Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, November 6, 2007)

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


(…)

ANNAPOLIS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE/MIDDLE EAST

Q - …Is Syria definitely going to take part in the conference in Annapolis? Is the field of discussion going to be extended a bit or are you going to focus solely on relations between Israelis and Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestinian state?

There are two distinct things. It has always been clear that we wanted this conference--and this isn’t just France’s position, everyone agreed--to produce concrete results and to deal with the final status of the territories. We’ve said all along that this was where the interest of the meeting lay.

The second point is that it’s a US initiative. Ms Rice has been to the region; she’s sent representatives and is continuing to have contacts. The invitations haven’t been formally sent out at this time.

Aside from the content, there’s the format. This is the point of your first question. You also know our position. In our view, the format has to be as broad as possible, and I understand that the talks are shifting in that direction. Let’s wait now to see what the Americans decide and for the official invitations to be sent.

With regard to the date, I’d like to remind you that the minister, Bernard Kouchner, emphasized the importance of holding the conference after the elections in Lebanon. And this message has been heeded: the latest dates circulating are for the end of November.

Q - Do you think the French and Americans are capable now of imposing a solution in the Middle East? (…) Are they capable of moving things forward, especially with an administration that is nearing the end of its term of office?

I don’t think one should put the question in terms of “the French and the Americans” or “the Americans and the French.” The US has taken the initiative to hold this conference and to leave responsibility for working out the agenda to the two parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians. And there’s an effort by all states—I’m not singling out France in relation to other EU countries—aimed at seeing the conference move forward on the territories’ final status as well as the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The determination of all is being clearly affirmed, and the latest talks between Messrs Abbas and Olmert show that both wish and are resolved to see the Annapolis conference achieve positive results.

France’s commitment in this matter is total. Mr. Kouchner made this clear to all his interlocutors in Istanbul and he reiterated it to Ms Rice. But as I said, it’s an American initiative which we support, not a matter that concerns solely the US and France.

Q - You said France supports broad participation in the conference at Annapolis. You’re certainly speaking of Syria when you say “broad participation.”

I’m speaking of all the countries in the region. Remember that we’ve spoken of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc. To our thinking, it was very broad. We’re not focusing on any one country.

Q - Syria has a very clear dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights. Have you discussed it with the Syrians? (…) Second, why do you say the conference at Annapolis has to be held after the elections in Lebanon?

I’ll first answer your last question. It’s what the minister said, and he emphasized the importance of providing political impetus. If the Lebanese elections go off well, as we all hope, this will give impetus for the entire region. It’s clear that regional stability also depends on what happens in Lebanon.

To go back to Syria We want the participation in Annapolis to be as broad as possible. We think it would be very positive for Syria to take part in it. A communiqué was issued after the meeting between the Syrian president and the two French envoys, the Elysée secretary-general and the president’s diplomatic adviser. The aim is to “advance the search for a solution to the current crisis in Lebanon.” The purpose of the talks with the Syrians was to assure ourselves that the elections in Lebanon would go well, within the established timelines and in accordance with the Constitution.

There was also the minister’s meeting with Mr. Muallem, and there too the purpose of the talks was to ensure that we were on the same approach in seeing to it that the Lebanese elections go well. And you’ll have seen that the statements that were made after these talks reflect the concern of all to see the elections take place free from all interference. The Syrians have also said so.

LEBANON/SYRIA

Q - After the several contacts with Syria, are you optimistic?

Syria has shown its concern, in its public statements and meetings, for the elections in Lebanon to take place in the conditions we’ve just mentioned. It emphasized its opposition to all interference. The minister, Bernard Kouchner, when asked about this at the Arab World Institute yesterday, said, and I’d like to read you his remarks: “There was indeed—it wasn’t the first—a meeting with Mr. al-Muallem. Ambassadors, and in particular Jean-Claude Cousseran, have been sent to Damascus on several occasions. I have personally conveyed the message. We hope that the democratic electoral process in Lebanon takes place according to constitutional rules, on the right date and in the right place. Any interference must be repelled, removed, mustn’t exist, no interference will be tolerated.”

And when asked if he thought the process is going to succeed or if he was worried, like many Lebanese, about a sort of constitutional vacuum, the minister replied: “That was exactly my bet with my interlocutor, the Syrian foreign minister. I told him: if there's a political void, it will be filled in a dangerous way. There will be two governments, two presidents, etc. That can’t help anyone other than to add to the tension, the challenges, and even maybe clashes. And it’s not in Syria’s interest either.”

And to the question: “Is there an agreement with the Syrians or is it a mere observation? The answer was: That’s what the Syrians have called the six points. There’s no signed pact, no bargaining, it’s like that, it’s the law they must apply, and especially no external influence and no interference.”

The minister also recalled that in line with the momentum for the conference in Annapolis, we are working on a donors’ conference to aid the Palestinians, which will be held in Paris on December 17.

Q - The Americans announced today a freeze on the assets of certain Lebanese and Syrian individuals because they’re endangering regional stability. Did the Americans asks for the Europeans to take the same step?

Not to my knowledge.

Q - (…) Regarding Lebanon, Mr. Kouchner says he persuaded Ms Rice. Can you explain the French approach with regard to Lebanon?

He persuaded Ms Rice of the importance of having the Lebanese elections take place according to the constitutional process and within the timelines established so as to elect a president with broad support.

Q - My question is whether France is seeking a compromise between the anti-Syrian majority and pro-Syrian opposition. Apparently the US doesn’t want a compromise between the two. Is there a difference in your assessments?

When we invited the 14 representatives of the Lebanese communities to La Celle Saint-Cloud, there was Hezbollah and, as you know, the Americans didn’t take the same position. Today on the contrary, there’s agreement from everyone to permit the presidential electoral process be held so as to have a president elected with broad support. That is the point on which there’s agreement now, and that’s what Mr. Kouchner meant when he said he’d persuaded Ms Rice.

Q - Second question. It’s a time when Mr. Elkabach is wondering who is behind the assassinations. He’s mentioned Syria, noting that he has no proof, but he also mentioned Israel and Iran. Can you give us any details?

I didn’t understand him the way you did. The minister was speaking of countries that had some influence over the situation in Lebanon. He wasn’t talking at that moment of the assassinations. They’d moved on to the question of outside interference and he’d cited the importance of Iran, Syria and Israel. I even believe he also mentioned Turkey as being a country with a very important role in the region.

Q - You often refer to the desired president in Lebanon having broad support—large rassemblement. (…)

Let’s be quite clear. We’re talking in political terms when we say “president with broad support,” we mean that he will be the president of all the Lebanese. (…) In English you often find the word “consensus” as a translation of rassemblement.

(…)./.

Embassy of France, November 7, 2007