most of the American leaders have done?

That's debatable, but what word would you like to use for this act, how would you define it?

But you yourself haven't used it?

Yes, but it is an act of war, if you go by what these extremist movements are saying, they themselves feel to be at war. They feel themselves to be at war particularly against America, they say so all the time. So I don't see why calling it an act of war should cause any problem. Yes, these are acts of war. It's a war like no other, which has been declared by no one, by no specific State. We don't immediately know how to respond to it, but I don't see what other word one could use.


Aren't you afraid that any US military operation on the territory of a Muslim country will crystallize to an even greater extent the hostility towards, even the hatred of the United States.


(...) Earlier we were talking about not falling into the monstrous, huge trap of triggering the clash of civilizations which is some people's ulterior motive. We mustn't confuse the Bin Laden networks with the whole of Afghanistan or the Taliban themselves with the whole of Afghanistan. We mustn't confuse Afghanistan with all the other Islamic countries, still less with the Arab countries - Afghanistan isn't an Arab country. I think that these elementary, fundamental distinctions are in everyone's mind, including in the United States. I noted that President Bush immediately asked his compatriots not to target Arabs and Muslims, either those who are American citizens or those who happen to be in the United States. The amalgam must be prevented.

When you talk about an "operation sufficiently targeted not to fall into that trap" are you thinking for example of a targeted operation on Bin Laden himself?

As soon as the Americans have determined with sufficient proof, or have sufficient clues pointing in that direction, that this organization is the one concerned, it's conceivable that they will do their utmost to dismantle it, deprive it of its bases, of all its supports, and that those supporting it, who have allowed it to develop, get established, infiltrate, will be faced with a stark choice.



We can perhaps query the attitude, for example, of the British government. We know that London is very probably the European capital sheltering the largest number of people spreading Bin Laden propaganda and the British government obstinately refuses to extradite some perpetrators of terrorist attacks, I am thinking particularly of the Kelkal network, of attacks perpetrated on French soil.

You can't say there are any doubts about the British government. Simply, Britain is perhaps the country in the world where the concept of the rule of law has reached the ultimate point when it comes to the absolute separation of the executive and the judiciary, and in Britain there is legislation, a tradition, a view of sanctuary, of the freedom of the individual to the extent that there aren't even identity cards.



You have spoken several times in the past about US policy, its wait-and-see policy, its unilateralism (...)?

(...) Certainly, over the past few months, the Europeans - France but the others too - have regretted that the United States has been lagging behind on the Middle East issue and many of us have been keen to see the United States once again actively involved. The task of achieving peace in the Middle East still exists, it was an acute and terrible problem before 11 September, it still is. The need for a Palestinian State is just as great since 11 September as it was before. It's just as vital for Israel's security to build a Palestinian State as it was before And it's just as fundamental a right for the Palestinians to have it since 11 September as it was before. The Middle East issue hasn't gone away and in fact I noted that two days ago Mr Powell said: "[there is now] one more reason to make peace in the Middle East".


But do you think these events are going to push George Bush into again putting diplomatic effort into the Middle East or, on the contrary, in the end, at least for a time, isn't he going to contribute to allowing, for example, Sharon to resolve the Middle East problem in his own way?

I can't see what he can resolve. I can clearly see that there are Israeli army operations every day, hitting a bit harder at the moment, but there will always be an Israeli people, a Palestinian people and, regardless of the scale of the attacks, the scale of the repression, the asphyxiation of the Territories, the Israeli fear, the two peoples will always be there. They still need a settlement allowing them to coexist in peace and security.


Are you going to the Middle East in the next few days? I believe you had plans to do so?

I shall go later on because President Chirac is going to Washington now. (...).