【CG- We're three weeks into this conflict, almost 1000 people have died, we were expecting a UN resolution this week at the United Nations, why is it talking so long?
PDB - Me to. We have been asking for a resolution as soon as possible, a Security Council resolution, and in fact we have tabled the French proposal which is now circulating around the various countries which presents a specific diplomatic time table starting with an immediate cessation not hostilities.
CG - So are you frustrated with how long its taken?
PDB - You know, when you know the figures that you have just given - one million displaced persons, 210,000 refugees, hundreds and hundreds of deaths, the tragedy such as that of Qana, the extraordinary violence in Haifa due to Hezbollah - what we really want, every hour that passes, is an hour wasted, ad the civilian victims...
CG - So why is this taking so long? Is it the United States and Britain dragging their feet in order to buy time for the Israelis?
PDB - In any case, I noted with pleasure, two days ago, that in Brussels, all of the European Union, the 25 countries and therefore the UK, agreed to say that what was necessary was an immediate cessation of hostilities. And I thank Margaret Beckett for having accepted that.
CG - But they didn't call for a ceasefire.
PDB - It's important to differentiate. There is immediate cessation - this is what is in the French resolution. And then there's a political agreement, which is necessary for a durable ceasefire. So let's not play with the words. When you're on the ground and you're under missile attack, when you're in Haifa, or whether you're being bombed by the Israelis, in Southern Lebanon, it's obvious it has to stop. So the immediate cessation of fighting is what we want first.
CG - Indeed semantics about cessation of hostilities or immediate ceasefire is merely semantics. Going back to my question, are you of the opinion that the Americans and the British are dragging their feet a the United Nations in order to buy time for the Israelis?
PDB - In any case, we want to be together, and we're working together with the Americans in particular to seek an agreement as soon as possible to resolve this.
CG - I'm sure - I understand what you would like Minister, but what do you analyse is going on right now? Are they dragging their feet?
PDB - Well, we've been working all night, and that is not analysis, that's reality .We worked all night with the Americans to and find a solution. In fact, where is the problem? Well, it's a very specific subject, we believe that it's not possible to send a multi-national force, under UN mandate - while there is no political agreement between all the parties, allowing for a durable ceasefire. In other words, we don't want our children or military personnel to go and disarm Hezbollah, quite simply because a purely military solution is not possible. Israel realizes that now.
CG - And yet the Israeli Prime Minister says I'd be willing to enter a ceasefire when international forces are deployed. So which is going to come first, the ceasefire or the forces?
PDB - Well, that is precisely what I'm saying. That is the present subject. Some would want the Israeli army to be able to stop, and instead that there be an international force that attempts to enforce resolution 1559 of the Security Council of the United Nations, that is the disarmament of Hezbollah. But I've repeated and I'll probably repeat this again during the coming minutes - we don't believe that there is a purely military solution in disarming Hezbollah.
Why? Because we realize that the Israelis who know the region down to the square foot, are not able to do this rapidly and easily. How would you want a foreign army that is not as familiar with the land as the Israelis are, to be able to achieve this? However, we believe that we can participate in an international force, provided there is political agreement and therefore that there is disarmament of Hezbollah via the political agreement.
CG - You say that you're going to participate. Are you going to lead it?
PDB - We are prepared, in due time, when there is a political agreement , to participate in this force. I saw that the British did not wish to participate. I saw that the Americans did not wish to participate. I saw that the Germans did not wish to participate.
We, because we have historic, centuries-old and emotional relations with Lebanon, we believe that we could participate under one condition - I repeat this - that first there be a political agreement. We need that to be first., because otherwise its getting caught up in an extremely dangerous situation and we don't want to have an Iraqi-style situation. What's going on in Iraq is nothing more or less than a sectarianisation of conflict. We don't' want that.
CG - Well on that question, how much stomach does the French public have for all this because in 1983, many people will remember the 58 French paratroopers who died in a terrorist attack.
PDB - Today we are in an extremely different situation and that's the problem What's been happening in the world for the past three or four years - and I realize this because I went to Beirut three times in 10 days and I went on a tour through the Middle East - we are witnessing an increasing radicalization of public opinion on both sides, whether it's the Arab or Israeli public opinion.
Some have to be careful, not to progressively turn this conflict, after the de-stabilization of Lebanon, into a conflict between the Muslim world and the West. That's why we did not want the multinational force to be under NATO command as had been requested by some to start with. We prefer this to be under a UN mandate. Beware a war of civilizations.
CG - I hear you on that point. Now what about the constitution of the force, do you need Muslim troops if this is not going to turn into something that people in the region will see as a war of civilizations?
PDB - Well, obviously. The forces present in this multinational force must not solely be European forces. We shall need to find forces that belong to the moderate Arab world.
CG - You said you were going to help the Lebanese disarm Hezbollah last year, resolution 1559, everyone was behind it that was not a portion of the conflict, where nearly 1000 people have died. How possible is that going to be now, the Lebanese government has not, simply not in a position to disarm Hezbollah?
