This is the first time that a senior French official speaks to an Iranian media opposed to the Islamic theocracy which rules over Iran.
“There is no link between the international crisis caused by the Iranian nuclear programme and France’s action with regard to the promotion and defence of human rights. This is so because France’s commitment to improving the situation of human rights is affirmed wherever it may be required, in Iran or any country where we consider the situation to be unsatisfactory. Our declared positions were no different prior to the nuclear crisis. There is no reason that they should be different if we can succeed, as I would wish, in resolving this crisis and if the human rights situation in your country does not improve substantially. Our attitude on human rights cannot therefore under any circumstances be considered to be one means of applying pressure among others in order to persuade the Iranian authorities to suspend their sensitive nuclear activities”, Mr. Kouchner, a socialist, told the Paris and London-based daily.
Mr. Kouchner insists that France’s policy toward the Islamic Republic f Iran has not changed with the arrival of Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy to the Elysee Palace, reminding that “even before Mr. Sarkozy is elected as President, the Security Council of the United Nations had already passed three resolutions about Iran.
“This determination to apply pressure on the Iranian Government to persuade it to respond to the concerns of the international community as a whole did not come into being with the election of Mr. Sarkozy: the first three resolutions (1696, 1737 and 1747) were adopted when Mr. Chirac was still President of the Republic, in July 2006, December 2006 and March 2007”, Mr. Kouchner said, adding: “Moreover, neither before nor after the election of Mr. Sarkozy was the French government’s policy limited to such pressure. From the outset, pressure has been associated with dialogue and willingness to engage in negotiations, once Iran suspends its sensitive nuclear activities”.
The following is the text of the interview as carried by the internet paper on its 14 june edition:
Mr. Sarkozi's policy towards Iran is not very different from Franc's known position stated before him.
In an exclusive interview with Rooz, France’s Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner speaks of his country’s hopes to “develop a special relationship with Iran and deepen the long-established bond of friendship between the French and the Iranians.” He says that the European Union regularly expresses its willingness to resume the EU/Iran dialogue on human rights, “which was suspended at Iran’s initiative.” Concerning the nuclear negotiations, he underlines: “We do not rule out any channel for dialogue with the Iranian authorities... As the Iranian authorities can enjoy access to the Presidency of the Republic, it is only logical that we should enjoy access to the Supreme Guide”.
Rol (RoozOnLine) For what reasons has the French Government’s policy towards Iran undergone noticeable changes since the election of Mr. Sarkozy?
Bernard Kouchner - The policy of the French Government towards Iran has not undergone the changes to which you refer since the election of the President of the Republic.
The President’s presentation of it in the speech he made on 22 August 2007 to France’s Ambassadors at a gathering in Paris is in fact totally in line with the actions of France since the beginning of the crisis in 2003.
To quote the President’s words in 2007: “the current approach, combining tightening sanctions with openness if Iran chooses to abide by its obligations […] is the only one that can keep us from facing a catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”
This determination to apply pressure on the Iranian Government to persuade it to respond to the concerns of the international community as a whole did not come into being with the election of Mr. Sarkozy: the first three resolutions (1696, 1737 and 1747) were adopted when Mr. Chirac was still President of the Republic, in July 2006, December 2006 and March 2007.
Moreover, neither before nor after the election of Mr. Sarkozy was the French government’s policy limited to such pressure. From the outset, pressure has been associated with dialogue and willingness to engage in negotiations, once Iran suspends its sensitive nuclear activities. Such negotiations could be based on the far reaching offer of cooperation made to Iran and presented in a series of increasingly detailed versions, first by the Europeans (France, Germany, the United Kingdom) in 2005, and later by the Europeans along with the United States, China and Russia in 2006. The most recent version of this offer, further improved and given approval by the six Ministers last May, should be proposed to the Iranian authorities in the near future.
Rooz is the leading independent, pro-reform Iranian internet newspaper opposed to the present Iranian government.
This offer, in addition to concrete proposals in domains essential to Iran’s stability and prosperity (regional security, economy, energy, agriculture, aviation, environment and infrastructure), contains a proposal for cooperation in the area of civilian nuclear energy. The Iranian people must understand that it was never our intention to deprive Iran of access to nuclear energy.
Indeed, the President of the Republic, convinced that this is the energy of the future, proposed to a number of States that abide by their international commitments the possibility of benefiting from French expertise in this domain. The main impediment to our exploration of this avenue with Iran is that the authorities of that country have not restored confidence in the strictly peaceful nature of their nuclear programme, whose current developments are problematic. The paradox is that by conducting enrichment activities that are meaningless from the economic standpoint, Iran’s government is depriving the country of all cooperation with the United States or Europe.
