Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, January 5, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy will make a trip to Saudi Arabia tomorrow Saturday, January 6. He will be received by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saoud and will also have talks with his counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz al-Saoud.
The minister’s visit comes in the context of the regular and trustful consultations the French authorities have with the Saudi authorities. Regional matters, particularly the situation in Lebanon, will be discussed during the audience granted by the king and during the minister’s talks with his Saudi counterpart.
Q - Will trade issues be on the agenda, particularly concerning the sale of aircraft?
I don’t know precisely if this will be discussed. It’s a visit that is being undertaken as part of the regular consultations between the French and Saudi authorities. In 2006 alone, let me remind you, President Chirac made a state visit to Saudi Arabia from March 4 – 6, Ms Lagarde went to Riyadh in April, Mr. Breton was there in May and Ms Alliot-Marie on September 3. On the Saudi side, we had the official visit to France by the crown prince in July.
So there are regular contacts. The main purpose of the minister’s visit is to discuss political issues, specifically the regional issues and more particularly the situation in Lebanon since we’ve the prospect of the Paris conference on January 25. We know that Saudi Arabia plays a very important role in the region and has great influence in Lebanon. It’s the political issues that will be discussed primarily, but I imagine that bilateral aspects won’t be forgotten.
Q - Is there a particular message that France wishes to convey to Saudi Arabia concerning the situation in Lebanon?
There’s no particular message. It’s just that we consider Saudi Arabia has a very major role to play in the region and in Lebanon, and we think it is absolutely necessary in this period preceding the Paris conference, which is a very sensitive one for Lebanon, to confer with the Saudi authorities on this question. There’s no specific message, but I think it is essential for there to be close consultations between the two countries on these regional issues. There are regular phone contacts between the president and the king, and between the minister and his counterpart. So the visit will allow for more in-depth discussions at this time.
Q - Political or economic discussions ahead of the Paris III conference?
The conference on January 25 is not an economic conference, as you know. There are several aspects, including a political one. It’s obviously a major, political show of support for Mr. Siniora’s government. One can’t separate the political aspects on one side and the economic aspects on the other. We’ll be addressing the whole of the Lebanese question.
Q - Do you have details about Paris III since there’s a Lebanese mission arriving in Paris Wednesday to discuss the conference with their French counterparts?
There will in fact be a preparatory meeting for officials in Paris on January 10. There’s not just the Lebanese delegation. Countries due to attend the Paris conference are also to be represented at the meeting with officials on January 10, chaired by Mr. Jouyet.
As for the conference itself, as you know, an important stage was reached yesterday when the Lebanese cabinet adopted a package of economic and social reforms. President Chirac discussed it yesterday by phone with Prime Minister Siniora. He welcomed what constitutes an important step ahead of the Paris III conference.
We consider the conference an opportunity for the international community to reiterate its support for the Lebanese government’s efforts to build confidence, continue the country’s reconstruction and overhaul public finances. These efforts are being made for all Lebanese.
I’d like to add that preparations for the conference are going forward satisfactorily, that about 30 countries have been invited along with a number of international organizations, including the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the Arab funds of course.
The objective, as I said, consists of three main sections: political support for the Lebanese government, everything having to do with sector support for Lebanon, especially in economic and social matters, and the last one, the issue of debt.
Those are the main objectives, but at this stage I can’t be more explicit because we have to wait for the conclusion of the meeting next week. Also it’s not customary to anticipate the announcements that are made in this type of conference.
Q - Have you had positive response from the 30 countries invited?
The invitations have gone out, and we think many will attend. It is too soon to say who will represent this and that country—that choice will depend on each participating state. You saw what the State Department said yesterday about US participation. We are confident the conference will be well-attended, and it will be chaired, may I remind you, by President Chirac.
Q - The package adopted by the Lebanese wasn’t unanimously supported in Lebanon. Aren’t you worried that Paris III will lead to a further division in the country in addition to the existing ones?
I don’t know whether it has unanimous support or not, but what we see is that it was adopted by the Lebanese cabinet. It’s certainly the package that will serve as the basis for examining the Lebanese situation at the Paris conference, it’s a package that does propose a number of measures and sets out a perspective. So this is the basis we will be using in our preparations for the Paris conference. It really is in the interest of all Lebanese, beyond the divisions you mention, to rally to prepare this conference whose sole aim, as I said, is to help Lebanon and the Lebanese as a whole. As I said, the presentation and adoption of this package is an important stage in preparing for the Paris III conference.
Q - So the conference will definitely take place?
We’re definitely working on the assumption the conference will take place. The date was given out by the president and recalled this morning in his New Year’s wishes to the diplomatic corps.
Q - What’s your assessment now of the political situation in Lebanon? Is it going to facilitate the task of organizing the conference and getting positive results?
For me to say that the present situation is likely to facilitate our talks would be a bit of an exaggeration. However, the prospect of the Paris conference is likely to help improve things in Lebanon, and that is what we wanted, as I’ve said, because it really is essential for all Lebanese to work together to prepare the conference.
On the political level I don’t have much more to say. There was Amr Moussa's mission, which we supported. I gather there’s the prospect of the mission being revisited. I understand that from a political point of view the situation remains tense in Lebanon. We would like to see, and continue to hope for, an agreement between the Lebanese political forces to overcome the current difficulties. I can’t go into more detail about the discussions.
Q - What is France’s reaction to the Israeli military operation in Ramallah, which left three people dead and injured 25 Palestinians, and to these daily operations by Israel?
We’ve not reacted specifically to this operation. But in general you know our position on this kind of military operation. We consider it is obviously not a good response to the situation in the Territories. We advocate the resumption of a political process. There were positive elements in the meeting between Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas—the first meeting since Hamas took power in the Palestinian government. That’s something in the right direction. There was this summit yesterday between Mr. Olmert and Mr. Mubarak, which we hope will help move things forward. With respect to military operations, our position hasn’t changed and we condemn this type of operation.
Q - You said yesterday in the electronic briefing that consultations were taking place among the European countries on the position to take vis-à-vis the executions of two close aides to Saddam Hussein. Can you tell us more about the consultations? Were they successful, did you reach a common position?
In the exchanges of messages I saw this morning, it seemed to me that things had moved towards a position being taken by the presidency, and that the Iraqi authorities would be approached. That in any case is what we recommended on the French side. As always, these European procedures take a bit of time because you have to have consultations in 27 capitals. We hope to reach a common European position and make our position known to the Iraqi authorities.
Q - Is France in favor of a move to ask that the executions not take place as the UN apparently is asking?
Yes, that’s the general thrust of our position. We are opposed to the death penalty and so by definition we hope that this death penalty is not applied. It’s something we told the Iraqi authorities several months ago, particularly in Saddam Hussein’s case. It’s a general EU position, and the idea is to reaffirm it in the present circumstances to the Iraqi authorities./.
Embassy of France, January 5, 2007