After a slow start, Europe has made firm commitments regarding a beefed-up peacekeeping force for Lebanon. So what next for the Middle East? The French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy speaks to EuroNews on France’s stance on events in Lebanon, Syria and Iran – poised to clash again with the UN over its nuclear programme.
EuroNews: Mr Minister, President Chirac has criticised the attitude of the European Union during the crisis in Lebanon. What does France expect from its European partners?
Douste-Blazy: The European Union must become more political. We have made a lot of progress on our foreign policy and collective security but, it’s true, if you look at what’s happened since the beginning of the Lebanese crisis you see that some countries reacted in their own way and there wasn’t the sort of European unity that we’d hoped for.
I was pleased to see at the end of July that my European colleagues, the foreign ministers of the 25 countries, had come to the French position. I think we can draw two lessons – it was a diplomatic success for Europe because it’s Europe which will form the backbone of the reinforced Unifil but at the same time there was a lack of speed in our political reactions.
EuroNews: And to improve upon that, even if it’s a project, an eventual project, would it be better if the external decisions of the EU were taken by a qualified majority, for example.
Douste-Blazy: Well, that’s one of the main subjects of the constitution, as well as the post of European foreign minister. In any case, if Europe wants to play a political role tomorrow, on the world stage, it is necessary to make sure that a rapid reaction can be better facilitated. In this particular case a qualified majority would not have changed things because most of us were in agreement.
EuroNews: Returning to Lebanon, is a country like Lebanon viable with an armed political organisation on its territory, I’m talking about Hizbollah.
Douste-Blazy: I think that the disarmament of the militias, and in particular Hizbollah, will be made up of two elements – the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south, which can collect arms if it finds them. The president of parliament, Mr Berri, assured me of that when I went to Beirut in July and August. And secondly, the fact that there will be a sort of progression from the armed movement to Hizbollah, the political party.
EuroNews: But one could also say that could be a bit more difficult because one of the consequences of this war has been that Hizbollah has gained a lot of notoriety and prestige, not only in Lebanon but in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Douste-Blazy: There is a progressive radicalisation of public opinion on both sides – in Arab countries and in Israel. I am very worried by this radicalisation because it could, at a given moment, be used to stir up feelings of humiliation, poverty, of a rift; with the West on one side and these countries on the other, in terms of education, public health, quality of life, to further radicalise various movements. That’s how Hamas started and why there is a Hizbollah.
EuroNews: Another result of the conflict has been the return of pro-Syrian Lebanese organisations. In this context is France going to maintain its position of firmness with Syria?
Douste-Blazy: We have an international starting point for this region of the world and that’s Resolution 1595, which is a resolution which was voted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council, with the support of the Arab League. There is going to be an international judicial inquiry, in order to find out who was responsible for the assassinations of several world figures – the prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, but also others in Lebanon’s parliamentary, civilian and journalistic spheres. A judge is working on it and it the Syrian authorities, just as the Lebanese authorities, like all authorities must play their parts transparently and truthfully. Who has killed these people?
EuroNews: Israel has maintained its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. In your opinion, is that justified?
Douste-Blazy: I has asked the Israeli authorities to lift the embargo at Beirut airport and the Lebanese ports. With it in place, there cannot be political reconstruction and the Lebanese economy will be stifled.
EuroNews: Will France vote for UN sanctions against Iran if Tehran refuses to stop its program of uranium enrichment?
Douste-Blazy: I understand that the Iranians want negotiations or discussions. France also wants to enter into dialogue with the Iranians, on the condition that it is a dialogue that is concrete, transparent and constructive along with our partners. That is not to say that we wouldn’t also have suspension of enrichment as a condition but it is important that we should remain ready to speak with the Iranians where they want dialogue. Why? Because France wants to do everything to avoid a confrontation. The international community mustn’t be divided, cut in two – that, too, would be a victory for the Iranians.