(Q) What are the goals that France wishes the United Nations conference to accomplish in order to help Lebanon? How do you assess the outcome of this conference?
(A) This conference brought together the friends of Lebanon that gathered around the United Nations Secretary General whom I thank and whose moral authority helped in reaching positive results at this meeting. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora elaborated to what extent he wants to initiate structural and economic reforms in his country and other reforms linked to the budget and politics. Like many other countries, France decided to help Lebanon in its efforts pertaining to reconstruction. As soon as we receive a specific timetable for these reforms, I am certain that the international community will decide to help Lebanon through various institutions, especially the World Bank that is headed by Paul Wolfowitz who also participated in the conference.
(Q) Does this mean that assistance to Lebanon is contingent and depends on the realization of specific reforms?
(A) It is obvious that the international community will help Lebanon more when reforms pertaining to the budget and the structure as well as political and economic reforms are applied.
(Q) What is the nature and volume of the assistance that you are talking about? Have you set specific sums during your meetings with the Lebanese prime minister?
(A) It is still too early to talk about figures or sums. Nevertheless, the importance of Lebanon for stability in the region and toward independence, sovereignty, and the promotion of democracy in Lebanon will make the assistance that will be provided by the international community to Lebanon an important one.
(Q) But do you have an accurate idea about the degree of this assistance?
(A) No, I do not. The United Nations Secretary General and the Lebanese prime minister said that the figures would be made public after a few weeks.
(Q) This conference that was held at the invitation of the United States shows that Washington has taken the initiative regarding Lebanon. What is your opinion on this point?
(A) There is no race for influence. You know President Chirac”s relationship with Lebanon and you know the bonds that have existed between our two countries for a long time. These are essential and strong bonds based on values that cannot be undermined. This means that Lebanon and France are two countries that understand each other and will continue to understand each other. We have priorities, namely, respect for Resolution 1559. We also stress how important it is for the criminal investigation commission – that is headed by Judge Mehlis, in whom we have full confidence – to shed full light on the cowardly assassination of Rafik al-Hariri.
(Q) You talk about a criminal investigation process when it is in fact a political issue. Are you not concerned that the United States might exploit this process to put pressures on Damascus?
(A) The independent character of this investigation is essential; it should not be politicized in any form or shape. I do not know the results that will be reached by the investigation but I know that I will respect them. If we need to assist the Lebanese judiciary, we will do so while fully respecting Lebanon”s laws and judicial system.
(Q) Are Paris and Washington on the same wavelength on how to deal with Syria?
(A) Regarding Syria, we have repeatedly said that we respect Resolution 1559. We are convinced today more than at any time in the past that we have to deal with Syria with firmness. We have reached these results today due to the firmness that we have shown. Did anyone expect free elections to be held in Lebanon three months ago? We hope that there will be no siege between Lebanon and Syria. This would be bad for the Lebanese economy as well as for the Syrian economy. However, we have no reason to attack the Syrian government.
(Q) Regarding the issue of Hezbollah, it seems that Paris has succeeded in convincing Washington not to insist at this stage on its demand to disarm and disband Hezbollah. What is the primary aim of this French stand?
(A) If the issue of disarming Hezbollah is a joint objective, we believe that it is primarily a Lebanese-Lebanese issue. We believe that the Lebanese prime minister should be given enough time to launch a comprehensive political process that would allow all the Lebanese political forces to work for Lebanon”s future. At any rate, we definitely condemn any acts of violence.
(Q) On what legal grounds do you base your attempts to force Iran to give up its nuclear capabilities?
(A) Iran – like any other state – has the right to have nuclear activities on condition they are of a civilian, peaceful, and non-military nature. That is why we have made suggestions to Iran regarding an ambitious nuclear program. It is important to have trust between Iran and the international community. That is why we have to depend on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since it is an objective and neutral side. This makes the IAEA the only quarter that is capable of convincing the international community that Iran”s sensitive nuclear activities are not for military purposes.
(Q) But it is obvious that Europe is leaning toward supporting the idea of turning over the Iranian nuclear file to the Security Council. Is this not a double-standard policy, especially since Iran abides by the IAEA”s special guarantees program?
(A) No, because we all believe that there should be no nuclear activities for military purposes. This may hurt the credibility of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that was signed by the Iranians. Furthermore, such a situation may be dangerous for stability in the region.