Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, April 3, 2007)

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


SOLOMON ISLANDS

France is closely following the situation in the Solomon Islands where the Melanesian archipelago was struck by a tsunami, the effects of which are currently being evaluated. Some 20 or so coastal villages are reported to be badly damaged, with at least 20 deaths reported and 5,000 people without shelter.

International aid is being readied to meet the needs the Solomon Islands will identify.

France is making available to the Small Island States human and material resources it has pre-positioned in the event of natural disasters in its collectivities in the Pacific (New Caledonia and French Polynesia) under the FRANZ accords between France, Australia and New Zealand.

It has asked the authorities in the archipelago and its Australian and New Zealand partners for their assessment of the situation so it can decide on the most appropriate emergency relief.

(…)

UKRAINE

Q - What’s your analysis of the situation in Ukraine?

France considers the decision to dissolve the Ukrainian parliament an internal political matter which it is not our place to comment on. It invites the authorities and all the political forces to show restraint and to prefer dialogue above all else.

France will continue to follow closely the developments in Ukraine in close coordination with its European partners. It recalls that Ukraine plays a key role in the region’s stability and prosperity, and that it represents a key partner for the European Union in the context of its neighborhood policy. France invites the various branches of government to unite their efforts to carry through the essential reforms which remain to be done ahead of major events for the country such as the current negotiation on a strengthened agreement with the European Union and membership in the World Trade Organization.

I also wish to bring to your attention a statement from the European presidency which has just been released:

‘The European Union is concerned about the current political crisis in Ukraine. The Presidency of the European Union calls on those with political responsibility in Ukraine to settle their current differences on domestic policy in a manner which complies with the constitution and democratic rules. This requires moderation and a willingness to reach compromise from all those involved. The Presidency of the European Union hopes that Ukraine's ability to act will not be undermined and that relations between the European Union and Ukraine will not be adversely affected.’

MIDDLE EAST

Q - There was a meeting yesterday between the Palestinian foreign minister and the French foreign minister. In the statements yesterday, we get the impression that France is backing off a bit with respect to the aid it wanted to give the Palestinian government. Is economic aid to the Palestinians still tied to Corporal Shalit’s release?

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy did indeed meet with his Palestinian counterpart yesterday. It was the first visit to Europe by the new Palestinian foreign minister.

France, as you know, is in favor of resuming direct international aid to the Palestinian government. That’s the position we’re currently maintaining with respect to our European partners and beyond them our partners in the international community.

In France’s view, the European Union must place the Palestinian Finance Ministry back at the center of its aid arrangements according to a timetable and modalities which will have to be closely worked out with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad.

In addition, we consider the formation of this government to be the start of a process that we wish to help. It is in this context that we expect additional gestures from this government. Among them, specifically, is the release of Corporal Shalit and the end of rocket-firing. As you see, on one hand there is what we’re saying about the resumption of direct aid, and on the other the start of a process in which we wish to obtain additional gestures.

Q - But is the resumption of direct aid tied to Corporal Shalit’s release?

There is no new condition. I think what may have emerged from certain comments or certain assessments yesterday was that there is a direct link between the resumption of aid and the release or other additional gestures.

What we’re saying is that we’re working on one hand for the resumption of direct aid, and on the other, that the formation of the Palestinian government is the beginning of a process in which we are asking for a number of additional gestures both to convince our partners to join in this position and at the same time to encourage the resumption of contacts and cooperation with the new Palestinian government. That’s the distinction you have to make in our position.

Q - We can see that France is no longer insisting on the release of the Hamas politicians whereas it is asking for the release of our compatriot Shalit.

You heard, as I did, what the minister said about this yesterday. You’re asking me about our position with respect to the Palestinian authorities so we’re stating that position. But in what the minister said yesterday, and I’d like you to keep this in mind, he insists on all the demands with respect to both the Israeli and the Palestinian authorities.

From this point of view the minister recalled the signing of the Mecca agreement, which is an important step. He then mentioned the formation of the national unity government and said, “It takes two to make peace. Israel must respect international law and the commitments accepted under the roadmap, the freeze on settlements, respect for the status quo in Jerusalem, the dismantlement of the parts of the wall situated within the Palestinian Territories. These are key elements for reaching the solution of two states living side by side, and creating a climate conducive to reviving the peace process.

