French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on his first visit to India. A President with new ideas for France and the rest of the world, Sarkozy talks to Amit Baruah about India, the world and the challenges ahead in an-email interview.
Question - What vision does India conjure up in your mind? Does India belong at the high table of global power structures or is it a developing country struggling to meet the basic needs of millions of its people?
President - I am particularly happy to come to India on this State Visit - even more so as France is being honoured on Republic Day, 26th January, when we celebrate our common values: liberty, equality, fraternity. For me, India embodies three very important realities.
First of all, India is a great civilization, and we need this dimension when the problems of the world call for cooperation between all cultures.
Next, it is a democracy, a peaceful country, a committed member of the United Nations, eager to work towards stability, in a complex environment.
Lastly, it is a new economic miracle in the process of transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of people, but it is also a country facing redoubtable ecological and social challenges, which must be helped. All this means, to face facts, that India, which has almost one-sixth of the world population, must be considered as a key player. I shall have the opportunity of saying so to your President, Mrs Pratibha Patil, as well as to the Prime Minister, leaders and the people of India.
Question - Under you, the President of a new France, will India, among other nations, get to join an expanded G8, something which you have repeatedly referred to? How will you go about integrating India, China and Brazil into the new global world order, a priority you set in 2007?
President - My answer is quite simple: we cannot deal with global matters without India, China, Brazil, Mexico or South Africa. It's a question of common sense: how can you efficiently fight climate change, eliminate poverty or deal with global commercial issues without giving a key position to the representatives of 2.5 billion inhabitants? This is why I support India's candidature for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, the organ in charge of watching over international peace and security; and this is why I would like the G8, a body for informal dialogue on global matters, to expand over time to become the G13. Last year, we launched this process during a G8 meeting in Germany where I had the opportunity of meeting your Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, for the first time. This forms part of my international priorities and, from the very next G8 summit to be held in Japan in July, I would like us to take a significant step in this direction.
Question - Are you willing to sign with India a 123 type of agreement that the United States has entered into with New Delhi? Is it possible that France may sell nuclear reactors to India even without approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group given India's impeccable non-proliferation record?
President - We are on the verge of finding an agreement which will enable the development of civilian nuclear cooperation with India, fully respecting its sovereignty and international rules, while preserving and reinforcing the non-proliferation system. This is one of the stakes of my visit in India: to bring to fruition this evolution that I deem essential for India's development and the protection of the global environment.
The only promising way is that currently being taken by India in its relations with the IAEA and a number of countries, including France. This should bring about a special regime for India in the framework of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Once India concludes a Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA and the NSG announces its decision, we shall be able to sign a cooperation agreement with India. This Agreement will notably enable the delivery of nuclear power stations of the latest technology. More broadly, we shall be able to develop a large-scale industrial and scientific cooperation with India in the civilian nuclear field.
Question - Are you disappointed by the collapse of the Eurocopter deal with India? Will you be bidding for the Indian Air Force's requirement of 126 multi-role fighter aircraft?
President - Eurocopter presented top quality helicopters which met the requirements expressed by the [Indian] armed forces. I regret that it came to naught, but quite obviously, I respect the decision of the Indian authorities. I am convinced that the almost forty-year-old cooperation between France and India in this area will not be interrupted for all that, and I am confident that Eurocopter will be able to take up the challenge. Regarding the 126 fighter aircraft, the Rafale, one of the best planes in the world, could be the answer to the needs of the India Air Force, just like the Mirage 2000s which have been giving them the best service for years. If the manufacturer Dassault decides to present an offer, the French government will support it.
Question - At a press conference with US President George W Bush last year, you pointed out that Pakistan, a country of 150 million inhabitants, happens to have nuclear weapons. "It is very important for us that one day we shouldn't wake up with a government, an administration in Pakistan which is in the hands of the extremists," you said. Do you think that such an extremist regime taking over is more likely after Benazir Bhutto's assassination? Six years after 9/11, Pakistan is much worse off, with Musharraf and the military unable to tackle extremist elements. By backing him to the hilt, has the Western world made a huge mistake? Is a course correction now possible? Does the US / NATO have any contingency plans to protect / neuter Pakistan's nuclear weapons?
President - First of all, I must tell you that I am impressed by the determination and sagacity with which India and Pakistan have been conducting, since several years, despite difficulties, what is called a composite dialogue with the perspective of peaceful relations between both countries. With regard to the internal situation in Pakistan, I am aware of the attachment that Indian authorities have for a stable, peaceful and democratic Pakistan. France fully shares this goal and that is what I told President Musharraf in Paris last Tuesday. Given today's Pakistan, confronting immense problems, one must be wise and extremely prudent. I therefore leave the responsibility to you to judge for yourself. Benazir Bhutto's assassination was a great tragedy, which France strongly condemned, and the effects of which will be felt in the times to come. Like everyone, I am concerned. What is needed now is to have regular elections and the resumption of the democratic process. The fight against terrorism and Islamic extremism must be conducted with relentless determination. As for your question regarding nuclear weapons, it simply proves to what extent it is essential, with reference to the nuclear issue, to act in full respect of the great principles of non-proliferation.
Question - You have been up front in pointing to a clash between Islamic forces and the West. Does this validate the theory of a clash of civilizations? What does the world need to do avert such a clash?
