Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, May 4, 2007)

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


UNITAID

The next meeting of the UNITAID board, chaired by Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, will be held in Geneva from May 7-9.

At this time the first actions UNITAID has taken will be presented. An advisory forum of representatives of several countries interested in the initiative and the main partners in UNITAID will be held. Also the effects on the prices of certain drugs will be announced simultaneously with President Clinton in New York.

UNITAID, which today groups over 30 countries in the North and South, was established in September 2006 under UN auspices to promote access to quality drugs in the most affected and most vulnerable countries by providing drugs in the field and negotiating lower prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Together with the Clinton Foundation, UNITAID launched at the beginning of 2007 a program to finance second-line anti retro-viral drugs which already reaches 27 countries, 23 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

UNITED STATES/FRANCE

A bipartisan delegation of seven legislators from the US House of Representatives, members of the science and technology committee, is on a visit to France from May 4 to 7 to study energy and climate change issues.

The delegation is led by committee chairman Bart Gordon, Democrat from Tennessee, a member of the French caucus as are three other representatives in the delegation.

The legislators will meet with Brice Lalonde, chair of the OECD roundtable on sustainable development. The meetings with the director of the International Energy Agency and representatives of SAFRAN and AREVA will be an opportunity to address questions relating to energy efficiency and security, the environment, air propulsion and waste reprocessing.

The visit follows on other recent visits by American legislators; senators from California in September 2006, the speaker of the California Assembly and then the chairman of the House transportation committee in April 2007.

The French caucus, founded in the fall 2003 at the initiative of our embassy in Washington, now has 100 members of whom 22 are senators and 78 representatives.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French-American Foundation will be hosting a reception in their honor this evening.

(…)

SUDAN/DARFUR

Q - What’s your reaction to the agreement signed yesterday in Saudi Arabia between Sudan and Chad?

We have taken note of the agreement which was signed between Sudan and Chad in Riyadh on May 3. The agreement follows on a number of other agreements in the past on the same question. I am thinking in particular of the Tripoli agreement of February 8, 2006 and the Cannes declaration of February 15 this year.

What is important from our point of view is that the agreement be implemented, and we call on the two parties to implement on the ground the commitments they have made.

As we’ve said repeatedly, the normalization of relations between Sudan and Chad is in our view an essential condition before a possible political settlement to the crisis in Darfur can be considered.

Q - Is the idea of an international force on the borders still on the table?

We consider that such an idea is still useful. Once again, the agreement reached in Riyadh follows on past agreements concluded in the same spirit between Chad and Sudan. In our view the idea of an international presence is still topical.

Q - What’s happening about it?

As you know, there are contacts in New York. Discussions on the question are continuing. The Security Council is continuing its work. We would like to see an international presence realized.

Q - Is there a written draft?

A number of ideas have been floated. Certain elements have been implemented such as provisions for monitoring the border between Chad and Sudan. But we consider that we should move beyond that. We continue to support this idea which must be implemented in liaison with the countries concerned.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Q - The situation has deteriorated in the Palestinian territories. It is possible that the president of the Palestinian authority will ask for early elections…. Would you comment?

With regard to the political situation in the Palestinian territories, I’ve no particular comment. This is a matter above all for the Palestinians themselves.

As regards international aid to the Palestinians, we continue to advocate the resumption of direct aid. A number of decisions have been taken recently by the Palestinians to channel this aid. A fund was set up under the authority of Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. This is important because it met one of the international demands. We want to continue our efforts to see that international aid is resumed directly since, as you know, a substantial amount is given only it is not going through the Palestinian Authority. Our position hasn’t changed on this point.

Q - Financial aid can’t reach the Palestinians. Palestinian banks can’t unblock money for the Palestinians. Even Finance Minister Fayyad hasn’t managed to unblock the situation.

We consider that these banking restrictions should be lifted.

Q - Who imposes these restrictions?

We take the view that direct financial aid should be restored and the banking restrictions lifted. The fund which was set up maybe one way to resume direct aid. What is important for us is that this should all be done transparently and under the authority of Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.

