Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, February 6, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy is meeting today with Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. They will discuss human rights violations worldwide, as well as the establishment of a UN Human Rights Council. We will reaffirm our support for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, an essential part of the UN system promoting and protecting human rights.
Today Ms. Arbour is participating a signing ceremony for the international agreement to protect all persons against forced disappearances. She also took part in a debate with the plenary session of the National Consultative Committee on Human Rights and met with the secretary-general of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. Tomorrow, she will take part in a round table with NGO representatives hosted by the International Human Rights Federation. Finally, she will address the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee and will meet Justice Minister Pascal Clément for a working lunch.
Q - Is this international agreement on forced disappearances legally binding?
It will be binding on all nations that sign and ratify the agreement. […] You know that in French law, for example, international agreements trump domestic law; once we’ve ratified them, we’re therefore bound to respect them.
Basically, the agreement defines the crime of forced disappearance and acknowledges a certain number of new rights for the victims. It requires nations to penalize forced disappearances in their criminal legislation and to take preventive measures. There are also provisions concerning adoptions stemming from forced disappearances. As you know, unfortunately, notably in Latin America, there are children of disappeared parents who were adopted. Those adoptions may be annulled. Finally, the agreement contains a follow-up mechanism.
Q - Is it retroactive?
I don’t think so, because there’s no retroactivity in criminal matters.
Q - You mentioned a figure of 41,000 cases?
There are 41,000 cases that haven’t been resolved since 1981.
Q - Where did you find this figure?
I think it’s a figure that’s accepted by experts. You know that a committee in Geneva has been working on this issue since 1979. France chairs this committee. It is made up of experts and I believe that they established the figure within this framework.
Not all abductions are forced disappearances. We’re talking about cases in which we know that the victims were opponents, defenders of human rights.
Q - Does it also concern displaced persons, for example in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion?
I’m not sure. That example relates to more traditional situations of conflicts between nations. Here were talking about situations in which there’s no conflict between nations but rather a domestic situation that allows this kind of operation to take place.
Q - You’ve probably read the Quartet’s conclusions. In five different places, the Palestinians are asked to respect their commitments toward the Quartet. But Israel is never asked to respect its commitments. What’s your response?
[…] The important thing is that the Quartet met. We had been asking for that meeting for a long time. It met in Washington, which is important, because it was the first time since 2002 that it met in Washington. That shows the Americans’ desire to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Like the European side, we reiterate that this conflict is completely central and should be treated as such. So it’s a step in the right direction.
As for the Quartet’s results, there was a call for reviving the process, for a political dialogue. We believe that’s a step in the right direction. There’s also the idea, even if it doesn’t appear so clear-cut in the final communiqué, that there are prerequisites in the Road Map, but that we can also talk about the parameters of a final agreement. That seems important. It isn’t stated in the communiqué, but Ms. Rice stated it earlier and it’s something that seems interesting.
There’s also support for initiatives taken, notably the trilateral meeting that could take place in the coming weeks.
To answer your question more precisely, we are asking things of the Palestinians because we are in a situation where there’s a lack of interlocutors on the Palestinian side. There’s Mahmoud Abbas, but there’s no Palestinian government to serve as an interlocutor to reopen the peace process.
It’s quite legitimate for the international community to appeal to the Palestinians to [establish a government of national unity] to take into account the Quartet’s demands and to become an interlocutor in the revival of the peace process.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t expect a commitment from the Israelis. We’ve said a number of times that we want Mr. Olmert to keep the commitments he made after his meeting with Mr. Abbas on December 23, and the Road Map provides a balanced framework in which both sides have commitments.
What’s urgent, as we see it, and as the foreign minister said a few days ago, is for a Palestinian government to be formed and for us to have an interlocutor who takes into account the Quartet’s conditions. I believe the Europeans insisted on this during the meeting. […] If a government is formed and takes into account the Quartet’s conditions, the international community will be ready to respond.
Q - President Uribe appealed to France last week not just to do everything it could to reach a humanitarian agreement, but also to help the Colombian army, notably with logistics, sophisticated equipment and intelligence. Would it be possible to envision this kind of help, in your opinion, and would it be useful in locating the hostages, or do you think it’s dangerous and should be avoided, as France opposes a military operation?
