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24 September 2013 - Interview of Mr François Hollande, President of France, with Mrs Christiane Amanpour for CNN

Mrs Christiane Amanpour and Mr François Hollande - Credit photos : CNN

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Mr. President, welcome to New York. Welcome to our programme. Thank you for joining me.

PRES. FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRANCE (through translator): Thank you for your invitation

AMANPOUR: France was very proactive, calling for Assad to step down, even agreeing — you agreed to go militarily to deal with the horror of the chemical attack of August 21st. What is your reaction now that the U.S. didn’t go, the British and the U.S. decided to turn it over to their elected parliaments and they didn’t get the — the go-ahead. But you were prepared to go. Do you think there should have been punishment for the attack on August 21st, the chemical attack?

HOLLANDE: France was ready. I said it — as I said, to punish, to sanction the Syrian regime, given that they used chemical weapons and it is because there was this pressure from the U.S. and France that the Russians took the initiative to look for an agreement. This agreement has been found. It now enables us to consider the different solutions, different than the military solution that we considered. This solution is a resolution for the U.N. Security Council in the coming days that should enable us to implement the agreement found between the U.S. and the Russians on this issue of chemical weapons that is the destruction of the chemical stockpiles.

AMANPOUR: Should there be a military component? Should it be enforceable by military action if they don’t comply? Will France go for a military component to the resolution?

HOLLANDE: A resolution without sanctions whatsoever, a resolution that would not consider any answer to a breach by the Syrian regime in terms of the control and the destruction of chemical weapons, this would have no scope whatsoever, no punch. So France is looking for a resolution that must be binding, enforceable so in case of a breach, we can go back to the Security Council and allow it to take sanctions. So, yes, a resolution, a quick one, yes, we would like the agreement between the U.S. and the Russians to be translated, this agreement in order to destroy chemical weapons, but with a requirement — a requirement for a sanction in case of breach.

AMANPOUR: Well, the U.S. doesn’t seem to be going for that. Everything it says seems to be that it’s not going to ask for a military or a coercive campaign. The Russians say they don’t want that. Do you think there will be a veto?

HOLLANDE: No. All we have to do is to hold the Russians accountable. They have to stick to what they say. They said there would be implementation, control of the chemical weapons. And that there must even be the possibility of returning to Chapter 7, but we may not need to turn to Chapter 7 immediately. What we need is the possibility of the sanction in case of a breach on behalf of the Syrian regime. So I believe that the solution that we’re putting forward, which is a demanding solution and it means that the Security Council must be in a position to act and to adopt sanctions if there is a breach. We also need to make sure those responsible can be referred to justice. All of that has to be in the next resolution and both the Russians and the U.S. can see in that solution the implementation of the agreement that they’ve found.

AMANPOUR: France seems to be very forward leaning. I am going to use other people’s language, not mine. During the time of the Iraq War, France was called "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." I’m sorry, that’s not my — not my term. Uh, French fries were called "freedom fries." Your policy seems to be a real reversal of what was going on during the Iraq War. You seem to be really willing to project French power where you think it’s necessary around the world. Why is that? And do you feel you’re filling a gap, as the United States sort of moves back a little bit?

HOLLANDE: But France doesn’t want to get involved in any kind of adventure or initiative. I was proud that my country did not take part to what happened in Iraq. I considered this was not our role and that there was no truth about the weapons of mass destruction. But here we’re talking about 120,000 people dead in two and a half years, two million refugees, 18,000 dead in a year, forces adding to one another, the forces of the regime, al Qaeda, as well, which is now in Syria. And in the middle, the democratic coalition which cannot find a political solution. So it is urgent that we act. Of course it is about fighting the use of chemical weapons, as will be done at the Security Council any time soon. But it is also about finding a political solution.