We continue to attach great importance to this aspect of our policy. Following the adoption of resolution 1803, France supported the adoption of a joint declaration reaffirming the willingness of the six countries to develop the offer made to Iran in 2006, with a view to making it clearer and more concrete. This new offer is likely to be presented to the Iranian authorities very shortly. We hope that it will convince them to make the move that is needed if the Iranian people are to enjoy the prospects for fu-ture development, prosperity and stability to which they may legitimately aspire: that move simply involves suspending its sensitive nuclear activities, as is requested by the international community. Suspension means creating the conditions for negotiations in a climate of confidence to allow a settlement responsive to Iran’s own interests and international concerns.
ROL - Up to what point is the French government likely to increase the economic and political pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran? For the government, where does the limit to such pressure lie?
BK - We have not defined in principle any ceiling on such pressure. This is because sanctions are above all a diplomatic instrument intended to persuade the Iranian authorities to abide by their international obligations. In the approach I have just described to you, one which combines tightening sanctions with constant willingness to engage in dialogue, we consider that the pressure exerted on Iran must progressively increase for so long as that country does not comply with Security Council resolutions.
“There is no link between the international crisis caused by the Iranian nuclear programme and France’s action with regard to the promotion and defence of human rights.
That is the sole aim of these international sanctions, all of which have been adopted unanimously or by a very large majority by a body representing the entire international community: the United Nations Security Council. They are not an end in them-selves. Nobody wishes to punish Iran or its people. Conscious as we are of the rich historical and cultural heritage of that country, of its great economic potential and strategic importance in the Middle East, we can only hope to develop a special relationship with it and deepen the long-established bond of friendship between the French and the Iranians. But, as long as the Iranian authorities fail to make the move that the whole world is expecting of them, we can only argue for the stepping up of the sanctions.
ROL - Assuming that the Islamic Republic agrees to suspend uranium enrichment, would the other matters relating to it, such as violation of human rights, be considered to be internal issues?
BK - Human rights can never be considered a purely internal issue. By signing a number of international conventions in this sphere, Iran agreed to submit to the oversight of the bodies the international community has set up to ascertain due compliance with those conventions and the absence of breaches of universal standards, doing so in a wide range of areas (court sentencing to inhuman and degrading treatment; restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression and information; prosecution of defenders of human rights and women’s rights activists; discrimination against minorities, espe-cially ethnic and religious groups).
Furthermore, there is no link between the international crisis caused by the Iranian nuclear programme and France’s action with regard to the promotion and defence of human rights. This is so because France’s commitment to improving the situation with regard to human rights is affirmed wherever it may be required, in Iran or any country where we consider the situation to be unsatisfactory. Our declared positions were no different prior to the nuclear crisis. There is no reason that they should be different if we can succeed, as I would wish, in resolving this crisis and if the human rights situation in your country does not improve substantially. Our attitude on human rights cannot therefore under any circumstances be considered to be one means of applying pressure among others in order to persuade the Iranian authorities to suspend their sensitive nuclear activities.
This position is totally in line with that of the European Union, which embodies a community of values and regularly expresses its concern (diplomatic demarches in Teheran; declarations; conclusions of meetings of Ministers, and so on.). The essential nature of the issue of human rights in European policy can be illustrated in two ways. Firstly, the Union made progress on the protection of human rights a condition for progress on the trade and cooperation agreement discussed between it and Iran up to 2005. Secondly, the Union regularly expresses its willingness to resume the EU/Iran dialogue on human rights, which was suspended at your country’s initiative.
ROL - One analysis suggests that the source of all the current tensions between the Islamic Republic and the international community is Iran’s democratic deficit. If there had been free elections in Iran, Mr.(Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad would not have been elected as the country’s president. In that connection, some of my fellow countrymen feel that the West’s attitude indirectly helped Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies to dominate the Iranian political scene. Those analysts refer, for example, to the 2004 parliamentary elections in Iran in which the extremists were able, by means of action described as a “peaceful coup d’état”, to prevent virtually all competent reformers (including dozens of parliamentarians) from standing in the elections. This even led to a sit-in of members of parliament. But the indifference of the international community on this matter created a situation in which the extremists could ensure that the organisation of the elections would have no negative impact against them at international level. To what degree do you accept the criticism leveled by this group of Iranians who believe that the indifference of the West to the organisation of elections such as those in 2004 was conducive to the increasing dominance of the extremists in Iran?
