Daily Press Briefing

Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(excerpts)

(Paris, March 2, 2007)

[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]


LEBANON

Q - Mr. Solana referred the day before yesterday, after meeting with Saad Hariri, to the possibility of recourse to Chapter 7 if there were further delays in establishing the tribunal. What’s your position?

I confess Mr. Solana’s statement escaped me.

Generally speaking, in regard to the tribunal, which we’ve spoken of several times, the approach which has been preferred for now is an agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese authorities. This option remains on the table and we continue to put this forward.

Next, recourse to Chapter 7 cannot be totally ruled out, but the preferred approach for now is an agreement between the UN and the Lebanese authorities. We’ll see if it leads to something. If that is not the case, we’ll have to examine the question and consider other options but we’re not at that stage yet. It will depend a lot on the position of the Lebanese authorities.

Q - We’ve been waiting for the tribunal for three months. What’s holding up recourse to Chapter 7?

We are not the ones responsible for these delays since we’ve done everything we could to get the agreement drafted as quickly as possible by the United Nations and forwarded as quickly as possible to the Lebanese authorities. The reasons for the blockage are well-known on the Lebanese side. It’s a point we dispute and which we regret since we’d like to see the tribunal established as quickly as possible.

I repeat, I can’t say today what options will be considered in the future. The possibility of chapter 7 is one, at least in theory. If there is a request from the Lebanese authorities at some moment, and if it appears that this option is the only one likely to lead to the establishment of the international tribunal, then we’ll have to look again at matters. But the path chosen so far tends to be more an agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese authorities.

Q - You’re waiting for the Lebanese government to ask you to move on to chapter 7, if I’ve understood you correctly?

No, we’re waiting to see what the approach we’ve chosen so far produces. If it leads to a lasting impasse, then we’ll probably have to ask ourselves some questions.

Q - When you say “lasting” what does that mean? Is it an open question, till when? How long will you wait before considering another option?

We’re not setting a particular deadline but we see that the question you asked is being raised in some quarters, and publicly.

I don’t have a precise timeframe in my head, but the question is how this tribunal can be set up. If it seems that the preferred path is getting us nowhere, then another approach will have to be considered, but we’re not at that stage yet.

(…)

MIDDLE EAST

Q - About the European Council, on the Middle East, is France, as President Chirac promised Mr. Abbas, going to try to ease the blockage with regard to the Palestinian government?

When President Chirac met with Mr. Abbas he did say that we were going to bring this up with our European Union partners and that there was a possibility that the question would be raised at the European Council on March 8 and 9.

Normally, the March European Council focuses more on economic questions like all the spring European Councils. The topics addressed tend to deal more with energy and global warming. There will also be a discussion during the dinner for heads of state and government on the draft declaration for the 50th anniversary of the Rome Treaty.

But it is possible, if certain countries ask for it for political questions to be taken up. I can’t tell you at this time if the subject will be discussed or not. You will know fairly soon. In any case it will be discussed Monday at the general affairs/external relations council by ministers. Then we’ll see whether or not it’s raised at the European Council.

IRAQ

Q - What’s France’s position concerning the meeting that’s going to be held in Iraq with the Americans, Iraqis, Iranians and Syrians? At what level will France be represented?

Our ambassador in Baghdad has received an invitation from Mr. Zebari to attend the meeting, which is a preparatory meeting for a conference that could then be held at ministerial level. We accepted. Our ambassador will be present at the March 10 meeting with the other permanent members of the Security Council since the invitation was addressed to those countries and the countries in the region. I saw that Syria had already accepted, that Iran had said it might take part but I’ve not seen that it’s definitely accepted the invitation.

