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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 March, 2003, 13:14 GMT
Dominique de Villepin against war
Dominique de Villepin addresses the media at the United Nations
Dominique de Villepin addresses the media at the United Nations

Breakfast With Frost Interview with Dominique De Villepin, French Foreign Minister, 2 March 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: The French Foreign Secretary, Dominique De Villepin, won unprecedented applause at the United Nations last month for an impassioned speech against war on Iraq, or immediate war on Iraq.

France is convinced it speaks for the majority of the international community, certainly for the individuals in it if not all the governments. But how far will it go in defiance of the United States?

I met Mr De Villepin yesterday and in the magnificent setting the French Foreign Ministry, look at that setting there - eat your heart out Jack Straw - we talked about whether France will try to veto the use of force, and whether that would do lasting damage to his relationship with America.

But first I asked him why he sees the situation so differently from our own Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who described Saddam's last ditch decision to dismantle missiles as "a cynical trick".

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: We believe that the key factor, the referee, are the inspectors. The rule of the game is resolution 1441 and the referee are the inspectors.

Mr Blix and Mr El Baradei, they are the eye and the hand of the international community in Iraq. They know what's going on in the world.

You cannot say I want Saddam Hussein to disarm and at the same time when he is disarming say they're not doing what they should. Maybe they're not doing enough, that's exactly the job of the inspectors and that's exactly what we are trying to get with them.

To get more, to get the complete ... of the programmes, during the next days and months.

DAVID FROST: What the US and the UK seem to be saying in addition is they're saying that the things that are really important are the possible 85,000 litres of anthrax or the 360 tonnes of chemical warfare agents, that these are the important ones.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: Sir David, one year ago, almost all the experts were saying what's important is the nuclear programmes and the ballistic programmes.

We know already and Mr El Baradei said that in a couple of months he might be able to certify that there is no nuclear programmes in Iraq. In the ballistic, we've seen the progress made through the missiles.

Now we come to the biological and chemical programmes. We make progress also on these fields. We have a chance, through the inspections, peacefully to disarm Iraq, which is very important for us - why?

Because there is not only Iraq, we should not forget. Iraq is one of the many countries that do possess weapons of mass destruction - and it is absolutely a very important challenge for the international community to be able to solve the Iraqi crisis peacefully. Because what are we going to do next. Are we going also to make war with North Korea?

Are we going to go to war to the other Middle East countries that do possess weapons of mass destruction? I think the use of force must be only, as President Chirac says, a last resort.

DAVID FROST: But yesterday I noticed the prime minister was talking about the fact that although the people who appeased Germany, Hitler in 1938 and so on, were good people, that appeasement is always a mistake and implying that this thing of letting him go on, letting Saddam Hussein have the benefit of the doubt and go on for 120 days is some form of appeasement. Is there any parallel?

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: Are we in the same situation in Iraq? Can you make really the comparison between the two? I am not saying that there is on one side the countries that want to act - the US, the UK, Spain - and the other side the countries that don't want to do anything.

We are not a pacifist country. Remember we are the first contributor of troops to Nato. We were first one of the leading countries that were part in Bosnia and in Kosovo.

We were first in Afghanistan. We had 70 soldiers that died in Bosnia, we are not pacifist. We are ready to take full responsibility. And we said, if the use of force at one point is absolutely needed, then of course we might take these decisions. But the question is - and sometimes at night I wake up thinking have we tried everything.

You see peace is a very important thing. It's a very strong benefit for mankind and we should only accept the use of force when we have tried everything. Have we tried everything? France says no.

And I think that before ... before the US send some boys in Iraq, we have to answer the question is it necessary, is it worth it? That are the two questions. If it is needed, as a last resort, force is necessary.

DAVID FROST: Since you feel so strongly Foreign Secretary, you've been asked in the last day or two about the fact of in what circumstances or would you ever consider a veto in terms of this second resolution because you feel so strongly, as you've been saying, about war and so on.

And basically your reply was, once or twice I read, that basically France wants to keep all its options open. So that means you haven't ruled it out.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: When we wrote together, the Security council, resolution 1441, what have we said? We said that we should work through the inspection 'til when we find ourselves in a deadlock.

And it is to the inspectors to make a report and say well we cannot work any more. Are we in such a situation? No. Do we need a second resolution? No. Are we going to oppose a second resolution? Yes. As the Russian and many other countries.

We are going to take full responsibility, of course, because it's a very important matter. It is the world of the international community which is at stake and we believe the UN should not be put in a position to just put a rubber stamp on a decision that has already been made.

