Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, February 2, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
As part of the campaign--decided by the government under the authority of the prime minister--to keep the French people better informed about European issues, a session on Europe has been introduced into the Journée d’Appel de Préparation à la Défense [JAPD, a national one-day defense preparation].
To mark the launch of this session, which will inform 800,000 young people a year about Europe’s action, Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and European Affairs Minister Delegate Catherine Colonna will go to the naval air station at Dugny-le-Bourget (Seine-Saint-Denis) on Tuesday, February 6.
After the screening of sequences devoted to the concrete actions of the European Union and Defense Europe, the ministers will talk with the young people present.
PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA
PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA
The great pilgrimage to Mecca has just ended.
This year there were 30,120 pilgrims from France (metropolitan France and the overseas departments) as compared with 27,000 last year. Of these, 9,180 were French nationals, i.e. one third of the total, as against 6,000 in 2006. There were more pilgrims from France than any other EU country, more than from Britain and Germany.
There were 11 medical repatriations. Two pilgrims died of natural causes while they were in Mecca. Another is currently hospitalized in Mecca. Our consulate general in Jedda is staying in contact with the family.
With regard to the pilgrims from France, the whole pilgrimage went well thanks in particular to the mobilization of the French public authorities and the involvement of the Saudi authorities.
A bilingual advisory brochure in French and Arabic “Conseils aux voyageurs” was prepared for the pilgrimage by the Foreign Ministry, Interior and Regional Development Ministry, the Ministry for Transport, Capital Works, Tourism and Marine Affairs, and the Ministry Delegate for Tourism in liaison with the French Council for the Moslem Faith. Measures to facilitate the organization of the departures of pilgrims for Mecca and their stay were taken locally. France was the only EU country along with Britain to set up a dedicated consular office in Mecca for the duration of the pilgrimage, with more staff this year. An emergency medical team consisting of five doctors and two nurses was deployed at certain points of the pilgrimage.
There’s not been much talk about the pilgrimage this year for good reason because it all went off well. We can only congratulate ourselves and continue to prepare things carefully in future years and distribute advice to pilgrims going to Mecca from France.
Q - The Quartet is meeting today. There’s talk of a new American strategy in the region. Have you been consulted? Can you tell us more about this strategy. Will the question of an international conference be discussed? What’s happening with the initiative of Spain, France and Italy that was launched a few months ago?
The Quartet meets today. We don’t take part in it directly. It’s the European Union which is participating in the Quartet. It’s Mr. Steinmeier, with Mr. Solana and the Commission.
I don’t know what the new ideas are that will be put forward, especially by the Americans. Just that what we had noted as being an interesting element, especially in Ms Rice’s recent remarks, was the idea that one could, beyond preliminaries that had been agreed, begin to discuss the final settlement. That’s an idea we think is interesting and which we support.
We shall see if the American administration is more specific, puts more details on the table. We hope that this meeting of the Quartet gives new impetus to the peace process and in particular leads to a revival of the discussions in the context of the Roadmap. The idea of considering a discussion on the parameters of a final settlement strikes us as an interesting one.
Q - And the conference?
I don’t know if it will be discussed specifically in the Quartet. Our position remains the same. We restated it not very long ago. The conference would facilitate the discussions by offering the parties guarantees. The idea is not to be a substitute for the parties but to convene a conference that could offer guarantees and thereby encourage the parties to move forward.
Q - Were the Americans supportive of the idea?
I’ve not seen any specific statement about this point, but everything depends also on discussions on the other aspects. So we’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the Quartet meeting.
Q - About the trial of the Bulgarian nurses. I gather the prime minister called the European ministers today to get involved. Are we close to an agreement with the Libyans? Could you brief us a bit on the situation?
I saw that the prime minister had requested, from Sofia, that European foreign affairs ministers discuss it at the upcoming general affairs/external relations council which takes place, if I’m not mistaken, on February 12. Ministers had already discussed it at the last council. They’d already adopted conclusions on the question.
