Recent events connected with the U.S. military action against Libya have aroused widespread American criticism directed against the position adopted by France in this regard. I feel that it is of the first importance for both our countries to set before the American public certain facts that will permit a more accurate appraisal of the situation.
France has been accused of excessive tolerance -- to use one of the milder terms employed -- toward Libya. Such an accusation reflects a serious misunderstanding of French policy and a lack of information on recent events.
No one can fail to be aware of the threat that Col. Muammar Qaddafi has been to many countries in Africa, and particularly to Chad, its neighbor to the south, over the past few years. France committed itself to direct action in the face of this danger, first warning the Libyan authorities that it would not tolerate any violation of the sovereignty of that nation, then intervening militarily when the Libyans continued to pursue their activities in Chad. Just a few weeks ago French aircraft bombed a Libyan airport in the north of Chad and put an end to preparations for further Libyan actions in the region. Our determination to protect Chadian interests and to prevent Qaddafi from destabilizing this key area have not been widely publicized, but they are concrete evidence that France in no way holds itself aloof from developments in this part of the world.
Reflecting the same determination, the French government stated that any attack against one of our allies in southern Europe will be met with a response that will include, if necessary, armed force. Various measures were also taken regarding Tunisia -- also a neighbor of Libya -- after concern was expressed by that country.
Allegations have been made concerning the existence of French "interests" in Libya that have led the French to appease Libyan leaders. I think a few facts will do these allegations the justice they deserve. The amount of Libyan oil imported by France represents a negligible percentage of our country's total consumption; indeed, in January and March France bought no Libyan oil at all. France has reduced its trade with Libya to one- fourth of what it was three years ago, and there are fewer than 800 French citizens in Libya today. It is certainly not French companies that keep the wheels of the Libyan oil industry turning.
The French government has been reproached for not taking a sufficiently firm stand on terrorism, and its policy has even been interpreted in an anti-American light. To allow such criticisms to go unchallenged would be to perpetuate a fundamental misconception regarding the French position. France has had extensive experience in dealing with terrorist threats, and its government has always been and will continue to be resolute in its response to such threats. We are convinced, however, that the phenomenon of terrorism stems from a wide variety of causes and that it is most effectively combatted by sustained cooperative action that minimizes as much as possible the risk of a continuous spiral of increasing violence. France recently expelled two members of the Libyan Peoples' Bureau, and just this week it expelled four more Libyans from its territory.
As concerns the request for American aircraft participating in the operation against Libya to fly over French territory, the response given by the French government -- which should be understood in the light of what has ust been said -- was the following: it is not possible for us to give such an authorization but we are ready, immediately, to consult with you on the best meas take in the face of terrorism, those who support it, inspire it and encourage it. The American response was that there was not time for such consultations.
Certain comments have gone so far as to question France's role as an ally of the United States. Our position in this regard is well-established and unchanging. France is not a member of NATO's integrated military command and has independent military, notably nuclear, forces. While such independence is a cornerstone of our national policy, it in no way detracts from our commitment to the alliance of Western democracies. Those officials who truly know the role of France in the alliance have no doubts as to the daily and concrete reality of this commitment.
And has it been forgotten that at a time crucial to relations within the alliance, when a decision was being made on the deployment of American intermediate-range missiles in Europe, the French president expressed, in Germany, France's support for this deployment, thereby helping to convince European opinion of the necessity of responding to the imbalance of forces in Europe?
I feel that it is necessary to point out that the French government neither approved nor disapproved the American operation in Libya. We expressed our concern regarding the risk of a spiral of events. At the United Nations Security Council, France, with Great Britain and the United States, vetoed a resolution condemning the United States for its action against Libya.