The release of hostages, particularly Ingrid Bétancourt, remains a priority. The foreign minister visited Colombia last year, and it’s a case we’re following on a daily basis.
Second, as we’ve said several times and the minister repeated a few weeks ago, while receiving support committees, we see no place for a military solution. We warn against the risk of an attempt to release the hostages by military means. The Colombian government is well aware of our position on this. I think it’s shared by the hostages’ families.
Third, we are of course ready to help with a humanitarian exchange, using peaceful means.
Q - How does France perceive Iran’s latest diplomatic offensive, with respect to open visits to nuclear sites on one hand, and spiritual leader Khamenei’s statements concerning his wish to help resolve the problems in Iraq on the other?
On the first point, it’s certain that the Iranians are exercising good public diplomacy on the nuclear issue. They are combining statements on the status of centrifuge installation with invitations to various countries to verify what’s happening on the ground. I think they’ve invited representatives of non-aligned countries to visit, as well as Western diplomats.
For us, what’s important is the IAEA—the fact that the IAEA can do its work on the ground and report back to us. You know resolution was passed on December 23, and a report was scheduled. We expect it around February 20. That means the IAEA inspectors must be able to do their work in good conditions and tell us what’s going on in Iran, notably with respect to the installation of centrifuges, which we hear about every day in the press.
I have no other comment on the Iranian diplomatic efforts you mention. Of course, any overture is interesting. But we have to say that the Iranians are fulfilling their obligations toward the IAEA. It’s the IAEA that sets the standards in this case, and will tell us exactly where we stand with respect to the status of the Iranian nuclear program.
As for the second aspect, Iraq, I haven’t heard any very recent statements by the Iranians. We’ve said a number of times that if Iran has the political will to contribute to the stability of Iraq and of the region, that’s obviously a very good thing, and we urge it to move in that direction. You’ve seen that the Iraqis have had the idea of holding a regional conference with neighboring countries and possibly others. If that happens, it would be a step in the right direction.
Q - Why hasn’t a French official visited Teheran?
[…] A French official is posted permanently in Iran: our ambassador. It’s a good way to hold a dialogue. If it’s opportune, we’ll see about sending someone else. The foreign minister has talked about this a few times in recent days. He very clearly stated that on nuclear issue, Mr. Solana is the interlocutor with the Iranians. On other issues, such as regional ones, there’s nothing preventing us from speaking with Iran. The foreign minister himself spoke to his Iranian counterpart several times—in Beirut last August and in New York in September.
Q - Is any changed envisioned in the status of the national tribunal?
Are you alluding to Chapter 7? I know there’s a debate about that in Lebanon, but our position remains unchanged. We believe we’re in a process in which an agreement must be concluded between the UN and the Lebanese authorities. The project was transmitted to the Lebanese authorities. We are waiting for the process to conclude on the Lebanese side, and it seems like by far the best formula.
We’ve already talked about the Chapter 7 formula, which is reserved for failed states, when there’s no functioning government that has the authority to conclude an agreement.
So to answer your question, the French position remains unchanged.
Q - But there’s also talk of a change in the content of the tribunal’s status, especially with respect to article 15.
We’ve already talked about it. The situation is as follows: The UN did its work in liaison with the Lebanese authorities. The proposed status didn’t appear out of nowhere, the UN legal adviser drafted it in conjunction with the Lebanese authorities. It was then approved by the UN Security Council and conveyed to the Lebanese authorities. The Lebanese Council of Ministers adopted it. And now the problem is to get it approved by the Lebanese parliament. We know that’s where it’s blocked.
That’s where we stand. If at some point the Lebanese go back to the UN and ask for a change in such and such point of the status, we’ll see. But it’s not up to us to take the initiative.
Q - A few French deputies are working to include Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations. What’s France’s position?
We’ve seen this initiative by various French deputies. As members of Parliament, they are acting independently.
I have no comment to make on this request, but France’s position is well known. It has been stated by both the president and foreign minister. We believe Hezbollah is a political force in Lebanon and encourage them to evolve more and more in this direction, becoming a movement that renounces weapons and expresses itself within the Lebanese political and institutional framework.
The French authorities don’t have the same position as the French deputies.
