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CNN interview: French President Jacques Chirac

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PARIS, France (CNN) -- French President Jacques Chirac was interviewed by CNN's Jim Bittermann in Paris. Here is a transcript of the interview:

Q: You said in your letter to the American people on September 11th that you wanted to express the friendship and solidarity of the French people for the American people -- does that mean that you and President Bush now see eye to eye on foreign policy?

A: ... Once again I would like to take this opportunity to express the deep solidarity of the French people vis vis the American people ... a people traumatized by the events that took place on 9/11. We were absolutely aghast, horrified and this something we shall never forget and once again I wish to express this deep seeded, rooted solidarity to the American people and of course, the American president.

Q: But are you on the same wavelength in terms of foreign policy? Do you agree with President Bush's foreign policy?

A: You know ... we have said and underscored the fact that there were differences of view on certain issues .... This is especially true of Iraq and I certainly have made no bones about it and nor has he .... Nonetheless there is a true solidarity in general terms... a sense of solidarity and in most of conflicts which rage throughout the world and on which we have common views a common sense of things with the Americans and with President Bush. And I am very much looking forward to meeting with him next Tuesday in New York precisely so as to take stock in a certain amount of issues, particularly in the Middle East, in Africa, Darfur which I know of a great concern to him and me.

Q: France has now made al Qaeda target list according to some news that came out of the intelligence community last week. Is there a danger in French foreign policy in coming too close to American foreign policy?

A: Well, first of all we don't know the facts of certain situations. Secondly, terrorism is blind. It can attack any one at any time. Whence the absolute necessity to show tremendous solidarity with one another, especially among western nations so that together we may combat this terrorism. I do not believe that anybody is particularly the target or more on the hit list but I think all of us without any exception must be very careful ... keep a very watchful eye on things and cooperate with one another.

Q: Mr. President, you mentioned Darfur and you are a great believer on the United Nations and its ability to resolve world problems. Why hasn't the world been able to do something together to stop the killing in Darfur?

A: Well Darfur has become a tragedy as it is already and this tragedy is getting ever greater. I have the gravest fears with respect to Darfur where the rainy season is coming to an end. People are going to be on the move once again and I'm very much afraid that we may see millions of displaced persons and possible even hundreds of thousands of dead as we have seen in the past. This is the reason why, and I will say this in New York, I would call upon ... and in fact I am entirely on the same wavelength as President Bush in this connection I would like to make a solemn appeal to all countries and in particular to the president of Sudan to accept the mediation of the UN in other words to replace present African forces, who can not stay much longer in situ by a UN force perhaps 20,000 men strong who could try and find a solution to this ghastly problem.

Q: Some critics in the U.S. say this is a case where multilateral ism doesn't work. It just takes too long to react to situations like Darfur.

A: Well experience has proven that when multilateralism runs into trouble, there is no other solution. I do not see any other option. Of course one could imagine that any given individual country could go to war or wage war on its own which is unthinkable. No one's even contemplating that so there's not any other solution to multilateralism. No other alternative .... It is the conscience and the effectiveness of the world as expressed through the UN.

Q: This week you received and emissary special from the president of Iran. What was his message and is Iran trying to divide the western governments on their reaction to the nuclear program?

A: Well, Iran for a long time now has launched ... been involved in procedures which we believe should be condemned. And it is of the essence that we get out of the "impasse" today ... that we get out of this difficulty. We will do so by refusing the danger of proliferation out of hand. Now first of all the three European countries in other words Germany, Britain and France then followed by the Russians and the Chinese and lastly by the Americans who were of course always kept informed and abreast from the very inception of this process of the way things were developing, decided to make a certain number of proposals to Iran. These proposals were not spontaneously agreed to however they were discussed and they had been under discussion. Today we have on the one hand Mr. (Javier) Solana (the European Union's foreign policy chief) speaking on behalf of the six as a matter of fact and on the other hand the representative of Iran, Mr. (Ali) Larijani (Iran's top nuclear negotiator), discussing the issues. And I remain convinced that dialogue is the only way that we can come up with a positive result .... And I very much hope that we will be bale to come up with a solution that will enable us to avoid any sort of conflict.

Q: Did the emissary from the president of Iran give you any reason to hope that the Iranians are interested in a more realistic dialogue?

A: I very much hope so. I interpreted his words quite positively. I, of course, reported on them to our principal -- in fact to all our partners.

Q: How far would France be willing to go in terms of stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons ... sanctions, military actions ... how far would you be prepared to go?

A: Well, as you know I am always and have always been favorable to a negotiated solution. I believe that dialogue still is open ... there is a lot more potential to dialogue and I would like us to go the end of that particular road before we decide to go any further in any other direction. I very much hope that dialogue will get us out of this crisis and I believe it will.

Q: President Bush said just Friday that in fact he will not meet the president of Iran when he is in New York. Is that a missed opportunity? Should President Bush meet with the president of Iran?

A: Well, in this particular domain I would certainly have no suggestions to make to President Bush -- far from me to make any suggestion in this connection. The Iranian president, as you know, has made statements that are somewhat unacceptable to certain number of members of the international community -- I'm thinking about what he said about Israel in particular.

