In another first for the AAPA, our members met with Defense Minister Gerard Longuet for breakfast at the ministry on the rue Saint Dominique on April 6. Questions covered a broad range, from the crisis in Mali to European missile defense and the stalemate over Iran.

In an open and lively exchange, Longuet said France would definitely give logistical support to a regional, African force to halt the insurgency in northern Mali and he said the United States was also capable of providing support.

“We have the material means, like the US, to help in the concentration of (ECOWAS) troops, if needed,” he told 15 participants.

But he warned that the solution to the problem in Mali was above all political and this should be the objective.

On the controversial issue of NATO’s missile defense system in Europe, Longuet was cautious about predicting the outcome of talks that will take place at the next NATO summit in Chicago next month.

France will not take an active part in this project, he maintained, but he did indicate that there could be a “passive” role for the French military via technical cooperation and participation in certain aspects of the programme, but under French control.

Even so, Longuet said the chances of the missile defence system being deployed remain “extraordinarily slim.”

On the other hand, he was somewhat upbeat on the potential of selling France’s high-performance Rafale fighter to the UAE, which has been hesitating about a purchase after breaking off “exclusive negotiations” with Dassault.

“It will happen one day,” he insisted, but he would not venture when this might be.

Commenting a recent agreement on “exclusive negotiations” to sell 126 Rafale aircraft to India in a multi-billion dollar deal, Longuet said, “If the Indians are interested in the Rafale, it’s because there’s the idea they might have to use it one day, contrary to other clients.”
Longuet also discussed the situation in Iran and with North Korea and reiterated concern about the nuclear ambitions of both of these nations.
But he cautioned against military action against Iran as this would create a “mess” in the Gulf region and have an impact globally.

–John Keating