In any case, we’ll be taking part because we think it’s in the direction of what we have wanted all along. We have consistently been in favor of regional initiatives involving the countries in the region. There was the conference at Sharm-el-Sheikh in 2004 in which the then French foreign minister took part. We think it’s an entirely positive initiative and we support the Iraqi initiative without reservation. The question of a possible ministerial meeting will come up a bit later on, but it will be for the Iraqis to say after the preparatory meting. I’ll add that the presence of Syria and Iran is quite natural since it’s a conference involving the neighboring countries. It seems perfectly normal for them to be represented at the preparatory meeting and then at the conference per se.

Q - They’re not the only neighboring countries.

I mentioned those two because they’re the ones most talked about in the context of the conference.

Q - Do you have any comments on the resumption of contacts between the Americans and Syrians?

I saw that the American assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration was going to Damascus to discuss the issue of the refugees. This is a real issue and it’s worth taking an interest in. We’ve no particular comment on the trip. She’ll be discussing the refugees, and that’s important. We ourselves support the action of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Iraq and in neighboring countries to provide assistance to the displaced and the refugees.

I also note that the envoy is not minister’s level; she’s a high ranking American official. We have an ambassador in Damascus who has contacts with the Syrian authorities. This does not bring into question our policy, or our line with regard to relations with Syria, which are known to you, which is that we will judge Syria on its acts, on the various issues. On that basis we will decide the opportuneness of resuming contacts at a higher level.

Q - The situation in the Middle East is moving. The Iranian president will be in Saudi Arabia tomorrow, in Riyadh.

We’re seeing a whole series of contacts on many issues in the region. These have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Iraq, it seems to us normal for Syria and Iran to attend the regional meeting, and we’ve no problem sitting down with them at the meeting.

Q - Does France have a proposal for the 10-party meeting?

It’s an Iraqi initiative so it’s more for the Iraqi authorities to tell us how they see things. We are there as a permanent member of the Security Council because we were invited and because the meeting goes in the direction we’ve always wanted to try to take things forward. The objective is for there to be support from all the countries, from all the countries participating in Iraq’s stability and also its territorial integrity, which is obviously a very important point for us. The fact that the countries from the region are there strikes us as being highly positive. It’s also essential to assist the internal process of national reconciliation in Iraq. These are two parallel processes but they’re not completely independent. You can see clearly that the one can support the other. So that’s our thinking ahead of this meeting.

Q - What does internal reconciliation mean for France? A change in Iraqi institutions, for example?

It’s a question the Iraqis themselves have to answer. It’s vital to establish an inclusive political process with all Iraqi components to find institutions and a constitutional framework that can win the backing of the various components of Iraqi society—that’s the process of national reconciliation.

IRAN

Q - The minister has talked about the Six-way talks. Can you give me an idea about the attitude of the Russians and Chinese concerning the content of the new resolution?

As the minister said, there was a telephone conference yesterday. There’s going to be further contact in the next few days. The discussions are continuing, One shouldn’t seek to characterize the positions of the parties on the various measures under consideration. What is important, as the minister said, is that our sense is that there’s an agreement on the objective, which is to have a new resolution based on article 41 of the UN Charter. We’ve not heard of any reservations or opposition on the part of countries that took part in the telephone conference.

Next, it’s important to see now specifically what measures are being considered. As the minister said, for example, we’re considering extending certain lists of entities subject to sanctions. Obviously we have to look at all this very closely as you can imagine. There will have to be talks on the various measures under consideration, especially on the additional measures. But the mindset seems to us positive and headed towards the adoption of this resolution.

Q - The minister said that he expected a new resolution to be adopted quickly. Are you still optimistic about the timeframe?

In any case we are determined, and we hope that the resolution is wrapped up quickly. Still, we know from experience that one should always be prudent. If you remember what happened at the end of last year, before the adoption of resolution 1737, it took some time. So we’re refraining from setting a timetable but we are determined and we think this resolution should be adopted fairly quickly.

Q - Could you cite one single point where you’re not entirely in agreement with the Russians and the Chinese?

We tend to highlight the points of agreement rather than disagreement./.

Embassy of France, March 2, 2007