SPIEGEL Interview with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner 'I Am not a Warmonger'

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner discusses Franco-German tensions, the controversy over Iran's nuclear program and his relationship with President Sarkozy.


French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner (left) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "He gives me all kinds of latitude to act and do as I see fit."
AFP

French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner (left) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "He gives me all kinds of latitude to act and do as I see fit."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Minister, is our impression correct that there is trouble in Franco-German relations -- despite kisses on the cheek between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel?

Kouchner: I don't believe that there is trouble. Friends don't have to agree on all issues. For example, we are indeed of different opinions when it comes to nuclear power, but that's normal. We agree on all fundamental issues.

SPIEGEL: And yet officials in Berlin complain that their friends in Paris are claiming every diplomatic success as their own. One example is the release of the five Bulgarian nurses from a Libyan prison. Is it only the style of French foreign policy that has changed, or is it also its substance?

Kouchner: Yes, there is a new style. During the campaign, Sarkozy promised to do what he could for the imprisoned Bulgarians. Everything happened very quickly in the end, which may have seemed abrupt. Of course, (German Foreign Minister) Frank-Walter Steinmeier and (European Commissioner for External Relations) Benita Ferrero-Waldner made important contributions. But Sarkozy and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi settled the matter in one decisive evening.

SPIEGEL: Sarkozy baffles the Germans with statements like: "If France doesn't assume the leadership role, who will?" Doesn't Paris have any confidence in the Germans?

Kouchner: On the contrary. The Germans have often been the leaders. (Former President Charles) de Gaulle once said: "Nothing can be built without Germany. That is its fate." When it seemed that our foreign policy was crippled as a result of the campaign, Berlin took the leadership role in Europe. In return, we helped with the Constitutional Treaty. The fact that I increasingly use the word "we" when I talk about the Germans shows how closely we cooperate.

SPIEGEL: Does the new French government still support Germany's effort to secure a permanent seat on the UN Security Council?

Kouchner: Certainly. However, it will depend on the reform of the Security Council. It is clear to us that Japan and Germany deserve a seat. There is also need for more equitable representation for the emerging nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

SPIEGEL: The treatment of Iran's nuclear program is still causing tensions between Berlin and Paris. You accuse the Germans of being too soft on President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad for economic reasons.

Kouchner: Germany and Italy have bigger economic interests than we do. In other words, more server sanctions would not affect all countries equally. I want us to weather the crisis together. We should not act too hastily. Our actions must remain transparent. We cannot leave it at the sanctions. Instead, we must continue to negotiate. The goal is peace.

SPIEGEL: Your German counterpart, (Foreign Minister Frank-Walter) Steinmeier, expects the Security Council, including the Russians and the Chinese, to take a unified stance against Iran. You, on the other hand, want to see EU sanctions that go beyond the scope of the UN sanctions.

Kouchner: I have just come from the meeting of the General Assembly, where we -- thanks in part to France's active support -- preserved the unity of the Group of Six: Germany, Great Britain, France, Russian, China and the United States are acting in concert. The key issue is whether we should supplement the UN effort with additional European sanctions.

SPIEGEL: A question you just answered in a letter of proposals to your 26 EU counterparts.

Kouchner: In New York, Frank, (US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and I discussed more effective punitive measures. Nothing has been decided yet.

SPIEGEL: Do you truly believe that sanctions will prevent Iran from nuclear armament?

Kouchner: Admittedly, three UN resolutions have not done anything so far, which is all the more reason for tougher action now. We want to target the regime's economic and financial nerve centers, not the Iranian people. Will sanctions alone be sufficient? I don't think so. They have to be accompanied by political offers.

SPIEGEL: If this doesn't work there could be war. You said it yourself.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (center) attends a military parade in Tehran: "We want to target the regime's economic and financial nerve centers, not the Iranian people."
DPA

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (center) attends a military parade in Tehran: "We want to target the regime's economic and financial nerve centers, not the Iranian people."

Kouchner: Wait a minute. What I said was: "War would be the worst possible thing." And that's what I am determined to prevent, through unremitting negotiation.

SPIEGEL: It's nice that you set it straight.

Kouchner: It's important to me. I'm not a warmonger. I have been fighting for peace for the past 40 years. I have seen the wounded and the dead, at the front, under fire. I know what I'm talking about.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, the word "war" has made the Germans uneasy.

Kouchner: I understand that this word scares the Germans. But I don't want to hide behind diplomatic niceties. You will not hear me making bizarre statements like "high-intensity conflicts." The Americans mention "surgical strikes." My goodness!

SPIEGEL: Is there a risk that the United States could go it alone militarily?

Kouchner: Many believe it's a possibility. This is all the more reason for us to negotiate persistently, even if it means accepting setbacks. We need a political solution, not a military one.

SPIEGEL: You have offered to fly to Tehran for negotiations. Your president is opposed.

Kouchner: He doesn't believe this is the right time yet. But my offer remains on the table. I speak with the Iranians often, and I hope that the conditions for such a trip will soon materialize.

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