An Ambiguous Message for North Korea

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Dominique de Villepin, former Prime Minister of France, was last week-end a guest of the Rhodes Forum organised by the DOC (Dialogue of Civilizations research institute). In 2003, together with Germany and Great Britain, he sponsored the first agreement with Iran on halting that country’s nuclear programme.

In 2003, when you were the Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Jacques Chirac, you, along with Germany and Great Britain, initiated the first agreement with Iran aimed at halting its efforts to research and enrich nuclear materials. Are you worried that the White House is threatening it?

Dominique de Villepin: The possible decision of President Donald Trump to cancel the 2015 Iran deal could have large-scale consequences for the whole world. We can’t seek a resolution to the situation with North Korea and impress upon it the importance of fulfilling the demands of the international community regarding the proliferation of nuclear weapons and at the same time rashly terminate the Iran agreement. And at the same time, the International Agency for Atomic Energy is acknowledging that Iran’s government has fulfilled its obligations. Moreover, this one topic includes various issues for negotiation: the strategy for Iran to influence the Near East and Iran’s missile policies.
Does Donald Trump really have any basis to argue that this agreement doesn’t give enough guarantees?

D.D.V.: I would like to see new negotiations start in the next few years. But they have to be conducted in the spirit of cooperation and search for agreement and not by issuing ultimatums.
There is a lack of understanding about the danger of such global plans and how much the events are related. If Iran, a country following international laws, becomes the victim of an attack of unfriendly governments, then imagine what an ambiguous message that sends to North Korea. Moreover, North Korea understands what happened to Saddam Hussein and Colonel Qaddafi. For the leader of North Korea, a nuclear bomb serves as a kind of shield in our unstable world.

In your talk at the Rhodes Forum, you mentioned the military incursions of Western countries several times…
D.D.V.: Military incursions bring us back to the colonial syndrome and once again cause indignation in countries that are the victims of these incursions. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya these military operations destabilised the countries and gave rise to terrorism. Those conducting these operations usually fail to take into account the interests of the countries in the region, without which stability cannot be achieved.

In our greatly unstable and complex world, we need principles: refusing to engage in regime change; giving preference to solving conflicts with political methods instead of military ones, which bring destabilisation; and also keeping in mind the infringement of rights of the local people.
You never mentioned Russia’s interference in the conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, Crimea, Donbass, Syria… Haven’t they helped to weaken the local regimes?

D.D.V.: There are two ways of looking at this interference. I don’t deny that for Ukraine, interference caused destabilisation and created a threat in the eyes of many Eastern European countries. However, according to the opinions of a number of new influential countries, Russian interference in Syria played a vital role in bringing back political stability. We need to try to continue down this path, even if we can’t turn a blind eye to the crimes of the country’s leaders. Considering his actions against his own people, Bashar Assad is not the solution to the Syrian crisis. But we need to talk with representatives of the regime because an inclusive dialogue is necessary to achieve peace.

You are an enthusiastic supporter of a normalised, multipolar world order and rejecting the unmanageability of American hegemony. But doesn’t the influence of Russia and China in their own backyards demonstrate the same unilateral approach that you accuse the Americans of?
D.D.V.: Influential nations are always worried about their safety, or rather, concerned about any threat to their borders, this is not news. We don’t need to confuse the desire of Russia to create buffer states out of fear of what NATO might do with intervening 2000 km from your country… We must return to stable and constructive dialogue with Russia if we want to find a solution to the Ukrainian crisis. Looking at the geographic and historical position of Ukraine, its current challenge is not to join the EU or NATO, but to become a neutral country between the EU, Russia and the UN in order to get out of its present impasse.

Interview by Olivier Tallès

At the Rhodes Forum, a discussion on an uncertain world
The 15th Rhodes Forum was held on the island of Rhodes, in Greece, from Friday, October 6 through Saturday, October 7. Founded by former head of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin, who is among the Kremlin elite, this “think tank” is located in Berlin and funded by private sponsors, including Russian-Armenian social entrepreneur and former banker Ruben Vardanyan.
Former heads of state, experts, university professors, high-ranking international officials and business executives from more than 30 countries discussed the risks and prospects of a world characterised by the emergence of new centers of power and a relative weakening of US dominance.