PDB - Well, first of all, we were the co-authors of resolution 1559, with the Americans essentially, and everybody knows the objective is to disarm Hezbollah. But the only way to do that is political, not militarily. We wrote resolution 1559, you're right, the Siniora government was not able, today, to implement 1559.
However, Fouad Siniora has just established a seven step plan that was unanimously accepted by all members of the Lebanese government, including Hezbollah members. It's called the Taif Accord - the disarmament of the militias. And today we can say that Hezbollah agrees, because they are part of the Lebanese government.
CG- So this is a terrorist organization which has to be disarmed. George Bush, in the words of George Bush saying the root cause of the current instability is terrorism and terrorism attacks on a democratic country. The world must deal with Hezbollah.
PDB - First of all, I note with pleasure that in the US, several times this year there were articles in the press saying that France was one of the greatest allies, not to say the greatest ally of the US in combating terrorism. And therefore my country is totally, totally mobilized to combat terrorism. But if you want to prevent terrorism, the best solution is to, first of all, to understand the civilization and the culture, to listen to the complaints and humiliation and the fears of the countries where terrorism originates. That's the important part.
CG - And do the Americans understand that?
PDB - I hope so. In any case, we have to understand this, and in fact I remember Condoleezza Rice's speech at the University of Cairo, precisely on cultural diversity, on the necessary exchange between civilisations. War between civilisations, war between cultures, is something which threatens us, it's something we must not believe in - we must combat, first of all through political means, because I believe in this. An army can only come later, when everything is over. But first of all...
CG - It sounds like it's going to take a long time, when are you going to get those forces on the ground?
PDB- Well, this is why I am in the field myself. This is why Condoleezza Rice goes to the field. It's why the foreign ministers work in the field. Because so long as there is the hope of peace, one must grasp it. Imagine if we enter militarily before political agreement, when there's no durable ceasefire. Do you know what's going to happen?....
CG - I hear all that Minister, but when do you expect to get the military forces on the ground? It's all well very well to say you're working day and night and diplomacy's doing its thing, but what about the actual military force that's going to keep these two sides apart?
PDB - There will be no French military force if there's no political agreement. I thought you'd understood me, because I keep repeating: there will be no French military force so long as there is no political agreement and durable ceasefire. It would mean entering a mechanism we don't want. Why did I meet with the Iranian foreign minister two days ago in Beirut? To talk about this.
CG - I understand the conditions that apply to placing those forces on the ground, what I'm asking you for is a prediction for when all of that will be in place. If I'm a Lebanese civilian, when can I expect to see that international force?
PDB - I think that for a Lebanese civilian the ideal would be that there would be no war on his land between the West and Islam - the Muslim word. I'm sure that's the best possible thing for him. And what's also necessary for a Lebanese civilian is a secure humanitarian corridor.
It's not the case. We asked the Israeli's not to bomb humanitarian convoys. We asked for humanitarian corridors towards Tyre and Naqoora in the south. We've asked the Israeli authorities to establish land corridors between the south and Beirut. Yes, that's what a Lebanese civilian is looking for.
CG - These are your demands...
PDB - And that's what France is proposing.
CG - But are you effectively giving Israel a veto on this force? The Israelis are effectively saying no ceasefire until the force, you're saying no force until the ceasefire. Until the Israelis decide that they're ready, then nothing can happen.
PDB - Well, I see that the Americans today are starting to join the idea of a cessation of hostilities, and they can't do otherwise. And I see that Margaret Beckett, the day before yesterday in Brussels, asked for an immediate cessation of hostilities which had not been the case in Rome.
So I do feel, even though the Israeli's don't want this, I wish that the international community, in a generalised way would demand this, because the pictures we see on television: the civilian victims, the children in Qana, and also the victims in Haifa are unacceptable.
CG - Everyone can see them. You've outlined in the European Foreign Minister's meeting, you've mentioned Margaret Beckett, the Germans sided with the British. Are you disappointed?
PDB - It's the opposite. I think that the Germans and the British - and really, I would like to thank them - have accepted the text of the Finnish presidency, which is very close to the French resolution. That is, cessation of hostilities, political agreement and an international force. This is a major element, this meeting of the EU in Brussels.
CG - Did you go to Beirut earlier this week because you wanted to make a point about France being welcome where the United States was not?
PDB - No, not at all. We're really working together with the Americans. There is no competition here. On the contrary, we want to work together. It's true that it's good to have an exchange, and that's what we're doing at present and what Condoleezza Rice heard in Beirut the first time, and then in Israel recently and what I heard in Beirut, but also in Cairo, in Amman and what Amr Moussa - the Secretary General of the Arab League - told me.
I believe it's important to have a very rapid exchange and to be able to table a joint resolution at the Security Council of the UN as quickly as possible....
CG - One of the things that you did do when you were in Beirut was to meet the Iranian Foreign Minister. You said Iran was a stabilising force. How can Iran be a stabilising force when it's arming Hezbollah?
PDB - No, what I said, and what seems to be important today is to repeat things about Iran. The President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, said this on 26th July - Iran has a share of responsibility in this conflict. And therefore it has a share in finding a solution. Iran wishes to appear as a country which plays an important role. And I say this to Iran "This is the time to live up to your responsibilities, to show that you are that country". And therefore I want to explain things.
