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Victims of attacks and abuses on ethnic or religious grounds in the Middle East/protection of minorities/Iraq/Syria/Iran

Published on March 31, 2015
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the daily newspaper La Croix
Paris, March 27, 2015

FRANCE/UNSC/PROTECTION OF EASTERN CHRISTIANS/ACTION CHARTER

Q. – Why is France bringing the issue of the Eastern Christians before the Security Council?

THE MINISTER – The Eastern Christians are being eradicated. Given the extreme gravity of the situation, we want to make a strong gesture. We are chairing the Security Council right now, and we decided to convene it on this topic. It’s a first. I hope the action charter we’re going to propose will make a useful contribution.

Q. – Is this move in keeping with the French tradition of protecting Eastern Christians that begins with Saint Louis?

THE MINISTER – Absolutely. That tradition is an intrinsic part of our history and even our identity, but also the history and identity of the Middle East.

Q. – Régis Debray once wrote that the Eastern Christians were “too Christian to interest the left and too foreign to interest the right.” Has France – and especially the left – been slow to open its eyes to the fate of the region’s Christians?

THE MINISTER – Protecting the Eastern Christians, as I said, is part and parcel of French history, beyond any political divisions. It is my intention to make sure that we remain true to that tradition. By taking the initiative of convening the Security Council and calling on the international community to take action, France is defending a just cause.

Q. – What are you going to propose today?

THE MINISTER – It’s a sort of fourfold charter. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is very mindful of this question. The first part is humanitarian: not only do we want to take into account the displaced people and refugees, we want to make it possible for them to return home. In order for that to happen – and this is the second part – the coalition, Iraqi forces and others must be able to guarantee the security of persecuted minorities.

IRAQ/SYRIA/MINORITIES

Q. – And the last two parts?

THE MINISTER – There’s the political aspect, obviously. The governments of both Iraq and Syria must guarantee a satisfactory place for all of the communities that make up those countries. That is our aim in Iraq, where it is vital for the new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to break with the biased attitude of his predecessor, whose actions were truly inconclusive. The last part is the fight against impunity. We want the Security Council to refer the crimes that have been committed to the ICC.

Q. – You’re mainly talking about Iraq; what about Syria?

THE MINISTER – We sometimes hear it said, with regard to Syria, that Daesh [ISIL] is even worse than Assad, so we must support Assad in order to get rid of Daesh. In actual fact, Daesh and Assad are two sides of the same coin. As much as we support a political solution that incorporates elements of both the regime and the opposition – we are working on this – we believe that supporting Assad would be a double mistake, both morally and practically. It would push all those he persecuted into the arms of Daesh.

SYRIA/US POLICY

Q. – Is the United States changing its position on Assad?

THE MINISTER – That’s not what Secretary of State Kerry tells me. Don’t forget that the UN Secretary-General himself described Assad’s crimes as crimes against humanity. And don’t forget that it was Assad who crushed the first peaceful demonstrations of the Syrian people with such violence that it created the conditions for the war in Syria that has left 220,000 dead. Not to mention the torture committed by his regime. As for the chemical weapons, they didn’t come out of nowhere. When it comes to the list of his crimes, unfortunately, I could go on and on.

EASTERN CHRISTIANS/ASYLUM IN FRANCE/FIGHT AGAINST DAESH

Q. – You envisage the Christians returning home, while at the same time, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is issuing 1,500 visas for those same Christians. Isn’t that a contradiction?

THE MINISTER – No. To the extent we’re able to, we must welcome those who have ties with France and who want to leave because they’ve already suffered too much and have absolutely no other option. For some, it will be very difficult to go back. But the majority want, or will want, to return home. And there are those who want to stay. We must help them.

Q. – The brand of Islam professed by Daesh is the Wahhabi variety. How can we help the Eastern Christians while at the same time, France is an ally of Saudi Arabia, the great propagator of Wahhabism in the world?

THE MINISTER – I’m not going to get involved in a theological debate, but I know that the Saudis have no qualms whatsoever about fighting Daesh. That leads me to conclude that the fight against Daesh must also be carried out by civil and religious Muslim authorities.

Q. – Shouldn’t you demand greater clarity from your Wahhabi partners?

THE MINISTER – On funding, networks and support, we obviously have to be very clear. Our common foe is Daesh, an ultra-sectarian group that wants to impose its way of thinking and living through terror.

ROLE OF IRAN

Q. – Doesn’t it seem like Iran could be a factor in stabilizing the region?

THE MINISTER – We are busy discussing the nuclear issue with Iran. Iran certainly has a right to civilian nuclear power, but allowing it to obtain nuclear weapons would open the door to nuclear proliferation in the region, which would be extremely dangerous. In any case, Iran is already a major player: in Lebanon, with Hezbollah; in Syria, where it is offering its military support; in Iraq; and now in Yemen. We want that great country to be a force for peace. But first it must actually renounce nuclear weapons, as it proclaims.

Q. – Should France engage militarily on the ground?

THE MINISTER – Recent decades have taught us that military solutions imposed from outside don’t work. Besides, France can’t intervene everywhere, that’s not our policy. Our unwavering goals are security and peace.

EU INVOLVEMENT

Q. – How do you explain the EU’s lack of involvement on this issue?

THE MINISTER – Diplomatically speaking, I would say that in this area, the EU still has some room to improve. More directly, I’d say that sometimes it’s skittish. Is France isolated? I believe, rather, that it is leading the way./.

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