Official Explains French Position on Iraq

Following is a transcript of George Stephanopoulos' interview with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin that aired on This Week today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. de Villepin thank you for having us to the ministry.

DE VILLEPIN: Good morning, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to begin by getting your response to what appears to be a specific hardening of the White House line over the weekend. There are now saying that it's not enough to disarm Saddam Hussein, he must also be deposed and that's the only way to avoid war.

DE VILLEPIN: We stick to the objectives of the international community, and this directive has been set up by [United Nations] Resolution 1441. And this resolution says very clearly the objective is disarmament of Iraq.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not regime change?

DE VILLEPIN: Not regime change. If we going to pursue regime change all over the world there's so many countries that would be included. So many dictators who we would like to have out of the country. Where would we begin, where would we stop?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But is this a sign to you that the United States is determined to go to war no matter what the U.N. says, no matter what France says?

DE VILLEPIN: I think that's where we have to raise questions. We are asking, 'Is the use of force the last resort? Do we have an alternative for war?' We say, 'Yes,' today. And why do we say yes? Because we have the inspectors on the ground telling us we are making progress.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The progress isn't the standard set in your Resolution 1441. It says unconditional complete immediate compliance. It didn't say progress.

DE VILLEPIN: You see, when we wrote in the Security Council this resolution, we worked very hard. I worked very hard with Colin Powell on this resolution. There's something at the beginning we knew very clearly. We were going to inspect. We were going to work in a country who was headed by a dictator. We knew at the time that Saddam Hussein was leading this country. You have to take that into account. You don't try to disarm Iraq the same way you disarm South Africa.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the standard was very clear. You say you spent many weeks negotiating every single word and the standard was very clear and it wasn't progress. It was immediate compliance. And there's no question now—


STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you seen that? There was a false declaration by Iraq. Even Hans Blix says that the cooperation is very limited. That's not complete.

DE VILLEPIN: Well, the last report he made yesterday — and he's going to have another report made on the Friday — was saying that in this declaration, there were elements that could help us in order to know better the programs of Iraq. And what do we see with the work of the inspectors in the last three months? We see that we know better today the capacity of the different programs. If you take, for example, the nuclear program, today we are in a situation with Mr. ElBaradei, who is heading the International Agency for Atomic Energy, who is saying that in a couple of months he might be able to certify, to guarantee that there is no nuclear program in Iraq. That's something very important. On missiles, we know exactly today the capacity of Iraq, approximately 60 missiles. And they began to destroy these missiles today, this very day. They began destroying four missiles.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know what President Bush says. He says that's just the tip of the iceberg and that Iraq is providing no evidence at all of where their anthrax is, where their V.X. nerve gas is, where their other chemical weapons are, no evidence at all. And isn't that failure a material breach of 1441?

DE VILLEPIN: You see, the key of the resolution is one varied element. It is the reports that the inspectors are making every two or three weeks to the Council. And what do they say? They say their reports, that they know better on the nuclear field. They know better on the chemical field. We have a list in the chemical field of 83 experts, Iraqi experts that in '91 assisted or participated to the destruction of many chemical programs. We need now to interrogate these people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the inspectors were not meant to be detectives. They were simply meant to verify complete disarmament for Saddam Hussein. Do you believe he's disarming now fully?

DE VILLEPIN: He is, we are in the process of being able to disarm The key question is, 'Today, do we believe that force is the good solution for Iraq? Do we believe?'— Yes, we have to look at our own interests in that, the interests of the United States, the interests of the world community. Is force today in Iraq going to give us the most secure world? That's why we propose, with the Russians and the Germans, a second memorandum. We propose first to reinforce the inspectors. That's not enough. We propose afterwards to really, to buy, to build a system that we allow the inspectors to be more efficient in giving benchmark—

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know what your counterpart, the foreign minister of Britain, Jack Straw, says about that. He says essentially Saddam is a big boy. He knows what he's asked to do. We don't have to spell it out every single word.

