Washington DC

AIPAC Policy conference 2013 – Washington

Interview with Franco Frattini

Washington DC, 3 March 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF LIVE PUBLIC INTERVIEW WITH FRANCO FRATTINI Interviewer: Robert Satloff (American writer and executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – WINEP) 

Interviewer: Robert Satloff (American writer and Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy-WINEP)


Rob Satloff: Friends, my name is Rob Satloff and I am delighted to host this special panel on global perspectives to discuss the challenges that Israel and the West are facing from the Middle East. At a time at, shall I say, poverty of global leadership, we are privileged to have with us today two leaders who buck the trend—two leaders who are truly candid, frank, direct friends, not just of Israel, but of Israel’s place in the West and of confronting the dangers we face today.

First let me introduce the former foreign minister of Italy and a candidate to become the next secretary-general of NATO, Franco Frattini. And joining him is the current foreign minister of our great friends to the North, the foreign minister of Canada and outspoken advocate of Israel-Canadian relations, Mr. John Baird.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining all of us at this very special session. I want to jump right in and talk about the question of Iran. Now, neither of your countries are members of the so-called P5+1, but you are both intimate observers of the challenge that we face from Iran and the efforts to confront it. So let’s look at sanctions. Are they having an impact? But where are we overall in the effort to stop Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon? The view from Canada, the view from Italy. Mr. Baird?

John Baird: Well, firstly it’s a great pleasure to be with you. I have a lot of friends of the United States and Israel and Canada, so it’s great to be here. There is no doubt that the sanctions are beginning to have a real impact on the Iranian economy. Unfortunately there is little doubt that the sanctions have not fundamentally changed the Iranian leadership. They have not fundamentally changed course, and we can only hope that every single diplomatic effort necessary will lead to a change in that.

But the one thing we must be clear and unequivocal: We will not back down on sanctions and political pressure just for Iran showing up to the negotiating table.

Rob Satloff: Mr. Frattini, where do you think we are from your perspective in the effort to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon?

Franco Frattini: Well, first of all, thank you very much for inviting me. I feel among friends here. I have to say, well, we know for a very long time the tactics of Iran. They like to negotiate just for the sake of negotiating, not for the sake—not because they want to get results. They really don’t want at all to fall on the substance of the issue. This is very well-known situation.

But I want to say as an Italian, as a European, why it’s so important, this comprehensive policy of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. Because, frankly speaking, you friends—Americans, Israelis, Canadian—talk about security. But as Italian, as European we are not talking about only security of Israel. We are talking about my security. We are talking about Italian and European security—everyone’s security. This is why we all are on the same boat. This is why it’s extremely important.

Like John said, the strategy of sanctions should go ahead even though they are not changing the regime. But we have to move towards a stronger and more precise implementation of sanctions. The weak point is the implementation. Let’s talk about only one point. There are a number of states in the world—I’m not talking about Europe, I’m not talking about America, United States or Canada; let’s talk about Asian countries. They are not implementing properly all the sanctions as they should do.

This is the problem of implementation. Let’s take on board other partners, others that are persuaded that if Iran gets a nuclear bomb it’s not only Israel, it’s not only America; it’s all of us who will have a serious problem of security, on our life.

Rob Satloff: Mr. Baird?

John Baird: And we mustn’t forget, as terrible as the nuclear program in Iran is, their support of international terrorism is just as bad, and their deteriorating human rights record causes all civilized and freedom-loving people great, great concern.

The regime in Tehran does constitute the greatest threat—I agree with Franco—the greatest threat to international peace and security. This is not an issue exclusively about Israel; it’s not an issue about the Gulf or the Middle East. It’s about the international system of peace and security in the world today. We must be tremendously concerned.

We also should be very focused. Diplomacy matters. It’s important. Talk is one way of accomplishing things. But actions are important as well. And Israel and the United States for many, many years have taken tough actions. And just in the last six months Canada has listed the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, we have listed Iran as a terrorist organization, and we have closed down our embassy and kicked the Iranian diplomats out of Ottawa to stand on principle.