Q - But can’t the EU do something? Isn’t it possible for the Europeans to unfreeze the banking situation?

I don’t know the details of these banking restrictions which depend to a large extent on other partners rather than the Europeans. But I’m giving you our position.

(…)

AFGHANISTAN

Q - About the hostages in Afghanistan. The Taliban said today the situation was completely blocked and they’d not been contacted by the Afghan authorities in Kabul. Can you confirm the impasse and are you worried about the lack of contact since the ultimatum expires in just a few hours?

We don’t wish to make any specific comment on the statements you’ve just mentioned because obviously discretion is essential. But we have been fully mobilized from the outset in this matter to secure the release of the hostages within as short a time as possible.

In the present context and as far as we are concerned, it goes without saying that we have had and we continue to have all useful and possible contacts.

Q - Are you encouraging the Afghan authorities to do the same?

I refer you to what I’ve just said. We consider that all useful and possible contacts are to be made. That’s what we’re doing on our side.

Q - Even with the Taliban?

All possible and useful contacts.

Q - But what are the French troops in Afghanistan doing? How long will you be staying?

You mustn’t mix the issues. We were talking just now of the hostages. That’s a very serious, a very grave matter.

With regard to the presence of troops, I refer you to what the minister has said. We are in Afghanistan under a UN mandate. It’s an operation in which a number of countries are taking part, a number of nations, and as you know, we have in this context a presence that the president recently decided to stabilize.

For the rest, I refer you to what the minister said about the fact that we quite obviously have no intention of remaining in the country permanently.

Q - But the international community is not succeeding in Afghanistan. The Taliban are stronger than before. The presence of foreign troops in the country has brought about the opposite effect to what was sought. What does France want to do now?

What is important, I repeat, is that this operation is taking place under UN auspices and a UN mandate. That’s the first point.

The second is that obviously, as we’ve said repeatedly, there can be no purely military solution to the problems of Afghanistan. It is obvious that in the case of Afghanistan, as in other cases, a major part of the solution is political, and that is why we’ve advocated for greater political accompaniment in the case of Afghanistan. We continue to hold this opinion.

I believe one shouldn’t be overly focused on the military aspect, which represents only one of the aspects of the solution and which is a means for the international community to support a return to stability and development in Afghanistan. But of course, a major part of the solution is political in nature.

Q - Italy has floated the idea of an international conference for Afghanistan. What do you think?

It’s maybe an idea to be examined. I don’t believe that there’s been a decision taken on this. We stand ready, as I’ve said before, to consider all initiatives of a political nature that may contribute to stability in Afghanistan, in liaison of course with the Afghan authorities.

SYRIA/IRAN/LEBANON

Q - What do you think of the meeting between the Syrian foreign minister and his American counterpart? They didn’t even discuss the situation in Lebanon. Is France going to be the only one ignoring Syria?

There was the conference at Sharm el-Sheikh, which isn’t over since it’s continuing today and at which we are represented.

On the sidelines of the conference, there were a number of contacts, including between Ms Rice and Mr. Mouallem. It’s a meeting between a Syrian official and an American official so the meeting is foremost a decision for the two countries concerned. I’ve no particular comment on it. According to an American source, the meeting was devoted primarily, if not exclusively, to the question of Iraq, which is the purpose of the conference at Sharm el-Sheikh. We took note of that.

As we’ve said repeatedly, we consider that Syria and Iran must and can make a useful contribution to the stabilization of Iraq as neighbors. That is why we took part in the meeting that was held in Baghdad. We’re taking part in the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting and we consider that with regard to the Iraq question, it may be quite useful having contacts with Syria and Iran.

(…)

Q - According to the Lebanese press this morning, France isn’t succeeding in imposing its draft for the tribunal in the Security Council.

One can read a lot of things in the Lebanese press. Nicolas Michel, the UN legal counsel, is back. He briefed the Security Council and presented the main findings of his mission. Now I believe that people are waiting for Ban Ki-moon to return—he’s still in the region and is due back in New York. At that point there’ll be an evaluation of the question.