And the role of France is not to apply ambitions all around the world. We have no intent of influencing or defending commercial or trade interest. What we are fighting for are rules, principles, values. This is what gives France its specificity in the international family. So what I am fighting for regarding Syria is a political solution. But if there’s not the necessary pressure and but for the threats regarding the use of chemical weapons, we would not be where we are. So we will sort out the issue of chemical weapons within a couple of days. But we cannot satisfy ourselves with that single solution. We have to find a political solution in order to put an end to what is the worst massacre since the beginning of the century.

AMANPOUR: Iran is an actor. Iran, by all accounts, has military personnel inside Syria helping and directing the war on behalf of President Assad. You will meet President Rouhani today. What are you going to tell him about Syria, about Iran’s role in a political solution? What are the conditions? What does Iran have to agree to?

HOLLANDE: We all know the bonds between Iran and the Syrian regime. So we need to talk to Iran. Even more so given that President Rouhani made a number of gestures, mainly orally so far, but it is some sort of an opening. Regarding Syria, I will be telling him that we should work on a Geneva 2 conference. The only purpose will be to organize the political solution transition that is putting place an interim government that should include all the forces that will build the Syria of tomorrow. And Iran can attend the conference, if that country agrees to the necessity of finding a political solution. And it is also in Iran’s interests not to be isolated because of Syria, as well.

AMANPOUR: And that includes Iran having to agree to what the conference calls for, and that is eventually President Assad stepping down and moving out, moving away from the political dynamic? So Iran has to agree to that?

HOLLANDE: The purpose of Geneva 2 as you said as you said is that Bashar al-Assad can go and that there is a government that would represent all the Syrian components, all political forces willing to build the Syria of tomorrow, so that all of that can be put in place. So if Iran has agrees upon that goal, Iran is welcome. On the other hand, if Iran wants, at any price, to keep the regime in place, I cannot imagine how this country could attend Geneva 2.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about Bashar al-Assad. Again, you, the French yourself, the British prime minister, the American president, Barack Obama, for two years have been saying Bashar Al-Assad must go. You’ve said it again now. But isn’t Bashar Al-Assad necessary? Isn’t he actually going to have to stay in order to resolve this chemical weapons deal? Is he not now inevitably a partner in getting rid of these chemical weapons?

HOLLANDE: Syria is the partner. It is Syria today which holds chemical weapons and must destroy them. And a couple of days ago, both in the American and the French press Bashar Al-Assad was saying he didn’t have chemical weapons, there were no such weapons in Syria. Now, he says there are. So he cannot be a trustworthy partner for many months. It cannot be an opportunity for Bashar Al-Assad to stay as the leader of Syria. This issue of dealing with the chemical weapons must also be the step to allow for the political solution that is a government that represents all of the Syrian communities. I believe that we cannot us the chemical agreement in order to maintain this regime.

AMANPOUR: And on the issue of nuclear program with Iran, where do you see the possibility of compromise? Can there be a win-win situation? Is this a last chance, do you think, for some kind of resolution of this crisis, really?

HOLLANDE: It’s been ongoing for ten years. The negotiations have been in a deadlock for ten years. And each day, each extra day is an extra threat in terms of the answer that will come at some point. And we have to keep that in mind. The new president made a number of statements which are signs of opening development. And I think that here again, we have to hold him to his word. And when I see him today I will be telling him a simple thing. If Iran is willing to negotiate to give up on its military nuclear program and get a civil nuclear program to be accepted then there is a possible solution.

On the other hand if the deadlock remains, what will happen, more and more sanctions, more burdens on the Iranian economy and at some point, the threat of an operation. We all are aware of that. So from that point, starting point, it is reasonable to find a compromise. So the Iranian president has to move from words to deeds.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you first your reaction to the terrible events in Kenya, in Nairobi. I know France lost some people, some citizens there.

What is your reaction to what happened?

HOLLANDE (through translator): Two French fellow citizens have died. They’ve been murdered by terrorists.

It is very painful for us. I have spoken to the father, the husband of these two ladies, earlier today and we stand by them. We stand by all the victims because we know that terrorism is based in Africa; it comes from Somalia, and we have to keep fighting terrorism.

