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Press conference of Foreign affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin (excerpts)

New York, January 20, 2003

Q. – One gets the impression here of a France that is not constant, of a country trying to restrain a “hyperpower” when it’s ready to send its own troops into battle. Of a France that always yields to pressure. First, is that impression justified? Second, President Chirac has asked that the inspectors have a bit more time to do their job in Iraq. You just stated clearly that you think the process must be strengthened and improved on, but that it must be pursued. Last week, Colin Powell said he thought there would be sufficient elements by the end of the month to justify a second resolution authorizing war.

THE MINISTER –(...) Today, as we can clearly see, there is a choice. The choice is to continue, in accordance with the options we took, on the path of cooperation. The other choice is to move forward on the path of military intervention because we are impatient with the situation in Iraq. We believe that nothing today justifies envisaging military action. The inspectors have been working on the ground fewer than 60 days. In the past two months we believe that the implementation of inspections and the work they have generated—more than 300 inspections a month—are satisfactory. To be sure, we can improve on this work, and France is mobilized to ensure that the inspectors’ work can be done still more effectively. We have made it a principle to pursue Iraq’s active cooperation. We are working to that end. And we can see clearly, day after day, that the inspectors are in a position to have more information. And as we can also see, Iraq at this point is not in a position to really pursue new programs even if it wanted to, given the number of inspectors in Iraq. That’s the choice of the international community, and France supports it.

Now at any moment, there may be a decision to change it. It is not we who would change it; it’s those who decide to intervene militarily who would change it. The international community chose cooperation. And we’re saying that so long as cooperation can go forward this path, which was adopted, should be continued. If there’s a decision to change tack, if the US decided at some point to envision unilateral military action, the first question we would ask would be about the legitimacy of this action.

The second question we’d ask is about the effectiveness of intervention. Because it is one thing to intervene militarily in Iraq, even to attack Saddam Hussein’s regime and get him to leave. (...) It’s another to have a united Iraq, to have the Middle East a stable and safe region. What are the consequences, moreover, for the international community in terms of security? What new divisions would we see emerging on the international stage? What frustrations and feelings of injustice would be fuelled?

Our sense is that such intervention, in terms of being effective, takes us down a path where we would have no control at any time over the gains and benefits. Consequently the choice is simple. Either we continue patiently but with the conviction that at the end of the road, through cooperation, we will disarm Iraq. That is France’s stated conviction and the conviction of the inspectors. We will see their report on January 27. Or one considers there’s a military short-cut and by taking it one may hope to move more quickly to the objective.

We’re saying let’s be prudent, the world is sick, and in considerable disorder. Can the world allow itself such initiatives which we know may start a fashion? For the problem of proliferation is not just Iraq, it’s also North Korea and other states as well. Will military intervention then have to be envisioned and will military intervention alone suffice by some magic to resolve all the other problems on earth? Let’s be responsible. Let’s realize that the world situation is serious and that all the problems have to be addressed at the same time, with the trump card we now have. And this trump card, we believe, has to be maximized to the full: it is the unity and unanimity of the international community. (...) Such unanimity is a precious asset for the international community. Before taking the risk of breaking it, let us pause to consider

Q- Are you firmly convinced that military action is not justified? Is France ready to use its veto if it doesn’t have assurances or if it’s convinced that Iraq is not patently violating its obligations? (...)

THE MINISTER: France’s stance in the event of a second resolution or if the US decided to pursue its path, as we’ve said from the outset, as President Chirac has said: we will not join in military intervention that did not have international support, UN support. Moreover, we believe that military intervention would be the worst solution, and that the use of force can only be a last resort, implying that all other avenues have been exhausted. From that point on, you discuss the right of veto. France, as a permanent member of the Security Council, will assume all its responsibilities, faithful to its principles. (...) Regarding the question of military intervention and the legality it may might have, our feeling is very simple: so long as cooperation can be explored, so long as we can move forward through cooperation, there is no reason to choose the worst solution, that is, military intervention.

Embassy of France in the United States - January 23, 2003