You see the calendar, the timetable of the international community, may be not the timetable of war. But you don't make war on a timetable.

DAVID FROST: And do you think that the relationship between France and the United States can survive, both at the highest level and also at the people level, the tremendous bitterness that exists at the moment?

I spend a lot of time in the States, I saw one thing where the polls asked who after the three countries in the axis of evil, who should be number four, and France won hands down. Even the Brits wouldn't say that as joke probably.

But also French Fries have been taken off restaurant menus, so at the popular level there's a lot of hatred and there's a lot of resentment also at the upper level. Do you actually think relations between the US and France will ever be the same again?

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: This is not a problem between the United States and France. Neither between the UK and France. It is the problem of how are we going to deal with the Iraqi crisis. What kind of world do we want to live in. This is the key.

And we think that when you have a friend, sometimes this friend disagree and it is very important for a friend to be able to tell the truth. What do you think? How do you feel? We feel that today going to war is premature.

And we said, and we assume it, it is important to have such kind of friends who are able to tell you exactly.

DAVID FROST: Do you think in retrospect it was a mistake for France to say what the President did to the countries of Eastern Europe, that their entry into the EU might be blocked by France if they -

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: No -

DAVID FROST: - dared, childishly, to disagree with him.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: He didn't say that. He said, that he, was hurt, as many people in Europe, he was hurt by this initiative - you see when you are in a family -

DAVID FROST: But he did say they've not been very well behaved.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: Yes but that different -

DAVID FROST: They missed a great opportunity to ... -

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: No, he didn't say he was going to ...

DAVID FROST: - if they, if they want to reduce their chances of entering Europe they could not have found a better way.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: Yes, but he didn't say he will block, which is very different. No I think when you are in a family, you need to say what you think.

That is part of the family, if you don't speak clearly, then it's when you get misunderstandings. We all do agree to have good relationships with the US.

We are all friends of the US. This should not divide Europe and I don't think we should consider that this Iraqi crisis is a crisis between Europe and the United States.

DAVID FROST: I think one thing it's demonstrated is that the idea, or at least for a few years, the idea of a common European foreign policy is dead as a dodo, isn't it?

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: No I don't think so.

DAVID FROST: No?

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: Of course, agreeing on war or peace is very important but I must say that I'm glad when I see that the people of Europe at least are united.

And you see 90% of the world community the do agree to the fact that we should give more time to the inspectors. 90 per cent! And there is, in every of our countries, more than 80 per cent of the people who agree along the same lines. We think force should be used as a last resort.

Some countries may think that with force in Iraq you are going to get the end of terrorism, the end of proliferation in the world and the end of ... crisis and like by magic you are going to make peace in the Middle East. We don't agree.

DAVID FROST: But in that situation, surely, the progress that's been made in terms of disarmament, which you rate much greater than obviously President Bush does or, or any one in the UK.

But that progress would only have happened with that man, Saddam, with the threat of force and with the immense financial and other sacrifice of the United States sending 200,000 troops there. Without that all of this wouldn't have happened.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: Of course, the build up, the military build up has been putting a lot of pressure on Iraq.

But we have also, not to forget, that there is a timetable set by resolution 1441 - very clear, there is no deadline - but there is a timetable, which is the reports that every two or three weeks the inspectors are making for the Security Council.

When we met at the ministerial level, the 14th of February, in the Security Council, the fact that this report was coming was a very strong pressure on Iraq. As well as the next report which is going to come maybe on the 7th of March.

This pressure obligates Iraq, as well as the different countries, to get results. To get ...

DAVID FROST: But they only even listen to Blix's reports because of the threat that's behind them, which is not a Blix threat, but it is a US, UK threat.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: Force can give results if force is legitimate, if force goes along with the right, with principle, with law. It is not the case today. So we must give inspectors more time.

DAVID FROST: And looking ahead now, in conclusion, would you say that it is likely that we will see war in the next few months in Iraq or not? Or are you optimistic, are you pessimistic?

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: It's very difficult to be optimistic in such a ..., in such a situation. We all see the determination of the United States. But I now also something from history, that history is never written in advance.

We must try to find a way, we must work to find a way. Because our conviction is the use of force in such a context, in such a situation, may have very deep, very important consequences.

And that's why I believe it's important to keep talking with one another, try to understand, try to find really what are the best solutions - are we going to go to war because we don't want to wait a couple of weeks or months more?

Is it really worth it to go to war today? I think these are questions still pending and we are waiting for answers.

DAVID FROST: Mr Foreign Secretary, thank you so much.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: Thank you Sir David.

INTERVIEW ENDS



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