I was warned this would be a tough crowd.

Rob Satloff: Mr. Frattini, since Mr. Baird just raised the—the specter of terrorism—now, in your previous incarnation, in the early 2000s you played a pivotal role in having the European Union designate Hamas as a terrorist group. Today—for which you deserve our applause. Today the issue on the agenda is Hezbollah’s, Iran’s premier surrogate to advance the cause of terrorism.

Franco Frattini: Yeah.

Rob Satloff: What do you think will be Europe’s answer to the news of the—the Bulgarian terrorist attack?

Franco Frattini: Well, I remember very well in 2003 exactly during the Italian E.U. presidency I had, as foreign minister, the responsibility to propose—and I succeeded—to include Hamas in the blacklist of terrorist organizations. Now we have a situation showing once again how it’s important to keep Europe united, because Hezbollah is already on the blacklist for Canada, for example. Europe is usually divided.

This sad reality in Europe, I think, according to the evidence, according to the request of our Bulgarian friend, I think the time has come to have a serious discussion and to come up with a united European decision to seriously evaluation the terrorist nature of the attack, and the attack that created and caused killings of innocent people. I think Europe cannot be shy. Europe cannot take time, as it has been doing in the recent past.

You know, twice or three times the foreign ministers of Europe met without taking a united decision on the terrorist character of the attack and the organization. There are those that say we cannot make a distinction—we cannot make a distinction between the military and the political faction of Hezbollah. But it’s a matter of fact. They promote, like in that case of Bulgaria, terrorist attack. This is their nature.

Europe I think sooner or later—the sooner, the better—we should have the courage to put on the table in European agenda this and to take a decision. Only through that way Europe will prove capable to contribute to this international strategy against terrorist organization, including Hezbollah.

Rob Satloff: Mr. Baird, if we talked about Iran and then Hezbollah, I’d like to talk for a moment about the country that is the third link in the chain from Beirut to Tehran, and that’s Syria. What should the world be doing today to address the crisis in Syria? What fears are legitimate? And what objectives should we have to try to address this terrible crisis?

John Baird: This is one of the great challenges that the world is facing today. Assad has waged a brutal war against his own people and collectively we have not been able to stop him. The support—the material support that Iran has given Assad has allowed him to soldier on. And another good reason that we can look forward to the day that Assad falls is it will be bad news for the regime in Tehran.

We’ve all struggled with this challenge on what to do. I’m not one who supports military intervention from the West. I think that would only make it worse. But I do believe that in the near future at some point we will see Assad go. The real challenge is how do we build a civil society that embraces pluralism so that there’s a place for Christians, for Kurds, for Alawites, for businesspeople in the new Syria, and that it doesn’t become—it doesn’t become an increasingly growing civil war as we all fear.

Rob Satloff: And Mr. Frattini, do you think there is a role for NATO at all in dealing with the Syria crisis?

Franco Frattini: Well, NATO did something important, helping the Patriot missile to be put on the borders between Turkey and Syria. Apart this, I see the crisis, the tragedy in Syria unfortunately as a lose-lose situation—lose-lose because one thing is very clear. If the regime of Assad falls—and it should fall—Iran will be weakened, losing a very important partner; the, I would say, its arm in Middle East.

But what happens? Who’s next? After the failure of regime, what next? If the Salafists that are now armed by other countries in the region that are extremists, and they consider again Israel as an enemy, will be in power, this will be a situation anyway damaging for the interests of the state of Israel.

What is necessary now is to keep the international community united. Because one thing is absolutely clear: Innocent people are being killed and number of refugees fleeing to the other countries in the region, they cross the region. And this situation creates even more concern for the state of Israel. The state of Israel is in the unfortunately unique position in the world, its very existence, not only security, is put under threat by Iran. No other countries in the world are threatened on their very existence and right to exist.