DE VILLEPIN: Yes, but then what would you say? Whatever he does, you will say he's a dictator. How can you trust a dictator? And we share that view. That's why we need to make sure by ourselves, through the inspections, that things are going to work You see, after the 11th of September, we went in a different world. In this very different world we've been united. The first head of state who went to New York was President Chirac, to show the solidarity of France and of the French people to the United States. And the country that cooperated the most on terrorism is France, because we had a strong experience on terrorism. We had terrorism in our ground in the '80s and the '90s. and we understand how the American has been suffering since the 11th of September. But we know also that this very unity the international community has known and has made our capacity more efficient for terrorism. If you don't take that into account, then are we going to use force everywhere, every month?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know that the United States would throw that argument right back on you. They'd say to show that unity, the world must do what it said it would do in 1441.

DE VILLEPIN: Absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And so 1441 was very clear. It said if Saddam Hussein doesn't cooperate that he must face serious consequences.

DE VILLEPIN: Is the use of force going to make the Middle East a safer region? Don't you think it's going to create frustrations, humiliations, divisions? Don't you see the instability of this region? What about the unity of Iraq? We can discuss that. These questions we are waiting. When I meet with Colin Powell, President Chirac raised these questions when he is discussing with President Bush and we all are discussing these matters, because I think it's very, very important to have these kind of discussions before than after. Because after we are all going to pay the consequences. If we are going to—

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are those consequences?

DE VILLEPIN: A burst of terrorism, for example. Don't you think when you use force prematurely, when you use force in a region like the Middle East, which might be the most dangerous region of the world, with religious, with cultural consequences, with a lot of difficulty for the people of these regions and everywhere in the world. Today, 90 percent of the world community is not for the use of force, believe that we should stick to the Resolution 1441 and go ahead with the inspections while it is possible. And why do these people do believe so? Because they are pacifists? Take the example of France. France is not a pacifist country. We are the first contributor in troops to NATO. We were with the U.S. in Afghanistan. We took our share, an important share, in Bosnia and Kosovo. We had 70 soldiers, French soldiers, killed in Bosnia. That's not being pacifist. We are ready to take our full responsibilities…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now from what you're saying it is very clear right now if the United States presses forward next week with a resolution, France will be against it.

DE VILLEPIN: Of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you will veto it?

DE VILLEPIN: The time has not come. Time has not come. And it is not France who say that. It is the world community. We are not, George, facing a deadlock in the inspections. The report and Hans Blix has made a declaration yesterday and today saying that we've known very important progress. He said it on the missiles—

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know what he said. He said there was very little cooperation from Iraq.

DE VILLEPIN: No. He said that things were changing and he has been observing…

STEPHANOPOULOS: On process, not on substance.

DE VILLEPIN: On process and on substance. Taking the example of the missiles. You cannot say that a country should disarm and when a country agrees to disarm, to destroy all its missiles, that it's nothing. Then I'm asking you, what is the goal? Is the goal disarmament or is it something else?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me be just clear, then. You will use the veto if this comes to a vote next week?

DE VILLEPIN: We've been always very clear and if there is one thing you can count on, and I've said it the first day I met with Colin Powell, and it's clear also between President Bush and President Chirac, we take always our full responsibility. We don't believe, we don't—

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what does that mean? Does that mean you'll use the veto or you won't?

DE VILLEPIN: I'm not going to tell you if we are going to use the veto. We have the same position than the one that has expressed by the Russians. It is very clear.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, [Russian] Foreign Minister Ivanov since yesterday would use the veto.

DE VILLEPIN: He didn't say it that way. But it is true, it is true that we will take our full responsibility. And the French position is exactly the same than the Russian. And what we are saying is, 'Have we tried everything before using force?'

STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, this position is frustrating the White House to no end. And I want to read you something that a senior U.S. official said to ABCNEWS just yesterday. The person said, "We're worried about Russia, but France is the only ally that is actively trying to turn the world against us."