This is the reason why France took its part, including on the occasion of its intervention, together with the African forces, in order to eradicate terrorism in the Sahel region.

But terrorism is everywhere where there is chaos. In Somalia, there’s still chaos, and terrorism can grow. And we can see that they’re striking everywhere.

AMANPOUR: Are they on the rise or do you think you have them on the run?

HOLLANDE (through translator): I believe that in Somalia, they are on the decline, given that the African forces have waned and they were defeated, but it is precisely because they are on the defensive that they are attacking Nairobi and Kenya, because they know how Kenya has been active and the role they’ve been playing in Somalia.

In Western Africa, in other places, they are declining, but they can still strike. We’ve seen that in Nigeria, in Niger a couple of months ago.

So we should not believe that we are done with terrorism simply because we had a number of victories in Somalia or in other places, even more so, given that there are countries, like Libya, which are some sort of safe havens for terrorists, the — some trafficking, there are some weapons.

So in Libya, they can organize a number of actions. So it is for us to organize, to coordinate, to have a strategy in order to tackle terrorism.

AMANPOUR: France famously went into Mali. You did it fairly cost- free. I know some soldiers died, but not too many, thank goodness. And you were able to pave the way for democratic elections.

Do you consider that a success?

I know you’re planning to pull out your troops there.

Is it over in Mali or is this something that could grow again?

HOLLANDE: These operations have been successful in Mali. First of all, because it is something that the Africans themselves wanted. France would not have gone to Mali alone. We were asked to go there. And we did that within the U.N. framework, with an international mandate.

Also, it was cooperation between African forces and European forces, including French ones. We had a very short period of time to organize our intervention, a couple of hours. I took this decision. But we managed to succeed over terrorism in Mali, to secure the territory and to enable Mali to have a democratic transition.

And the elections were held on the agreed date. And we know these have been successful with a high level of participation and a very high score for a number of votes for the president elected.

So we show there that when we have a coordinated action, resolute action, when we have the support of the African forces for the Sahel, we can succeed.

AMANPOUR: You mention Libya. France, obviously, along with Britain, really took the lead and America followed, the famous ‘lead from behind’; France and Britain led from the front.

But there’s been quite a lot of worry and criticism of the result now, because, as you say, it’s a haven, it’s a transit point, it’s awash in weapons and militias who are not under central government control.

Does that concern you about the idea of intervention, because — do you consider Libya a success or is there a lot more work to be done there?

HOLLANDE (through translator): The military operation has been successful, given that it enabled the opposition to win, to topple Gaddafi and organize elections. But unfortunately, there was not the necessary follow up, that is, the coordinated action of the allies, so that Libya could rebuild itself, build economically, politically, but also in terms of security.

I, therefore, propose that France — but not just France, a number of major countries — could bring a much stronger cooperation compared to what’s been done before, cooperation and support to the Libyan leaders so that they can organize security everywhere.

And they have to eradicate crooks in particular in the south, because they have weapons. They can export them, they can use them. And therefore, we must provide the Libyan police, the army, as well, all the necessary support.

AMANPOUR: And, finally, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, won a historic new term.

What is your reaction to that?

Of course the French people overwhelmingly backed her, thinking that her victory would be good for France.

HOLLANDE (through translator): It put it — her economy on track. Of course, she’s not the only one to have done it. The — it is also due to her predecessors, who had started a number of reforms on competitiveness.

The German people gave her a mandate to govern, I’m not sure with what coalition yet. But I want France and Germany to take an initiative within the coming weeks so that Europe, which is out of the Eurozone crisis can continue its reforms and at the same time support further growth and employment and have some joint policies on the energy, the digital economy.

And France and Germany have a special responsibility in Europe. And as it happens, Ms. Merkel and myself, we have another four years in our mandate so we can work together and even though we have some different political background, we certainly want a Europe to be at the forefront.

And for too long both herself and myself suffered from the image of a Europe in crisis, a Europe that was being looked at negatively.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, thank you, on that optimistic note.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining me.

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