This is why solving the Syrian crisis will help only if there would be a possibility to bring a viable and a stable government, not another enemy of the state of Israel instead of regime of Assad. In that case that would be any way a disaster for Israel, surrounded by countries that also because of what we call Arab Spring, is feeling isolation and frustration being surrounded by countries that are deteriorating their relations with the state of Israel.

Rob Satloff: Mr. Frattini just referred to a phrase, “Arab Spring,” that I wanted to ask you about, Mr. Baird. And now that we’re more than two years into this tectonic set of changes in the Middle East, how do you see the impact of this affecting your security, the security of the West, and the security of our partners in the Middle East, especially Israel?

John Baird: I’ll come to that in one sec, but I did want to respond to something Franco said.

We are tremendously concerned, obviously, about the plight of the Syrian people. They have paid a heavy price. One of the things that doesn’t get as much attention as it should, that we should, all freedom-loving people should be concerned about, particularly Israel, particularly Italy, particularly the United States and Canada, is to ensure that the stockpiles of chemical weapons never are allowed to fall into the wrong hands as this country continues its civil war. And we are—we continue to work with like-minded countries to—to focus on that question. That would be a real horror story.

Obviously we watch the transformation going on in the region. In some parts of the region it’s going well; others cause us great concern. We mustn’t forget so much of the instigation for this change was not first and foremost about freedom and liberty—certainly outside of Syria it wasn’t. It was about a campaign against cronyism and corruption; against people who had no economic future to provide for themselves and their families.

And until these economies get up and running, until they see some economic growth, until they see substantial job creation, the political instability is going to continue. And that’s something that we’ve got to stay focused on, particularly if you look at the situation in Egypt. If the economy doesn’t get going there, if there’s not meaningful numbers of jobs created, it’s going to be a real problem for the stability of the country and certainly the stability of the government.

Rob Satloff: And your country, Mr. Frattini, is just across the Mediterranean from these states. How has the Arab Spring affected your security and your sense of your neighbors to the south?

Franco Frattini: Well, it is true that the very beginning of what we used to call “Arab Spring” there were a number of hopes—hopes for more democracy, prosperity, economic growth. Two years later, unfortunately I have to say all these millions of people running to the streets and to the square in the Arab states are not getting the expected results.

In many cases we are looking at an infiltration in, I would say, some post-regime situation—think about Libya; think about Egypt; even in Tunisia—extremist groups taking the opportunity—or what they used to call revolutions—to establish, or to try to establish non-democratic regimes. And if—we used to consider only under the perspective of what happens in the Arab countries. We don’t have a complete picture.

We have to consider the perspective of the state of Israel, because situations are being deteriorated. Diplomatic relations are completely cut. There is a serious deterioration between Turkey and the state of Israel—countries that used to have, I would say, some diplomatic talks now consider Israel as an enemy.

So the feeling of isolation, the feeling of insecurity of Israel is one of the most important components if you want to examine the impact of what I wouldn’t call any longer “Arab Spring,” frankly speaking, because I don’t see a real spring in that situation.

Rob Satloff: Very good. I feel terrible that we have to jump from topic to topic, but I want to ask Foreign Minister Baird about Canada and the question of Palestine. Canada was one of a small group of countries that joined America at the United Nations recently on the vote on Palestine’s quest for U.N. observer membership.

John Baird: I kind of thought the United States joined Canada. Kidding.

Rob Satloff: Now, the Palestinians have a decision to make about whether to take advantage of their newfound status to take other initiatives against Israel; possibly at the International Criminal Court. If successful, this could be catastrophic and have a profound impact on Israel and on events and trends far beyond Israel. What is your country’s view of this and what do you think the repercussions might be from your country perhaps toward the Palestinians in the event that they take a decision?

John Baird: We strongly in Canada, our government strongly supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been our view that a state would flow from successful negotiated peace accord with Israel. And we are tremendously concerned that we continue to have a negotiation about the negotiations, and we believe that both parties—as Prime Minister Netanyahu has been very clear—should sit down without precondition and begin to talk. We think they’re likely to make progress by talking than by not talking.