DE VILLEPIN: Do you really, can seriously imagine that France is opposing the United States in this very crisis of Iraq? No.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what's happening though, isn't it?

DE VILLEPIN: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. France is not opposing the United States. You see, what good are friends out there, the friends who always are supporting you? And we're saying yes, you are right. You are the most beautiful—

STEPHANOPOULOS: But many people in the United—

DE VILLEPIN: That's not the way France believes in friendship.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Many people in the United States think this is a power play, that France is worried about a war where the United States is the only superpower and you're trying to create a new balance of power.

DE VILLEPIN: Do you want me to tell you, really, what France is worried about?


DE VILLEPIN: How many boys, American boys, are going to die in Iraq? Is it worth it? Have we tried everything before going to war? You see, as a European, as a French, we've known war for centuries on our ground, religious wars, civil wars, world wars. And we thank every day the support that the U.S., that the Americans, gave us during the First [World] War and the Second [World] War. But we know closely what war is and we're asking ourselves, 'Is this war worth it? Or is it not better to try our best to solve peacefully this crisis?'

STEPHANOPOULOS: But are you worried — and I know you spent some time in the United States, both you served your country there and also you spent some time growing up in the United States — are you worried about a fundamental break between the U.S. and France? You know France has come under more pressure, more criticism of the United States in recent weeks than I've ever seen before. Late night comics [are] ridiculing France, members of Congress [are] saying we should boycott French wine and cheese.

DE VILLEPIN: We've known that in the past. I've known that in the past. I was in the French embassy in '86 when happened the crisis of Libya. We've known that. It's nothing new. There's passion between our two countries. We have, we may have our own visions, but you see when you look at numbers, statistics here in France, we see there is no anti-Americanism in France. You know there's huge majority of the French that really love the United States. I've been, as you've said, living in the U.S. I love the U.S. I love the people of the U.S. I love the culture of the U.S., but what you see is at stake is not France and the U.S. It's Iraq. How do we deal with the crisis of proliferation? We should all be concerned, and I keep telling that to Colin Powell. Make sure that whatever we decide on this crisis, we stick together.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think you could convince the other members of the Security Council and prevent the United States and Britain from getting nine votes?

DE VILLEPIN: But, they are already convinced. There is no majority today. You see, the time where you can imagine the diplomacy was arm twisting, buying votes, has passed. Today, we are facing public opinions. We are facing people around the world and the vast majority are said to you, more than 90 percent of the world think that we need to give more time to the inspectors. And the vast majority of the security council still believe that we should do whatever we have to do before using force.

STEPHANOPOULOS: France and Iraq have a long and complicated history on nuclear cooperation. France provided the original nuclear reactors to Iraq. Given what Saddam Hussein has said in the past, he has said the only mistake he made in 1991 was invading Kuwait before he had nuclear weapons. Do you now believe that Israel was right to bomb the Osaraq(sp?) reactor and France was wrong to help build it?

DE VILLEPIN: I think you cannot remake history. You can take lessons. You can imagine different scenarios. I don't think it's possible today definite answers. I think that the idea of preemptive strike might be a possibility. Have it as a doctrine, as a theory, I don't think it is really useful. Sometimes by using force preemptively we might create more violence and we have to be always thinking to what are the consequences.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me just ask one final question. If the United States goes forward anyway and in a month, two months, they go into Baghdad, they go into Iraq, and discover thousands of tons of chemical/biological weapons, what would you think then?

DE VILLEPIN: Well I think that we should have gave more time to the inspectors to make sure that this was going to happen. You see if the army is going to find it, don't you think the inspectors are in the position to find it? I think, and that's why we said we are ready to reinforce the inspectors, to give more hundreds of inspectors on the ground. We have the possibility everyday to know more about these programs. We should use this possibility. Every day we know more about these programs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. de Villepin thank you very much

DE VILLEPIN: Thank you so much.