May I remind you that the minister received Seif al-Islam Qaddafi at the end of January, on January 24, to discuss the question. Our position, and the EU’s, remains the same. We understand there is a procedure in progress on the Libyan side.
We ask the Libyan authorities to show mercy and release the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor who is with them.
We’ve also admitted, as you know, about 150 Libyan children to French hospitals, as other European countries have done—I’m thinking of Italy, for example. There are also debates on the aid that could be offered to the children and their families, especially from the European Union side. Discussions are taking place. But I insist on the fact that these are two distinct aspects.
Q - Is there movement on the plan proposed by the Libyan leader? It’s a very detailed plan and goes rather far.
What we’d like to see is a positive outcome. The minister listened to what Seif al-Islam Qaddafi said, listened to a number of debates on the Libyan side. He repeated the European position. What we want to see in this matter is a positive outcome. Anything that can take us in that direction is certainly useful.
Q - Do you think the plan is acceptable?
No, I didn’t say that. Once again, ideas have been presented to us, we’ve listened. We’re not the only ones involved in this matter. There are the Bulgarians first of all, who are directly concerned, our European partners, the Commission, and the Libyan authorities themselves. Everyone is looking at this matter, ideas are being discussed. And we also noted with interest, as Sofia has pointed out, that in an interview with a Bulgarian newspaper, Seif al-Islam Qaddafi said that the Bulgarian nurses would not be executed.
Q - When you say “a positive outcome,” do you mean by that the nurses are released or that the sentence is commuted to life imprisonment?
What we’d like is clemency, for the death sentence not to be implemented. We call for the release, for a measure of clemency leading to the release of the nurses and the Palestinian doctor. But, as I said, we are aware that this gives rise to procedures in progress on the Libyan side and that the ultimate decision depends of course on the Libyan authorities.
Q - Can you give us details about the ideas that have been unveiled?
You should ask the Libyans. These are ideas that have been put forward from the Libyan side. The minister for his part restated our position, that of the European Union, which is well known since there were conclusions about it at the last general affairs/external relations council.
Q - A few days ago the attorneys for the families concerned said that the western powers were setting conditions for taking the children in.
The reception of children in French hospitals and in other European countries was a humanitarian gesture for the purpose of providing medical support to these sick children. I’ve not been informed that we set conditions on welcoming them.
Q - About the plan presented by the UN envoy today. Apparently it doesn’t mention the word “independence.” Do you have any comment?
What is important, as we have said before, is that we support Martii Ahtisaari very strongly in his action. We support the comprehensive proposal he’s presented for Kosovo’s status.
As we’ve said, it’s a proposal we think is balanced and we think appropriate for our objective which is a democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo in which the rights of minorities are respected.
Mr. Ahtisaari is in Belgrade today then he goes to Pristina to present the proposal to the parties directly concerned. The plan is for there to be a listening phase. Mr. Ahtisaari is going to listen to comments about the proposal. I saw that he had suggested to the parties having another meeting during February to talk again about Kosovo’s status.
We don’t wish to reveal the contents of the plan, which will probably be done fairly quickly by Mr. Ahtisaari, nor to comment in detail, but we really encourage the parties to enter into this exercise in a constructive way with a view to reaching an agreement that is satisfactory and takes into account the aspirations of Kosovo’s population, but also the need to clearly protect the minorities and their rights. I believe that this is very important in the period now beginning.
Q - A given territory which has the right to sign international agreements and join international organizations is a de facto independent territory?
It’s an interpretation that may have to be considered at some point, but we’re not there yet. You refer to elements which have appeared in the press about the content of Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan. As I said, I don’t wish to comment on it directly. It’s a question that will perhaps come up at some point, but the concern right now is to have constructive discussions with both sides showing flexibility.
Obviously a compromise will have to be reached in this matter, in other words, an agreement that meets the Kosovars’ aspirations and at the same time takes into account the protection of minorities and their rights./.
Embassy of France, February 2, 2007