So we also recalled our demands with respect to the Israelis. I think it’s important to keep in mind the minister’s comments.

Q - How many legislators are imprisoned in Israel?

What we’re telling the Israelis very clearly is that there are obviously a certain number of gestures they must make on their side. We know perfectly well that the current negotiation has stumbled several times over the conditions of Gilad Shalit’s release. It is obvious that in this context there are a number of demands that have been formulated and on which the Israelis have been questioned. It is essential that on their side they make the necessary gestures to arrive at a compromise acceptable to all the parties.

Q - So France is calling for the release of Palestinian political prisoners?

We’ve already done so many times. We condemned these arrests and demanded the release of the Palestinian prisoners.

Q - The resumption of direct aid now seems to be jeopardized by other conditions. Isn’t Corporal Shalit’s release, which everyone wants, a stumbling block to the resumption of aid?

As I said, there is no new condition. We are in favor of resuming direct aid to the Palestinian government. At the same time, as you know, we remain committed to the Quartet’s principles as does the entire international community, which has also recalled this many times.

These principles, and you know them as well as I do, mean that we need recognition of Israel, a cessation of violence and acknowledgement of the agreements concluded by the PLO. All this has been partly subsumed in the Mecca agreements. From that point of view we said that it was an important step towards the realization of this objective and we welcomed the Mecca agreement.

In order to bring about the conditions for a new partnership, for reviving the process with this new government, it is obvious that other meaningful gestures would be welcome: Corporal Shalit’s release, the end of rocket fire and other gestures such as good governance, the satisfactory operating of institutions. These are all gestures that would advance the context in which these relations could be resumed.

Q - Can you confirm the information from Palestinian sources that the Palestinian foreign minister has asked the French government to stop the tramway project between the settlements and Jerusalem?

We have repeatedly stated our position on this. French participation in the construction of the Jerusalem tramway is the action of private companies acting on their own behalf. Their participation cannot be imputed to the French state.

We informed the heads of the companies about the Palestinian authorities’ concerns regarding one part of this project for the Jerusalem tramway system. I confirm that the Palestinian foreign minister talked about it yesterday with Mr. Douste-Blazy. Having said that, we maintain in any case a position of principle, which is constant, on the final status of the city of Jerusalem which should be negotiated between the parties. France and the EU have moreover a clear position on the illegal nature of settlement activities in the territories Israel occupied in 1967. This project does not in any way reflect a change in our position.

Q - You’ve just read Mr. Douste-Blazy’s statement that Israel must respect the status quo in Jerusalem. How can you ask the Israeli government not to change the situation in Jerusalem while letting two French companies change the status quo in Jerusalem in a way?

I’ve just said that we’ve not changed our position: the status quo must be respected and the final status of the city of Jerusalem must be negotiated between the parties.

Q - How do you explain the fact that the French ambassador was there when the agreement was signed?

The contract was signed at the time by the companies and the city of Jerusalem. I don’t know the conditions in which our ambassador was invited. He happened to be there. I don’t believe one should give any more importance to the fact that our ambassador was there than that.

Q - But there is a responsibility under the Geneva treaty on the occupied territories, and the French companies contributing to the modification of a state are violating the treaty. What is the French position at present because this matter might also be raised in a French court?

I will repeat our position. It has not altered with respect to the question of Jerusalem. It has not changed with regard to our position of principle on the final status and on the current status of the city of Jerusalem.

Q - During the Palestinian minister’s visit yesterday, he publicly asked France and the European Union to accept the Palestinian state as a global juridical entity without distinction. Did France hear this appeal? Is it inclined to hear the Palestinian message?

As I said before, it’s important to make a distinction between two important things. On one hand there is indeed the national unity government. We said that since the government was formed on the basis of commitments at Mecca, it seemed to us possible to work with it and resume contacts. That explains the invitation to the Palestinian foreign minister to come to France.

In addition we wanted to open the way for cooperation--that’s why we called for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinian government. Things are very clear. We favor a gradual approach, which could moreover evolve depending on the additional gestures that might be made by the national unity government. That is in our mind when we speak of additional gestures, i.e. to encourage cooperation, to encourage contacts, additional gestures would be welcome.