BK - We have always paid the greatest possible attention to the results of all elections in Iran and we have always expressed our concerns whenever necessary. We do indeed consider that even if it is a reality, democracy in Iran is imperfect. We regret that the choice offered to the electorate should be restricted by the manner in which the elections are organised, notably due to the selection of candidates, in most cases to the detriment of the reformers, by an unelected body, the Council of Guardians. We at-tach great importance to the fact that the choice of the Iranian people, whose level of participation in the various elections testifies to intense interest in Iranian political life, should be able to be expressed as freely as possible.
We have always paid the greatest possible attention to the results of all elections in Iran and we have always expressed our concerns whenever necessary.
To be more precise, you refer to the parliamentary elections of 2004. In that connec-tion, the principles I have just described to you were reflected in stated positions at both national and European levels.
For example, in their meeting in Brussels on 23 February 2004, the European ministers adopted the following conclusions: “The Council discussed the Iranian parliamentary elections on 20 February. The Council recalled that over the last ten years Iran had made progress towards greater political freedom and that in the parliamentary elections in February 2000 the Iranian people clearly showed their desire for further re-form. Against that background, the Council expressed its deep regret and disappointment that large numbers of candidates were prevented from standing in parliamentary elections, including many sitting members of the Majles, thus making a genuine democratic choice by the Iranian people impossible. This interference was a setback for the democratic process in Iran. The Council expressed the hope that Iran will return to the path of reform and democratization”.
On the margins of this Council meeting, the French Minister also said at the time: “[We expressed] our disquiet, our concern, following the holding of the parliamentary elections of 20 February. We emphasised our concern in the light of the invalidation of a large number of candidates, preventing the Iranian people from expressing their wishes clearly and calmly.” More recently, this position has been clearly expressed not only by the spokesperson for my Ministry, but also by the Presidency of the European Union, in connection with the latest parliamentary elections, the first round of which took place on 14 March 2008.
ROL - Are you sure that the Iranian negotiators on the nuclear issue are correctly informing their authorities (and specifically the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic) of the gravity of the present situation? Have you considered alerting the leading figure of the Islamic Republic directly to the real and imminent danger facing the regime and the country, thus creating a direct channel of communication with him?
BK - We do not rule out any channel for dialogue with the Iranian authorities. My main contact is my Iranian counterpart, Mr. Manouchehr Mottaki. However, just as the Iranian authorities can enjoy access to the Presidency of the Republic, it is only logical that we should enjoy access to the Supreme Guidance.
ROL - It is believed in some quarters that the international sanctions against Iran have weakened the private sector rather than the Islamic regime. In fact, due to the sanctions, private companies in Iran are unable to continue to do business and are obliged to hand over to competing firms attached to the government and the Guardians of the Revolution, who have ways of obtaining supplies from abroad despite the sanctions. What is your view on this?
Statements by Iranian President against Israel are counter-productives
BK - International sanctions against Iran are not an end in themselves. They are not directed against any particular group of Iranians. Their purpose is not to create difficulties for companies carrying out legal transactions and making their contribution to the wellbeing of the Iranian population. They are aimed at Iranian leaders and the organisations they use and in some cases manipulate for their own benefit. I would remind you that the cause of the sanctions is the current Iranian nuclear policy due to the legitimate disquiet it has aroused in the international community and Iran’s neighbours.
ROL - What is the main problem at issue between France and the Islamic Republic? Is clarification of relations between Iran and Israel among France’s demands of the Islamic Republic?
BK - France regularly expresses its deep concern in reaction to statements made by the high Iranian authorities regarding the State of Israel. Such repeated statements made by one United Nations member State concerning another United Nations member State can only lead it to express reprobation and indignation.
Statements of this kind have a highly negative impact on the way Iran is perceived by the international community because they undermine the credibility of the Iranian authorities’ assertion of willingness to play a major stabilising role in all the region’s crises. For our part, we consider that it is in the interests of all, and notably Iran, to work in a spirit of responsibility for a calmer situation in the Near and Middle East.
This is not however France’s only reason for disquiet. Indeed, as I have already said, in addition to the regional aspects, the nuclear programme and the human rights situation are also matters of serious concern to us. I have the hope that French and Iranian diplomats will succeed in resolving all these various difficulties in order to allow the development of relations between France and Iran, an outcome in the common interest of our two countries and our two peoples.ENDS KOUCHNER WITH ROOZ 15608