President - To avert this clash of civilizations, one must combine three ambitions. A complete determination, first of all, in the fight against terrorism, that nothing can justify, ever, just as in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which is always the deed of regimes that are enemies of peace. One must help the forces of moderation and modernity so that an open and tolerant Islam may develop. Next, a sense of diversity so that the adhesion to universal values goes hand in hand with the respect for difference. And from this point of view, the example of India, where so many nations, languages, religions co-exist, can inspire us. Lastly, being open to reconciliation with those who have chosen peace over the doctrines of hatred and blind violence. These ambitions must be pursued and I think India and France can work on this together.
Question - Does the US-UK invasion of Iraq to end a non-existent nuclear weapons' programme and the repeated threats against Iran only go to produce more dissatisfied Muslims, some of whom go on to become terrorists?
President - France disapproved of the war against Iraq, as you know. But the Iranian issue is very different. Here's a State that, for twenty years, has been developing a clandestine nuclear programme in violation of treaties and with the help of an international proliferation network. A State that calls for the annihilation of Israel. A State whose nuclear programme cannot be established as being peaceful by the IAEA and which develops enrichment activities that have no civilian justification and correspond to no requirement. Therefore, it was necessary to react, and Europe did so in the most measured manner possible, by proposing a diplomatic approach, approved by the United States, China and Russia, and supported by a crushing majority of the Security Council and the IAEA. We say to Iran: prove your goodwill by responding to the demands of the international community, let us negotiate, and we will offer you political, economic and civilian nuclear cooperation. But Iran refuses to listen to reason. It was therefore necessary to take measures to make it understand that we would never accept a nuclear-armed Iran. We are determined to settle this issue through dialogue. I am personally committed to this. But we will not compromise on this issue, which is essential for the peace and security of the world.
Question - Does your presidency mark a decided shift away from the foreign policy of your predecessor, Jacques Chirac, when it comes to dealings with the United States? Will you be a Tony Blair in your foreign policy approach to the US?
President - I don't define myself with reference to others. I have been elected by the French to fulfil the commitments made during the [election] campaign. I have been elected with the will, the absolute determination to act, conduct a consistent, ambitious and effective foreign policy. What animates me is to make Europe advance, contribute to the peace and stability of the world, a world confronted with immense challenges and great dangers. The French have been allies of the United States since the creation of this country. We have even fought by their side for their independence. They came to support us during the First World War. They were the essential instrument of Europe's liberation from Nazi barbarities. They protected Europe when the Soviet Union was threatening. So for me, there can be nothing other than friendship for a country that has always been an ally and, at the same time, total freedom to assert the interests and positions of France, because there is no friendship without freedom. I said so in front of the United States Congress: France is a standing friend, an independent ally, a free partner.
Question - Are we also seeing an activist French presidency, one which sees nothing wrong in engaging with the Hugo Chavezes and Muammar Gaddafis of the world?
President - I regret that you have such a caricatured vision of things. Colonel Gaddafi, whether we want it or not, has changed policies. He has given up his clandestine nuclear programmes. He agreed to free the unjustly accused Bulgarian nurses and the doctor. He has severed ties with all kinds of dubious movements. Therefore, there is no reason to refuse to discuss with him or receive him. On the contrary, he should be encouraged to continue on this path, by showing him that this opens the door to full and complete reintegration in the international community. Besides, how do you propose to convince countries like Iran to conform to the demands of the international community if, at the same time, you refuse to reinsert within the international community those who are responsible and have made the effort to respond to its demands?
As far as President Chavez is concerned, I do not see why France should not have relations with him. I am a president who has decided on acting and getting results. President Chavez offered his help for freeing Ingrid Bétancourt and hostages of the RAFC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) in Columbia, who have been undergoing an ordeal for so many years, and I would like to remind you that two hostages, Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzales were freed a few days ago. But I want to be clear so that there is no misunderstanding: this diplomacy of reconciliation is in no way a diplomacy of convenience.
Question - Addressing French ambassadors in August 2007, you said the very concepts of Third World and Non-Alignment had lost their meaning. Many in India believe that "non-alignment" simply means an independent way of thinking and taking decisions. Is that concept really outdated?
President - I think that the modern world is faced with a new reality, interdependence, which obliges us to review our way of conceiving international relations. Non-alignment is a concept that sprang up in reaction to bi-polar world, which has disappeared. One has to draw conclusions from that! What are the issues today? To fight terrorism, an international phenomenon which disregards frontiers. To fight climate change, which knows no nation. To fight against nuclear proliferation, which takes place through international networks. Hence, each nation must be respected in its identity, its independence, and France attaches great importance to this, to all nations cooperating, with respect for the law, for controlling these scourges. For me, this in no way imposes an alignment on anybody. It's just the opposite: multilateralism signifies that we are all equal before international law, in the quest for common solutions. What is needed is the creation of a world order adapted to the 21st century and this has to happen, among other things, through the reform of the United Nations Security Council, the International Monetary Fund and the G8.
Question - How do you view a resurgent Russia? Does Russia today pose a fresh strategic challenge to Europe? Do you believe that mutlipolarity is necessary / possible in today's world?
President - With Russia we have the joint responsibility of ensuring international security and that of Europe. Russia's economic recovery is obviously welcome because it stabilises the country. At the same time, it is clear that Russia's position as producer of petrol and gas poses the problem of its relations with Europe with regard to this subject. We also wish - that's obvious - that democracy be respected in this country. France and Europe offer Russia a relation of trust and friendship, founded on mutual interest. I met President Putin on several occasions and we have had frank and positive conversations. For the rest, the question does not lie in whether we consider mutlipolarity to be good or bad. It is a reality that is becoming increasingly evident in our world. The question lies in seeing whether we will be able to organise international relations in a harmonious manner, or whether we will let them deteriorate through thoughtlessness or tactlessness.