I see the great Ambassador Posner’s here from New York at the United Nations. I spoke after he did. I was a bit worried, but he had great courage and stiffened me up for my speech that followed his. But I want to say that President Abbas had a remarkable opportunity when he addressed the United Nations’ general assembly on November the 28th. He was going in knowing he was going to win and win big; I think bigger than the ambassador and I thought. And he could have extended an arm—a hand to Israel. He could have extended an olive branch. He could been generous.

And we didn’t see any generosity in his remarks, and that deeply, deeply concerned many of us. We were very clear from the outset that further actions, like we’ve seen at UNESCO, like we’ve seen at the United Nations, particularly at the International Criminal Court, will be ones with which will not have—will not go unnoticed and will have certainly consequences in the conduct of our relations with the Palestinian Authority.

We hope that they’ll honor the commitment that they made, that they would not do that. We hope once events in Jerusalem settle down and once a new government takes office, we hope that we can stop the negotiation about the negotiations and both sides can sit down and look at what we can do to go forward.The only way peace with security is going to happen is if the two sides negotiate themselves. It’s not going to be done at the United Nations and it’s certainly not going be done at the International Criminal Court.

Rob Satloff: Great. Gentlemen, I want to ask you a personal question. We can’t fill this stage with statesmen of your character, who have your approach to Israel. We couldn’t find—we can look, but you gentlemen are a rare breed, regrettably, today. How did you two come to understand and appreciate the challenges that Israel faces in the 21st century? How do you two have, in your own political contexts, the courage of convictions to project your friendship with countries very far away that on the global stage isn’t, say, the most popular country in the world? Mr. Frattini.

Franco Frattini: Well, I felt not embarrassed at all to vote many times against some kind of international provocations against the state of Israel. Remember Durban Conference vote. I found myself in the position where Italy appeared to be isolated. We were two or three out of 24 at that time member states of Europe voting against that kind of conclusion indicating Israel as one of the sources of threat to the international security. I voted because I was convinced at that time—I’m convinced now—it was the right thing to do, simply because of this.

John Baird: Wouldn’t he make a great secretary-general of NATO?

Franco Frattini: No. We are—thank you, John.

We are a community of values. This is the explanation. This is the reason why I didn’t feel embarrassed at all. Because if we are based on common values, fundamental rights, democracy, respect for human dignity, how can it possible to think that in my Europe, in my own country, Italy, there are those that tend to deny Holocaust? How is it possible that in the land of rights in Europe, that we want to create one basis for the common recognition and protection of rights, there are those that point finger against the state of Israel, threatening breaking relations or downgrading relations?

This is why I came to the conclusion that this is the right cause and it deserves to be fought.

Rob Satloff: Mr. Baird?

John Baird: I was asked this question; don’t you think Canada has isolated itself? And I looked at the question and I said, do you think we should take positions that we think are wrong or we disagree with just so that we can go along to get along with some moral relativist crowd at the United Nations or elsewhere?

And I think too often we’ve seen this in the conduct of international diplomacy, this push to go along to get along. Go along with the pack; go along with the crowd. Well, listen, parents around the world tell their kids that’s wrong when they’re children and it’s certainly wrong in the halls of the United Nations. And we are never afraid to stand up for what is right.

But fundamentally, the significant change we’ve seen in Canada, the significant support for Israel among our government, in our parliament and in some parts of the country—not every part of the country, I have to tell you—it’s all about two things, in my judgment. It’s about leadership and values—the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the state of Israel, on the issues that are important, and Canadian values that are Israeli values, that are American values. Leadership and values are what it takes.

Rob Satloff: Friends, leadership and values. You heard it from our guests—friends of Israel and the West. Thank you very much.

Franco Frattini: Thank you.

John Baird: Thank you.

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