Daily Press Briefing

Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson

(Paris, August 3, 2007)

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


We were deeply shocked to learn of the train crash in the night of Wednesday to Thursday in West Kasai.

France offers its condolences to the victims’ families and friends, and assures the Congolese authorities and people of all its sympathy in these tragic circumstances.

France stands by the side of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at this difficult time.


Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner met yesterday with Mauritanian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Mohamed Saleck Ould Mohamed Lemine; State Secretary for Cooperation and Francophony Jean-Marie Bockel was also present at the meeting.

The minister welcomed the democratic transition which Mauritania has achieved in civil peace and with consensus, and the efforts undertaken by the new Mauritanian authorities to set the country on the path to sustainable development. He made a point of expressing France’s wish to help Mauritania in this particularly important stage in its history.

At the meeting the minister and secretary of state handed to Mohamed Saleck Ould Mohamed Lemine the draft 2007-2010 framework partnership document, which is to be examined by the Mauritanian authorities before being finalized jointly by the two parties, and sets out the main lines for bilateral cooperation between France and Mauritania.


Q - What do you think of Russia’s claims regarding the continental shelf and Artic seabed?

Pursuant to the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Russian Federation filed a submission in 2001 for the extension of its continental shelf in the Artic region with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS); this Commission, established by UNCLOS, is comprised of 21 experts (for the most part geologists and hydrographers), elected for five years by the 155 states parties to the Convention; the submission by the Russian Federation is currently under review by this Commission.

Under the terms of applicable international law, the CLCS is empowered to decide on such submissions: after a detailed technical review, it may:

- either grant (all or part of) the extension sought; the sovereign rights (exploration and exploitation of mineral resources) of the coastal State with regard to the seabed and subsoil of its continental shelf will then be extended beyond the 200 miles;

- or reject the submission; the sovereign rights regarding this part of the seabed will then be exercised, unless attributed to another state on the basis of a submission for extension submitted to the CLCS, by the International Seabed Authority, the international organization established by UNCLOS and tasked with managing on behalf of the international community the resources of the deep seabed beyond areas under national jurisdiction.

Q - What value do you give to Russia’s initiative in going and planting a flag on this territory?

It is not our place to judge the consequences of the Russian polar expedition by ourselves in a national capacity. What we have to examine is whether the Russian demarche conforms to the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention. It is up to the states party to the UN Convention to decide, on the basis of the provisions of the Convention. And the decision, as I just said, will be based on those two options.

Q - But the Russian aren’t waiting.

Russia’s submission will be judged according to the current provisions in the UN Convention. So it’s based on these provisions that Russia’s submission will be examined and decided.

Q - The head of the Russian Navy said today that Russia would have to maintain a permanent presence in the Mediterranean. Given that France also has a permanent presence in the Mediterranean, what do you think?

France has a permanent presence in the Mediterranean obviously because we’re a Mediterranean coastal state. So I don’t quite see the point of the comparison. For the rest, the Russian fleet cruises in the Mediterranean according to current international norms.

Q - They want a permanent base in the Mediterranean. What is France’s reaction to that?

I’ve no particular reaction to or comment on statements by Russian officials which I’ve not seen and not read. It’s not for France to judge the appropriateness of Russia having an agreement at some point allowing it to maintain a base or permanent maritime presence in a Mediterranean state.


Q - Yesterday you put out a communiqué that referred to “any” negotiations on nuclear power, sales of arms and in any other sphere. It has since turned out that there actually is an arms contract. The Libyans confirmed it. The EADS group confirmed it and so did the Defense Ministry as well. How do you explain the discrepancy between the conditional used by the Ministry yesterday and the fact that there is clearly an arms contract that’s been signed with Libya?

There is no discrepancy. The communiqué said precisely: “As for any trade negotiations that have been going on for several years or may take place in the future, on civilian nuclear power, arms equipment or in any other spheres, he [the minister] stressed that France was abiding and would abide by international, European and national rules applicable since in 2003-2004 Libya had itself opted to honor its international commitments.” The defense minister referred to it this morning, speaking--I believe--of letters of intent. As regards the signing in any case, the aspects surrounding the formal or definitive signing of these contracts, you will have to contact the company which carried out the negotiation and which is signing them. It is not my place to confirm the date and the actual signing of this agreement between the group and Libya. We’re not responsible for the business timetable of the company that negotiated with Libya.