What is important in our view is that we supported Mr. Michel’s mission which was aimed at trying to break the deadlock with regard to the tribunal. It was a good thing for Mr. Michel to be able to meet with all the parties concerned. We also noted that Mr. Michel told us on his return that all the parties he’d met had expressed their support in principle for the establishment of the tribunal. That’s a very important point.

We observe, and we’re not alone, because it was also what Mr. Michel noted, that the internal procedure for ratifying the agreement on the tribunal is blocked for the duration on the Lebanese side. Parliament hasn’t met, and so the procedure has not been able to follow its course. So we share Mr. Michel’s assessment that there exists serious doubt as to whether the Lebanese parliament will meet before the end of its ordinary session which is supposed to conclude at the end of May.

Given this situation, in accordance with the commitments made by the international community, we consider that the Security Council has to help Lebanon overcome the present stalemate. It is in this spirit that one has to see any eventual intervention by the Security Council. It would be to assist Lebanon, to assist the Lebanese authorities in overcoming the present impasse and give a little bit of a boost to get the tribunal into existence.

Q - France presented a text establishing the tribunal under chapter 7, and it was rejected by the others. Can you confirm this?

We’re not at that stage. At this point Mr. Michel has briefed countries on his mission. We’re waiting for the UN secretary-general to return, and on that basis we’ll see how the discussions in the Security Council go.

Q - You said that France was in favor of dialogue with Syria and Iran. What is the current level of diplomatic communications between Syria and France? Would France be in favor of a meeting on the sidelines of an international gathering as Ms Rice did?

The present state of our relations with Syria is known. There has been no recent ministerial contact. We have an embassy in Damascus which has all useful contacts with the Syrian authorities. For the rest we have to wait and see what political line is taken by the French authorities after the elections on Sunday on this question and on others. Everything I’m saying today is subject to the political directions of the new president and new government.

Q - Is the current government blocking contacts?

We adopted a line of conduct that you know about, which is not to have contact with Syria at ministerial level. So there’s been no recent ministerial contact with Syria. But we do have contacts through our embassy. There have also been parliamentary contacts, a recent visit by a senator. There was also a meeting organized in Damascus on the Mediterranean cultural workshop in which Regis Debray took part.

Q - There’ve been no contacts, not even unofficial, with the Syrian delegation?

At Sharm el-Sheikh, no, I don’t believe so. But there may have been contacts with officials between the French delegation and other delegations. I’ve not been informed of any specific contact with the Syrian delegation, but nothing precludes it.

IRAQ

Q - Do you have any comment on the results of the international conference at Sharm el-Sheikh? Are you satisfied?

We’re represented there and we’re waiting for the end of the meeting to make an evaluation. We consider this idea of an international compact for Iraq interesting. I’d also like to remind you that the minister was there for the start of the meeting in Abu Dhabi on the international compact, in September 2006. We believe the international community must support the efforts to find a solution to the crisis in Iraq. We consider that from there this point of view there is an interest in pursuing this path, and we support the launch of the compact.

Next, I don't wish to comment on the various contributions. The European Union has announced a contribution. I would remind you, and this is an important element, that France made a very substantial contribution in November 2004 in canceling 80% of Iraq’s debt to us. It was a very significant gesture since, let me remind you, France was Iraq’s third leading creditor in the Paris Club and the debt represented four billion euros i.e. nearly $5 billion. It was a very significant gesture France made at that time.

As you saw, one of the questions at Sharm el-Sheikh is whether other creditors might make the same gesture with respect to Iraq.

In addition we’ve also made an important contribution through the European programs. Since 2003 European programs for Iraq have represented 900 million euros, to which the French contribution can be estimated at 140 million. In addition we have, as we’ve said before, hosted quite a lot of Iraqis on internship programs in France. A total of 650 in 2005 and 2006./.

Embassy of France, May 4, 2007