An Interview With French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
May 9 2014 5:18 PM

“In This Very Dangerous World, You Have to Be Strong”

An interview with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

(Continued from Page 1)

Do you think the West should arm the moderate opposition?

We are helping them. But so far as the European countries are concerned, we have taken a decision to not provide lethal weapons.

How can they win without lethal weapons?

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There are [weapons coming] from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The difficulty is to be sure that these weapons do not get into hostile hands. That is why it is so important to enhance the moderate opposition. If they are stronger, we can be sure that moderate principles will be complied with. Don’t forget that [the crisis in Syria] has terrible consequences on the surrounding countries.

Refugees?

Yes, Jordan has over 1 million refugees. Turkey nearly 1 million. Lebanon—a quarter of the population. And the U.N. Security Council has unfortunately been completely paralyzed.

By China and Russia?

Russia mainly. We have new elements—not yet proof—showing that some chemical weapons have been recently used.

In Syria?

Yes.

Used now?

Recently used. We are looking for proof. We have some hints, but they have to be checked from a scientific viewpoint.

So Assad is still doing the same thing?

It is on a smaller scale. But there are hints in that direction.

Some feel that the failure of the United States to act last year when Assad crossed the red line has had consequences around the world—that people no longer trust the United States. Do you feel that way? Do you think it emboldened Putin?

There does exist in the American public a sort of war fatigue. As far as the U.S. is concerned, when there were interventions by the U.S., people were criticizing them. When there are none, people are criticizing. It is true that in this very dangerous world, you have to be strong.

Ukrainian leaders believe that Putin assessed the leaders of the free world and believed that he was the strongest. He saw nobody standing in his way.

It is true that our democratic systems do not work exactly as the autocratic ones.

France has sent planes on a rotational basis to the Baltics. Will Putin attack the Baltic states?

It is different because it is covered by NATO. I was in Moldova and Georgia two weeks ago, and obviously they are afraid.

Will you become involved in Nigeria?

We have proposed to President Goodluck Jonathan to send a team, and they are leaving tomorrow in order to examine what we can do so far as the search of these poor [kidnapped] girls is concerned. We said to [the Nigerian government] that we are available—particularly our intelligence—to help them.

It is a region we have known for a long time.

How do you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian talks? Is the Obama administration pushing too hard?

They have been quite right to push hard. Unfortunately until now there has been no result. We have to try again. There is no other reasonable solution than negotiations and the two-state solution. I’m very concerned about the decision taken to stop the negotiations.

There are French radicals fighting in Syria. Do you worry about that?

Yes. It is unfortunately rather easy to go to Syria—you can go through Turkey. They are recruiting them through the Internet. We have taken a new decision in order to prevent them from going, to control them, to help their families. ... But it’s serious risk.

There’s a country that is very risky, and that is Libya. We pay great attention to what is taking place in Libya because it has not to become a hub for terrorist groups. After the overthrow of Qaddafi, there was not enough follow-up. There is no real state in Libya. There are a lot of weapons.

You travel to China frequently. Do you think there will be a war in the East China Sea?

There are tensions. We recently had [China’s] President Xi Jinping visit here, and last week we had [Japanese] Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe. We don’t have to interfere, but we have to try and help them cool down the tensions. It is a decisive region. We have to avoid any incidents.

It seems astonishing that Russia was able to take Crimea and seems able to also take the east and south of Ukraine with really nobody in the West doing anything. Is it reminiscent of the beginning of World War II—the land grab?

When you say doing nothing, that’s not true. But what is true is that when you are looking at history, there can be incidents that become out of control. When you have different populations who are encouraged to take extreme positions, then a situation can come when nobody is in control. That’s the main danger.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.

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