There is no discrepancy on this point or contradiction between the statement that the Ministry made yesterday and what the wire services are reporting on the eventual signing of one or more contracts. There’s a natural timing in concluding a deal which is not connected to other timetables. This trade negotiation has its own timing. One sees, one reads that these eventual contracts are being finalized. It is the responsibility of business leaders to decide.

Q - Clearly, the time is rather short between publication of the communiqué and Libya’s announcement. Your communiqué refers to “any trade negotiations which may have been going on,” and a few hours later we learn from a Libyan source there’s a deal for $168 million, that it’s for Milan anti-tank missiles and that the supplier is EADS and its subsidiaries. I’m also wondering about the discrepancy in terms of the accuracy of the information you admitted very hypothetically yesterday and the accuracy of the information that came to us from Tripoli on this matter.

There is no discrepancy. It is not our place to comment on the timing of a trade negotiation which moves at its own pace. It is not up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to comment on the final stages of the deal. It is for the company to do so if it wishes, and for the state making the purchase to provide the necessary details. There is no inexplicable discrepancy, as you’re suggesting, between yesterday’s communiqué and last night’s announcement and the confirmation this morning by the industrial group itself. What has to be taken into account, as the minister told the National Assembly and Senate foreign affairs committees, and as the Defense Ministry also emphasized this morning, is that these negotiations have been going on in some cases since 2006. It’s not something that was signed in haste to take advantage of some particular diplomatic opportunity. They are contracts that have been under negotiation by business leaders for several years. That’s the reality of the trade negotiation.

Q - Mr. Kouchner told me the Italians and Russians were selling arms to Libya recently, even before. Do you have any details on those deals?

It is not for me to comment in detail on trade contracts or the existence of trade contacts that may have been negotiated by one party or another. What I can say is that we are not the first European country to explore the Libyan arms market since the embargo was lifted in 2004. I gather that Italy recently signed a number of contracts. I also understand that Russia got involved and signed a number of contracts. I also understand that the British have signed protocols of agreement as well. So we’re not alone in prospecting the Libyan market since the embargo was lifted in 2004. I would remind you that we’ve been doing it ever since Libya chose to rejoin the international community. Since Libya made the necessary gestures sought by the entire international community--whether we’re talking about compensation for victims of attacks, or giving up weapons of mass destruction or rapprochement with Western countries, in particular with the European Union. At the internal level the Libyan authorities have made the simultaneous choice for openness and economic reforms. At the time we welcomed this direction and we’re encouraging Libya to continue on this path.

It is these fundamental changes, this new dynamic, which the Libyan authorities wanted and decided, which led to a number of official visits. May I remind you that President Chirac went to Libya in November 2004, which led us to resume our bilateral relations on more than one count. President Sarkozy’s visit in July came against the backdrop of a new partnership with Libya, in the context of a neighborhood policy and the president’s proposed initiative for a Mediterranean Union. Libya is an important regional, Mediterranean and African actor. This cannot be ignored. And once again, I can’t insist enough on this point, there is no link between these arms contracts and the release of the nurses and the doctor of Palestinian origin.



Q - Will Mr. Kouchner be going to Rwanda soon? In a few days?

He said he wanted to. I’m not sure that the timing is to be quite so soon.


Q - Do you have confirmation that Niger has reversed itself on the expulsion of the Areva representative? I’d rather gathered that a new contract has been reached.

I understand through the press that this contract has just been renewed. With regard to the person and the Areva representative in the country, I’ve no details to give you at this time.

Q - Still, it’s in the domain of foreign affairs because Areva is a company controlled by the state.

I’ve no comment on Areva trade policy. The company has renegotiated the contract, if I understand correctly, on terms that aren’t known to me. So I suggest you contact the Areva management.

Q - Wednesday, there was a direct accusation by the president of Niger.

Mr. Bockel is due to be in Niger today and tomorrow. We told you about the visit and the context for it. The relationship between Niger and France is calm again, and is cordial and fruitful./.

Embassy of France, August 3, 2007