On the other hand it’s important to distinguish the situation of Hamas which, as an organization, explicitly refuses to recognize Israel and remains listed on the EU list of terrorist organizations. In that context we do have a special situation, and so a policy that remains defined by a series of rulings which mean that we do not wish to have contact with representatives of Hamas. The minister, moreover, reiterated this to his counterpart in their talks yesterday.

Q - The Palestinian foreign minister explained to his French counterpart that the justification doesn’t hold up because the national unity government said that it affirms that the agreements signed by the PLO and the Israeli government are valid.

I’m well aware of the debate since it was discussed at the meeting between the two ministers. So I’m not surprised by what you say, and actually the Palestinian minister said so yesterday in his meeting with his French counterpart. What I’m telling you is our position, and what the French minister told him, namely that we carefully noted the commitments made at Mecca and that is the reason why we said that it was a step in the right direction, that it was the beginning of a process which we hope will be successful.

We hope the process will be a success. At the same time, we know perfectly well that there are a number of positions which continue to be held by Hamas representatives. We hope that each of the parties, not just the foreign minister or finance minister, but all the ministers contribute to its success. That’s what we said yesterday and we’re saying today.

Q - So France needs a government statement from the Palestinian national unity government expressing formal recognition of Israel’s existence and also renouncing violence—knowing that for Oslo it’s already been done?

That’s it, and I believe that it has been said by the entire international community.

Q - It’s the Palestinian ministers who said so yesterday. The Palestinian government has recognized that. Where’s the problem?

The problem is that there are a number of ambiguities which should be lifted. We’re not going to start an entire debate, but you understand that it’s not as simple as you say.

KOSOVO

Q - The Security Council starts discussions today on Marti Ahtisaari’s plan for the future status of Kosovo. It’s for monitored independence. What is France’s position as an EU member and member of the Contact Group?

Our position on Kosovo is well-known. We’ve stated it many times. We said that we were in favor of the statute proposed by Mr. Ahtisaari. From that point of view, it’s the position we expressed also in the Contact Group and the European Union, bearing in mind, as you know the discussion of this question at the Security Council in New York. The Security Council was due to hear the UN secretary-general’s special envoy review the question of the statute.

We believe the discussions should be held in this framework. As far as we are concerned, we will obviously be taking part. You also saw there was a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Bremen, an informal meeting. During their discussion, ministers had the opportunity to speak at length on the issue. The German presidency said that everyone spoke and no partner had gone back on the very strong support that the 27 states had given to the special envoy’s approach and proposals at the general affairs council in February.

At the Gymnich we confirmed the support of the 27 member states, for both Mr. Ahtisaari’s approach and proposals.

IRAN

Q - The EU is standing firmly with Britain. But I’m a bit surprised at the terms used in the press in France: are they prisoners, hostages or detainees? What’s France’s position?

We have spoken from the beginning, let me remind you, of the capture of 15 British troops by Iranian forces, calling it a troubling act that ran counter to efforts to ease tensions. We condemned the capture.

Q - Are they hostages?

No, we spoke of capture. We consider these persons to be in captivity in Iran today. Of course, we’ve reaffirmed our solidarity with the British authorities. Of course, we’ve noted certain interpretations or comments. I repeat, there are contacts under way between the Iranians and the British. We said that we would take every opportunity to contribute to the efforts of the British. That is what we are doing today.

Q - Are you involved in the contacts?

We are taking every opportunity as we said.

Q - Are you serving as an intermediary between the British and the Iranians in this matter?

We’re taking advantage of every opportunity.

SYRIA

(…)

Q - The US administration and the French government have been on the same wavelength on Syria since resolution 1559. Is that still the case?

I believe we did a lot of work together for SCR 1559, successfully as you know. We are still similarly disposed today, that’s our assessment, with respect to Syria. It’s important to invite the country to be as constructive and cooperative as possible so that it contributes to stability and peace in the region and with respect to its different neighbors.

As you know, going back to Ms Pelosi’s trip, the visit was criticized by the State Department spokesman. I don’t think the trip implies any particular shift on the part of the US administration.

Q - You just said that Ms Pelosi’s trip was criticized. Do you consider that Washington’s policy towards Syria is consistent with French policy?

I have just said that I did not think that there’s any shift in the American administration on this question.

I believe we’ve worked together for many years on this question and I feel that we are continuing to make similar demands so that Syria is more cooperative in order to restore stability to the region.

(…)

Embassy of France, April 4, 2007