x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Former PM opposes Afghan build-up

Dominique de Villepin, the French statesman, discusses global issues as part of a visit to a conference at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.

Dominique de Villepin and Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, chief of staff for the Crown Prince, at the conference.
Dominique de Villepin and Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, chief of staff for the Crown Prince, at the conference.

ABU DHABI // The former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin has insisted there is no military solution to the turmoil in Afghanistan and described the build-up of troops there as a mistake. Mr de Villepin, who as the French foreign minister was outspoken in his opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq, said yesterday during a visit to Abu Dhabi that America's current approach to the region had led to "a dead end".

Speaking on the sidelines of a foreign policy academic conference, Mr de Villepin said he was "worried" that troops removed from Iraq would mean more soldiers being sent to Afghanistan to battle a Taliban insurgency. "It's not the solution. There is no military solution. The problem is that you cannot dictate to another country the choice of its own leaders. The action should be more in terms of economic and social co-operation and development of Afghanistan.

"We can choose to have a very strong antiterrorist policy. That doesn't mean interfering or having foreign troops for a long period in Afghanistan." Mr de Villepin, 55, born in Morocco and raised in Latin America, is a former career diplomat who was foreign minister, interior minister and prime minister during Jacques Chirac's presidency. He left office last year. He described the 2003 invasion of Iraq as "a clear example of what could go wrong" if countries did not respect one another's sovereignty.

"The US wanted to impose democracy on Iraq and this has been an illusion," he said. Restoring Iraq's sovereignty required engagement from both Iraq's government and the various communities in the country, he said. "That means a government that is able to represent all the different groups. The government needs to be more inclusive." There must be "a strict timetable" for the withdrawal of foreign troops, Mr de Villepin said, adding that this would make it "a lot easier to have a responsible Iraq, a responsible Syria and a responsible Iran".

Iran must, however, respect the "rules of the international community" concerning nuclear proliferation, he said. "I believe in this region it's not possible to get anywhere without having the US fully engaged. What might be needed is to have the new administration going and supporting this dialogue and not only leaving [it to] the Europeans. "I believe the government of Iran and the Iranians want the restoration of good relations with the US. Together Europe and the United States have this capability of showing Iran it has a good interest in renewing with the West."

Mr de Villepin said Charles de Gaulle, the former French military leader and president whose dealings with the Arab world are the subject of a three-day conference this week organised by the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and held at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, had much to teach the US on foreign affairs. The current thrust of US policy in the region was "opposed point by point" by the philosophy of Gen de Gaulle, whose approach, Mr de Villepin said, respected the autonomy of nations and believed in "culture, equilibrium and dialogue" based on "non-interference policies".

"It promoted stability. It highlighted the importance of the relationships between North and South and allowed people to determine their own destiny," he said. "France's relationship with the Arab world is the result of collaborations. That's where it's served through different presidents through to Chirac." The Arab-Israeli conflict was "the cancer" of the Middle East and Mr de Villepin said any long-term solution must "preserve the justice and aspirations of the people".

"If we want to create a Palestinian state, which is the key issue, we need initiatives right now," he said. Resolving this issue could make international efforts in other global trouble spots, such as Darfur or the Congo, more credible. The crucial thing for creating global stability was more foreign policy co-ordination at European and world level and an America that "worked together to solve crises", something he said the Bush administration was not committed to.

"We need to have a more co-ordinated approach to find solutions," he said. "The more we will be able to speak in a co-ordinated way, the more we might be able to speak with one voice, the more we might be able to be a part of the creation of a new world order." The election of Barack Obama to the US presidency represented "a very important opportunity" to achieve "stability, peace and development in the world" but Mr de Villepin cautioned against expecting too much.

"It's going to be very difficult because Barack Obama is going to be mainly concerned by the situation in the US itself. He will have too many challenges. He has made a lot of promises. Now it's time for action," he said. dbardsley@thenational.ae