Q - But this initiative was taken by a deputy belonging to the same majority as the president, the foreign minister and the French government. So there’s a contradiction.
Within the parliamentary majority, there can be different opinions on different subjects. That doesn’t mean the French authorities, the government or the president are implicated.
I believe a group of some 40 deputies signed this petition. Once again, that’s their right. It doesn’t implicate the French authorities, the government or the president. It’s not a position shared by the French authorities.
Q - Is there a list of leaders who are attending the Africa/France summit? I think Laurent Gbagbo isn’t coming. Do you have any details? We’re seeing increased Chinese influence in Africa […] While the Chinese have more and more influence in Africa, the French have less. Do you agree? Is there room for both countries or are you feeling a decrease in French influence on the continent?
Concerning your first point, I refer you to the Elysée. […]
As for your second point, I know a lot is being said about the Chinese presence in Africa. It’s a subject we’re discussing with the Chinese. We are consulting, notably on African issues, with the Chinese. Our Africa director was in Beijing not long ago to discuss the subject. It’s quite legitimate for a country like China—an important country, a permanent member of the Security Council—to be interested in Africa.
There may be economic competition, that’s completely natural. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be such competition. But at the same time, I think there’s no political competition. In any case, we don’t feel like we have entitlements in Africa that are being contested.
We also very much hope that China will use its political influence. I’m thinking, for example, of Sudan. It’s obvious that China has considerable influence and that it can be used to foster the settlement of crises, notably in Darfur, to work on behalf of the deployment of the hybrid AU/UN force that we strongly support. Those are the only comments I can make on this point.
Q - The problem is there can’t be competition when the same rules aren’t respected. China doesn’t abide by the same conditions as the EU. Is it your objective to get China to adopt the same positions as the EU?
That’s up to the concerned countries. We’re talking about African countries; it’s up to them to decide in their bilateral relations with the EU and France, on one hand, and with China on the other, what requirements they want to stress. It’s hard for me to give a general answer, but its desirable for competition to take place on a level playing field and to consider the interests of the countries in question—socially, economically, environmentally… I can’t go beyond that.
Q - At the recent Beijing Summit, African leaders flocked to hear the Chinese president. Don’t you have the impression that there’s a risk of comparison with the number leaders who will be in Cannes? And when you say you hope the Chinese will use their influence in Sudan, doesn’t that mean they aren’t doing so at the moment?
On the first point, let me say that for us, there was no political competition. Earlier, we were complaining that Africa was somewhat left behind by globalization, that it wasn’t one of the international community’s priorities. Let’s not complain now when we see a great country like China taking an interest in Africa. That in itself is a positive thing. We also hope the United States will take an interest in Africa, that the international community will take an interest in Africa to help it develop.
As for Sudan, I’ll just say that it’s important for Chinese influence to make itself felt and to help resolve a case like Darfur’s before the Security Council. I am not making accusations against China. I’m expressing a wish that its influence be used to help us progress toward a solution of this kind of crisis.
Q - Was it your Africa director who went to Beijing?
We regularly consult with China on African issues.
Q - But is it exceptional for your Africa director to go to China specifically to talk about Africa with the Chinese?
No, it’s not exceptional, but it’s a little new. A few years ago, we weren’t consulting with China on African issues. It’s something that’s developing.
Q - It’s not his first time going?
No, we regularly consult with China on African issues.
Q - Yesterday the head of state said the Moroccan plan on the Western Sahara was constructive. This morning or yesterday evening, the Sahraoui foreign minister accused France of siding with the Moroccans. What’s your response, and can you tell us more about France’s position on the Sahara crisis?
Indeed, a Moroccan delegation is in Paris. It met with the president yesterday and should see the foreign minister this afternoon. One of the purposes of the trip is to present Moroccan ideas on autonomy.
The Elysée called these proposals constructive. And to answer your question, we are not taking sides with anyone. What we’ve always said is that we’re in favor of a political solution acceptable to all the parties, within the framework of the UN.
Saying that the Moroccan proposals are constructive isn’t taking sides; it’s simply asking for them to be examined. We hope these proposals will at least be examined. But we aren’t taking sides on the specific content of the proposals.
Embassy of France, February 7, 2007