Q: President Bush is taking some unilateral actions through the banking system in the United States to cut off certain Iranian banks. Will France cooperate with that effort?

A: Well, you know I would have no comment to make on American policy in this connection. What I have said and I wish to say once again is that Iran is a great nation ... a great nation that has long standing historic traditions, tremendous wealth of culture and that we need to go as far we can to achieve the necessary dialogue with Iran in order that we be able to solve the problem that we're dealing with here and that we cannot ... and that we simply cannot accept.

Q: You mentioned the Middle East of course the French troops landed this week with tanks in southern Lebanon and are deploying forces right now. What is it that you think that they can do realistically in this situation? Can they stop Hezbollah from attacking or Israel from attacking?

A: Well, of course you mention the French troops but France is not alone in southern Lebanon. The main European nations are present in the strengthened and reorganized UNIFIL but of course we're not alone there as I said ... we Frenchmen ... there are also Europeans and a certain Asian nations, Muslim and non-Muslim nations as well as China and Russia. And the international community is absolutely determined to insure that this strengthened and renewed UNIFIL will be bale to carry out its duties and mandate in other words that there should not be attacks from the either side vis a vis one another. And in particular that the Lebanese government through its own forces be able to regain control over all of its territories insofar as there can be no independent and free state if the democratically elected government does not have full authority over its entire territory which of course would enable Hezbollah to quite naturally express its views within the framework of political action and a political party but completely excludes the presence and existence of militias which is one of the things we have to deal with.

Q: On that question of Lebanon, some of your European partners who think that France is making a mistake by not including Syria into the equation here by distancing itself from Syria. Is it possible to have a dialogue with Syria? They are absolutely involved in what's happening in Lebanon.

A: Our European friends or at least those you are referring to sir, I fully understand what has led them to say that but perhaps they don't necessarily have the sort of experience of relations with Syria that France has had. I mean France has had long standing relations and hasn't always -- in payback time -- hasn't always been what we thought it was.

Q: Let me ask you a question about a survey that was taken here recently. Both France and the U.S. have a long history of separation of church and state. And a number of French in a recent survey said that they thought there was too much religion in American politics and foreign policy. What would you say about that?

A: I would not allow myself to make any sort of comment on the share of religion in American policy or even foreign policy. We have a principal in France which is absence of any crossover between religion and the state -- this is one of the pillars -- the principals of the French Republic ... the principal of secularity.

Q: A question about a little but closer to home -- do you find it irritating at all that your interior minister who obviously wants your job has been making statement criticizing you about your handling of transatlantic relations while he's been in New York?

A: Well it is only natural that a French politician which happens to be at one of the same time the leader of a major French political party which of course finds favor in my eyes should make whatever comments he wishes to make. I mean you are referring to Iraq? I have ... I adopted a stance on Iraq and I have to say that the way things are panned out it certainly don't go against the stance that I took. What I said has been born out and I remain very pessimistic about Iraq and its future?

Q: I think you shocked a number of people on the 14th of July, particularly the political analysts who when you said you still hadn't decided whether you were going to run for another term as president ... do you believe that the nation will turn to you if there is a world crisis? That you are the man with the experience ... that you might be the person that they would need in a period of crisis?

A: Well, I certainly wouldn't comment on this. What I said as clearly as I could was that we shouldn't mix up different moments as it were. There is the time at which a presidential campaign should be launched a time at which government has to be run on a daily bases under my responsibility and under my authority and I am very careful that we pay due attention to that. When the time comes, ... when the time comes in other words at the beginning of next year the presidential campaigns will be launched and then everyone and I will be the first to do so will announce what their decision is. I would not like anyone to jump the gun and pre-judge the outcome. We have a lot to do still and we need to roll up our sleeves and continue doing them. That is why this government was appointed as opposed to launching presidential campaigns.

Q: When CNN interviewed you three years ago which was just on the eve of the gulf war, you said that you had advised President Bush that going into the Iraq war would be a mistake and you said, "If we have to have a war, let there be as few dramas and as little destruction as possible." Now three years later, what would your message to President Bush be?

A: Well, there's no point in harping on the past is there? I mean today we endorse, we support what the Iraqi prime minister has said namely that he wishes to get out of present difficulties. I'm not sure that's he going to be able to so, at least for as long as there isn't a clear objective or target known to the Iraqi's as far as the withdrawal of foreign troops is concerned.

Q: Can France help U.S. in Iraq or help the U.S. get out of Iraq?

A: Well, if the United States and President Bush asks me ... indeed ... asks me any question on this topic well of course I will welcome anything he asks and I will answer him.

Q: What would you advice be right now? What would you advise him to do?

A: Well you know I think now we have to be careful not to let Iraq explode or not to bring about an explosion in Iraq. We have to be very, very careful to insure and this something that the prime minister of Iraq wants, that we ensure that cohesion is maintained throughout the country and we have to give the Iraqis a ray of hope that will enable them to believe that as soon as possible they will be free and independent in their country.


CNN's Jim Bittermann interviews French President Jacques Chirac.

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