French ambassador talks terrorism, climate change


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Photo credit: 
Rod Searcey

France is grappling with rising terrorism and the climate change problem, French Ambassador Gérard Araud said during a talk sponsored by The Europe Center.

"We had been expecting a terrorist attack for some time," said Araud, referencing the January massacre in Paris in which two shooters who identified themselves as Islamic terrorists killed 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices and wounded several others. "The attack in Paris was like our 9/11."

He said that France is undertaking both educational and law enforcement efforts aimed at taming the spread of radicalized Islamic youth in the country – but there is no easy solution.

For example, it is almost impossible to monitor all the potential suspects, shut down offensive websites only to see them pop up shortly thereafter, and even track youth coming and going from Islamic campaigns in places like Syria and Iraq.

"Everything," Araud said, "depends on the balance between civil liberties and law enforcement. We're trying to adjust to this new threat."

More than a hundred people turned out for Araud's talk, which was held in the Koret-Taube Conference Center. The event, held May 1, was billed as the "State of the France-U.S. Relationship and Priorities for 2015."

Araud was appointed Ambassador of France to the United States in 2014. He has held positions within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. During his career, Araud became an expert on the Middle East and security issues, and was the French negotiator on the Iranian nuclear issue from 2003 to 2006.

He spoke about the problem of increasing anti-Semitism in France.

"It's totally unacceptable," he said. On the educational front, French schools routinely teach students about the horrors of the Holocaust and some even make field trips to places like Auschwitz, one of the Nazi concentration camps where Jewish people were exterminated during World War II.

One upcoming topic of global interest, Araud said, is the United Nations climate change conference scheduled to start Nov. 30 in Paris.

He described it as perhaps a "last chance" attempt at an effective global agreement on the issue, and sounded upbeat about the possibility of success. "Things are much more positive than in 2009" when similar talks in Copenhagen failed to spark worldwide unity.

The reasons, he said, are that more countries are acknowledging the impact of carbon emissions and that China has expressed a desire to cooperate. But much depends on the talks in Paris, both their tone and substance.

"Top down approval certainly won't work," Araud said, noting that the conference needs to produce a consistent and credible message of action on climate change that appeals to many countries.

He noted Stanford's new energy system aims to cut campus greenhouse gas emissions by 68 percent and fossil fuel by 65 percent. "It's quite positive," he said.

Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, introduced Araud and described the bilateral relationship between the United States and France as "central to everything that we do."

McFaul pointed out that Araud played a key role in the writing of the economic sanctions that eventually brought Iran to the nuclear negotiations table.

When he started his speech, Araud said it was his first visit to Stanford. "Thank you for the weather," he smiled.


Clifton B. Parker is a writer for the Stanford News Service.