SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Last week, the French ended their rotation at the head of United Nations Security Council. Their permanent representative, Ambassador Gerard Araud, had one preeminently difficult issue on his agenda while in charge. And, of course, that was the question of what to do about Syria. Ambassador Araud joins us from his office in New York City. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for being with us.
AMBASSADOR GERARD ARAUD: Good morning.
SIMON: Mr. Ambassador, first, of course, there seemed to be more reports of civilian deaths every day in Syria. How frustrating were these last few months for you?
ARAUD: It was extremely frustrating because we have seen Syria sinking into what is now a real civil war. And we have desperately tried to avoid it because this country has an incredible potential for violence, violence within Syria and unfortunately also beyond the borders of Syria.
SIMON: Can you give us some insight into the discussions that have gone on on the Security Council and especially why when the security council decries the violence it's been so difficult to agree on a course of action to try much of anything.
ARAUD: Well, actually, we have faced three Russian vetoes in a row on the same crisis, and I think we have not seen such a crisis since the end of the Cold War. I think there is a fundamental political difference. The Russians are telling us we have a choice between on one side Assad; on the other side Islamist radicals. We don't like Assad so much but we prefer him to the Islamist radicals. On our side, we are telling them with your policy, we are going to have Assad and then the Islamist radicals. Because more we are waiting and more the Islamist radicals will be influential within the opposition, more the opposition will be radicalized. So, it's a real political debate. Very tough.
SIMON: Mr. Ambassador, are the opposition Islamist radicals? Is that accurate?
ARAUD: I think in the beginning, no. It was not, there were not Islamist radicals. There were simply Syrians who were protesting against dictatorship, which has been around for 40 years and which is quite brutal and corrupt. But more the time is going and more, you know, radicals are coming. Al-Qaida, you know, started to be active in Syria, coming from Iraq. And we know there are Salafis coming from Iraq also. And it's obvious that when you have a civil war, usually the opposition is radicalized with the time. So, there is a danger - at the end - there is a danger that the radicals will have an influence on the final outcome of the crisis. So, that's a reason why, beyond the humanitarian aspect, that we really want to solve the crisis as soon as possible.
SIMON: Mr. Ambassador, I probably don't need to tell a French diplomat that there are some of these anxieties, very similar anxieties, that went on in Bosnia years ago, and with the result being massacres continued to occur and I think the European democracies, including France and Britain, who actually did commit some troops in Bosnia in peacekeeping forces, have wound up regretting their inaction. Is there that risk now?
ARAUD: Well, I suspect that we can conclude unfortunately that now the action is out of the Security Council, that we have all concluded that nothing is possible in Security Council because of the Russian and Chinese stance. If one of the two sides decide to negotiate, if the government decides to negotiate, so maybe the Security Council could come back to the stage. But for the moment, I don't see any way to get out of the blockage that we are facing.
SIMON: Ambassador Araud, that raises a larger question: What's the future of the United Nations if it can't find a common course of action for what is one of the preeminent disasters on the planet?
ARAUD: But, you know, I'm always, frankly, I'm always a bit surprised by this sort of question because actually United Nations itself, you know, it's a group of these united nations. The United Nations may work on when its members decide to work together on a lot of issues. For instance, the (unintelligible) conflict. The members of Security Council are so divided that the U.N. can't do anything, as you know. So, the United Nations is effective when on some issues, the member states decide that they have a common interest to find a common solution. And there are a lot of issues where we don't succeed to do it. Frankly, on Afghanistan, Iraq, the (unintelligible) conflict, the whole of the U.N. is very marginal. There are issues in Africa where we are working together. But on a lot of issues we simply can't, and it's not the responsibility of the United Nations; it's the responsibility of the nations, which disagree.
SIMON: Yeah. Looking forward to your next rotation?
ARAUD: My next rotation, it's in 15 months.
SIMON: And you think you'll be addressing some of these same issues?
ARAUD: Well, I do hope, I do pray that in 15 months, you know, the Syrian crisis would have found a peaceful solution. But, frankly, for the moment I, beyond this act of faith, I can't answer to your question.
SIMON: Ambassador Gerard Araud, who is permanent representative from France to the United Nations. Thank you very much.
ARAUD: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.