I believe that we should talk now to Iran to say "You have a unique opportunity to show that you want to re-establish ties with the international community. Do so now. If you don't, then obviously it's going to be over." And we in France, because we are chairing the Security Council of the UN, we asked the Security Council a few days ago for sanctions against Iran if they don't give a positive answer to our proposal on the nuclear question.
CG - And yet, George Bush says Iran must be isolated. The Iranian President talks of wiping Israel off the map, he talks of a war of destiny, he talks of the annihilation of the Zionist regime. Is it realistic to bring the Iranians into the fold at this point?
PDB- We were shocked by the words of Mr Ahmadinejad, and I was the first Western foreign minister to condemn what Mr Ahmadinejad said. But what I do say is now, as we speak we are perhaps just a few days away from a dreadful flare -up and therefore we must do everything to explain to all those involved including Iran that it is necessary to preach de-escalation not to react to Qana.
And above all, to build trust between Iran and the international community on the Israeli-Lebanese case, in the nuclear case while there is still time. And the Americans obviously agree with us when we make positive proposals. The British agree with us when we make positive proposals to Iran. And therefore we have to be coherent and up until 22nd August so long as the Iranians haven't said No to our proposals so long as the hand of the West the international community is outstretched well, they have to take it. I have this hope because if they don't take it, obviously it's very serious. We have to be very firm, very rigorous. I obviously am, as others are.
CG - And yet it is realistic, because the Iranian president talked about a jihad against the United States, and George Bush and Tony Blair are talking about an elemental struggle, a battle against global extremism, is what we're seeing between Israel and Hezbollah, is it actually a proxy war between the United States and Iran or even bigger, between the West and militant Islam?
PDB - That's precisely what I was saying. We must, at any cost, prevent this. It would be an absolute catastrophe. So before saying that is what it's all about, we must do everything to not have this. And if we don't want this to happen, obviously we have to meet with them have to see them to tell them that they have a choice between, on one hand, the clash we are talking about that would have dreadful consequences for dozens of years; or peace and trust amongst us.
My role, the role of all the foreign ministers in the West today and the international community is to say, "Do take this outstretched hand while there's still time because otherwise, it's Chapter 7 of the UN, IT'S Article 41, it's the beginning of sanctions and the beginning of something very serious."
CG - Tony Blair says it's a moment to turn this tragedy into a moment of opportunity. Condoleezza Rice talks about the job being to lay the groundwork for an enduring peace. Are they right, is that what's possible now, a transformative moment?
PDB - It's a moment of paramount importance because you realise it can actually turn into the clash we were mentioning between the West and the Muslim world or it may be an opportunity to actually establish a great political and economic plan because let's never forget one thing - Hamas for the Palestinian territories, Hezbollah for Lebanon are actually deriving popularity from the poverty, humiliations of the countries and populations.
And therefore, it is in our interest to assist the Palestinian authority of Mahmoud Abbas. It's in our interests to help Siniora's government. But it's in our interests, above all, to help schools, universities, the training of young people, hospitals, public health, so as not to have this humiliation. And this calls for money from the West but also, and I'd like to say so here in your programme, also money from the Arab states of the Gulf who must understand that they too need to give money to these countries.
CG - But if I understand Tony Blair and Condoleezza right, their point is that this Lebanese problem is part of a bigger problem, that without attempting to restore Iraq, the Palestinian issue, Iran's nuclear issue, there will be no enduring peace for Lebanon.
PDB - Precisely, which is why I believe that there are two ways to solve the problem. And this brings us back to what we were saying. There are those who believe in a military solution. Do you really believe in a military solution between the West and the Muslim world?
It would be absolutely traumatic and I hope that nobody believes this might be a solution. Or it is an exchange, knowledge, respect, including with those who are the most remote from us. And we have to preach this at the very end. France, President Chirac has always believed this. When he didn't send his army to Iraq that's what he was saying - you'll see in a year or two. And what do we see? We see that we are on the brink of civil war with separation into communities where people can be killed according to their religion or their political party, and it's awful.
It's recognising powerlessness. So let us not turn the Israeli-Lebanese conflict into this by going too fast, saying what is good, what is bad. We in the West are telling you this, telling you that. What right do we have to do so? So first we need a political will to help them to do so, and then of course if there is a clash due to those who don't understand anything on either side, or both sides in fact, then we'll have to draw lessons from this but it would be tragic.
CG - And so finally, one word, a date for a ceasefire, a date for troops to be on the ground. Those international troops.
PDB - Well, we're working day and night for the durable ceasefire to happen as soon as possible. I believe in it more than ever, after my tour to the Middle East, to Beirut...
CG - A date.
PDB - I cannot give you a date. But I believe it will be as soon as possible. But I see with pleasure at the end of the programme that you said a ceasefire and then an international force in the field. That's my message - first the ceasefire, and then the international force.
CG - Philippe Douste-Blazy, thank you very much for joining us on Hardtalk
PDB - You'll always be welcome at the Quai d'Orsay. 】