Foreign Minister Alain Juppé says France will stick to the commitments it made in the field of nuclear energy cooperation.
In New Delhi last week, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé spoke to Siddharth Varadarajan about the state of nuclear cooperation with India as well as the situation in Afghanistan and Libya. Excerpts:
Give us the big picture on the relationship today.
Our bilateral relations are excellent and they cover all areas. President Sarkozy last December said that our partnership is, for France, strategic … Defence and nuclear power are two components of this strategic partnership. After the Fukushima catastrophe, France has launched a process of stress tests on all its nuclear installations. And when the Agency for Nuclear Safety delivers its report, we will circulate it to all our partners, especially India. We are keen to continue our cooperation, and participate, if it's possible, in the construction of new European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) if the Indian government decides to go further. We are also developing our cooperation in the defence sector, where we are discussing various projects, including the Rafale [fighter].
What is your sense of pace at which the proposed Areva reactor project at Jaitapur is going? There are ongoing protests, and the pricing issue too has to be resolved. Are you disappointed by the slow pace?
No, we know that it is always slow; we also know what kinds of difficulties there are with other projects, so it's perfectly understandable that the consultation with the population will develop. We know that in France too, where there is also a move in public opinion after the Fukushima catastrophe, we have to explain what we are doing to guarantee to the population, to explain that we want the highest level of safety rules, safety procurements. So, we are willing to continue.
Since Areva intends to source some components from Japan, is the lack of an Indian nuclear agreement with Japan a matter of concern for you?
Yes, it is a concern, of course, but we are confident in the negotiations between the Japanese authorities and India.
Have you been speaking to the Japanese authorities about this?
Not recently but we are in contact with them, and also Areva.
The United States has expressed concerns about the provisions of the Indian liability law for nuclear damages. Is it France's view that the law, the way it stands, makes it impossible for your companies to do business with India?
We have a problem with that so we are ready to discuss the point with the Indian authorities. But it is a difficulty for us as with the Americans.
But what is the solution? You understand that Manmohan Singh has no political room to manoeuvre, especially given the Bhopal disaster, and now Fukushima.
Yes. We are perfectly aware of the domestic difficulties on this point but we think it is possible to find an outcome, and we [are discussing] that with our Indian counterparts.
Many economists and lawyers feel it is time to review the international liability regime which came into being decades ago when nuclear power was an infant industry and may have needed subsidies. That is not the case today, it is a well established industry, and India is going in for a massive expansion of nuclear power. Hasn't the time come to relook the issue?
We don't think so. The principles on which we base our cooperation are based on international conventions to which many countries have adhered and, therefore, for the time being, we have to comply with these international conventions.
And you feel the Indian law does not comply with the CSC [Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear damage]?
And how should this matter be resolved?
Dialogue and discussion. This is a diplomatic answer, of course.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group adopted new export rules for so-called sensitive nuclear technology earlier this year. How does France propose to fulfil its promise of full civil nuclear cooperation with India given the NSG's new ban on the sale of enrichment and reprocessing technology [to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty]?
Our interpretation is that the agreement of 2008 [when the NSG made an exception for India] is still in vigour and we have no intention to change our relations with India on this point. And we support the membership of India to the NSG.
So if France were to decide on the basis of its national policy, and on the basis of an agreement with India, that it wants to export some component or aspect of enrichment and reprocessing technology to India, then the NSG rules as they stand as per the last meeting, will not come in the way. Is that correct?
There will be no prohibition on France to sell these items to India?
We think the procurements decided in 2008 are enough to regulate those relations.
You mean the decisions of 2008?
Yes. And also based on our bilateral agreements.
In other words, the contours are set by bilateral agreement and by French national policy, and there is no prohibition at the NSG level on France as far as you see it?
How does France view the recently signed India-Afghanistan strategic partnership, including the provision for India to train the Afghan National Security Forces?
We share the same views as India on this issue.
We think we must develop cooperation with Afghanistan even after 2014 and France is preparing a bilateral treaty of friendship and cooperation with Afghanistan and so we are very keen to see India involved with this process. We have launched the idea of a regional security agreement of cooperation, I discussed this point with my Indian counterparts and we are ready to reflect on this project to prepare the future of Afghanistan
In the past, some Nato members have been squeamish about India playing a more open role in military training and assistance for fear of offending Pakistan.
We think everything which can help the Afghan army, to improve its functioning and equipment and training is a good thing, because all our policy is based on the idea of transition from Nato forces and ISAF to the Afghan army.
France may feel vindicated by the capture and killing of Col. Qadhafi and the fall of his regime in Libya, that the approach it pursued has been successful, but many in India and other countries are worried about the future of Libya. Do you fear you may have dug yourself a bigger hole?
We are very proud of the action we have done in Libya because we have avoided the massacre in Benghazi. You remember the threats of Qadhafi. It was a courageous initiative taken by France and Britain with the mandate of the U.N. Security Council to intervene. I don't know anywhere in the world any revolution which doesn't imply risks and the situation for Libya in the future is risky. But the leaders of the Transition Council are wise men and we are supporting the efforts to implement the roadmap, with elections, a new constitution. It will be difficult but it is up to the Libyan people to choose their future and we are ready to support.
Since the aim of the intervention was not so much to save civilians as to topple the regime, do you feel you have done a disservice to the right of humanitarian intervention? The international community is likely to be more reluctant to back [the invoking of this right].
The purpose was to protect the civilian population.
You still insist?
Yes, we acted in the framework of the UNSC resolution, not outside it. Of course, we also hoped that the regime would collapse as in other countries of the Arab area, but it was the will of the population. The rebels wanted to see Qadhafi stepping down from power so it is a success of the international community.
But you understand why countries like India, Brazil, South Africa may be reticent about the kind of approach you are pursuing?
I know that, but I do not understand completely why, because we adopted in 2005 during the U.N. summit the principle of Responsibility to Protect. When a regime is unable to protect its own civilian population and when such a regime is attacking its civilian population, it is the duty of the international community to intervene.
Yet, when civilians were attacked in Gaza by the Israelis, there was no move to intervene.
We condemned [it]. The Responsibility to Protect is not a reason for military intervention in all areas. For example, in Syria, there is no question of intervention. But in Libya there was a particular case, there was a threat against the civilian population of a huge city, Benghazi. So that was the reason for intervention.
Just to be clear, France is not going to consider or advocate external military intervention in Syria?
I don't understand the position of Russia and China and also the hesitation of some other countries about that. There is nothing in the resolution circulated in New York which can open the way for military intervention, nothing. It is a very, very light resolution, in fact, we are only saying that [President] Bashar [al-Assad], what you are doing is bad, you must stop the violence against your population, and if you don't, maybe there will be some sanctions against you.
But this is what I meant in a previous question, this is the price you pay for overusing the Libya resolution. The Russians, Chinese and others say when they backed the Libya resolution, they didn't vote for all this!
‘Overusing’ is your interpretation not mine.
But I know this is a pretext for Russia not to vote for the resolution. I say pretext because there are other reasons, there are many political and economic links between Russia and Syria which can explain the attitude of Russia.