Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, January 9, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
To coincide with the publication of a collective work on “Etat et sociétés fragiles” prepared under the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French Development Agency (éditions Karthala), Philippe Etienne, director general for cooperation and development, will chair a debate at the Foreign Press Center on January 11 at 3 p.m.
The issue of “fragile states” and the allocation of international aid is a central concern of donors, especially at the OECD. This organization is completing the definition of the principles which are to underpin the international commitment to these fragile states. In France, since September 2006, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been conducting an interministerial debate on the assistance allocated to them. The purpose is to better identify the difficulties confronting these countries so as to better adapt the assistance and cooperation we provide.
Q - There’s an article in today’s Le Figaro about the Iraqi government’s steps, through its embassy in Paris, to try to recover a villa that belonged to one of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendants, either his brother or brother-in-law. Can you confirm these moves? Is the ministry involved?
It’s a fairly old matter actually.
What I can tell you is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry for the Economy and Finance are examining very carefully the dossier on Iraqi assets frozen in France under resolution 1483.
This is a sensitive dossier from the legal perspective because it involves property law. That is why the administration is required to solicit the most complete legal opinions and guarantees. This is the action currently being taken.
Our wish is to move forward on this matter, and we’re keeping the Iraqi embassy in Paris informed of developments in the procedure.
Q - So you can confirm that there is definitely a procedure concerning this villa?
Various assets are involved. As I said, these are assets that were frozen after SCR 1483 of May 22, 2003. The villa is in fact part of these, and a procedure is under way to ascertain in what conditions these assets might be unfrozen and returned.
Q - Aside from the villa are there other assets?
I believe there are other assets, but I don’t have details.
Q - What’s your reaction to the new threat today from the Algerian GSPC made against France in a communiqué calling for the group’s supporters to attack French nationals in Algeria?
We take terrorist threats very seriously wherever they come from. As you know, the French authorities are very vigilant and permanently mobilized to take all the necessary measures to deal with this type of threat.
Q - But you’ve no specific information about the new threats and the security measures for the French in Algeria?
With regard to the threats themselves and an analysis of them, this, as you know, is an intelligence matter, and in general we remain very discreet on such questions.
As you can imagine, our services are closely following everything connected to the GSPC and the activities of this kind of group, but I can’t say more.
As for Algeria, there’s a website advising French nationals there and elsewhere. So far as I know there’ve been no changes recently in the advisories to French nationals in Algeria.
Q - Do you have some idea of the number of French nationals in Algeria?
I’m told there are about 40,000 registered with our consulates, of these, 28,000 are in Algiers and 9,000 in Annaba.
Q - Do you have any information as to why the threat was made today?
I’m not the best placed to tell you where the GSPC communiqués are coming from and why they were made on one or another day. I’ve no information to explain it.
Q - Is there any development in resolving the problem of the drones for UNIFIL for patrols over southern Lebanon? The defense minister recently went to Beirut and visited the south. She mentioned the matter.
I saw a number of articles had appeared in the Lebanese press yesterday on this question. I checked this morning, and no-one reported anything new to me. If there were developments, you’d be told about them.
Q - How do you evaluate how France’s role is perceived in Lebanon now?
I return the question to you. I don’t know--I hope that our role is well-perceived. We are there to implement resolution 1701 in a multilateral framework and in close liaison with the Lebanese authorities, and we want to work with all the Lebanese for the success of this political process and to make a success of Paris III.
Q - But you’re responsible for analyzing France’s image in foreign countries, you should be able to give us something on the subject.
I believe the vast majority of Lebanese understand perfectly well the sense of our action there, which is not an isolated action as I said. We’re acting within the international community. It’s not a dialogue between France and Lebanon that is being established, it’s something much larger than that. We feel that this is well-perceived by the people.
Q - Can you tell us about the new measures taken by the French Embassy in Beirut?
In what area?
Q - Security.
Traditionally we don’t give out information on such matters. I’ve not heard that arrangements were changed recently. Obviously in a context like Lebanon we take all the requisite security measures all the time.
Q - What’s France’s reaction to the labor protest movement starting in Lebanon today?
I saw that there was a labor protest movement developing over the package of reforms that was adopted. But you know, there are labor protests in lots of countries as soon as people want to introduce reforms. It’s not just in Lebanon. It doesn’t look to me as if it will bring into question the reforms that were adopted by the Lebanese cabinet. They will serve very largely as the basis for the Paris III conference.
Q - Does that mean France finds the situation in Lebanon normal?
You’re referring to a specific point, a labor movement. I’m answering you. To say that the situation is normal doesn’t say very much. The situation in Lebanon is complex and difficult, we all realize it. This doesn’t prevent us from working to make the Paris III conference a success so as to help Lebanon and the Lebanese.
Q - The opposition has been in the street for 23 days and now the labor unions are going on the street. At the same time France is planning this conference to help Lebanon. Does France think this economic conference can succeed in these conditions?
We’re working in that perspective, in any case. We really hope that it will help Lebanon, that it will help it resolve its difficulties. We don’t feel there is very broad opposition to the actual principle of the conference. I’ve not seen any statements even in the Lebanese opposition, indicating that there was any hostility to holding such a conference. The Lebanese have all understood perfectly well what the purpose of the conference is. Next, there may be debates between Lebanese about the content of the program, that’s something else. I repeat, on the principle of the conference I’ve not noted any opposition.
Q - Can you tell us more about the preparatory meeting tomorrow--the number of countries invited, and the international institutions that will be attending?
We’ve spoken about the number of countries before. It will be the countries that’ll be represented on the 25th; there’ll be about 30 countries. Among the international institutions, there’ll be the IMF, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the Arab funds.
Q - Sources close to Nabih Berry, the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, publicly criticized the action of the French ambassador to Beirut, accusing him of torpedoing an initiative to bring about reconciliation and a solution. Do you have any comment on this accusation?
I’ve no comment. It is clearly not the role in any way or the wish of our ambassador to interfere in the discussions among Lebanese on the political aspects, still less to hinder any solution. On the French side we will support any solution that has the consent of Lebanon’s political forces. There was undoubtedly a poor interpretation.
Q - Do you have any comment on the US military operation against presumed members of the al Qaeda network? In the wire service reports, I also saw that the military operation was launched from the US base in Djibouti where France also has a military base. Was France informed in one way or another? Did it assist or participate in this operation?
To answer the second part of your question, I don’t believe that we were involved in this operation. Also, Djibouti is a sovereign country, and the fact that that the Americans used their base at Djibouti to carry out the operation is a matter for those two countries.
I’ve no particular comment on the American action. I saw that the Somali president had given his reaction, but it’s not for us to make a judgment.
What seems to us important for Somalia is finding a solution that lasts. You saw that there was an African Union Peace and Security Council meeting yesterday.
Our wish is to see a political dialogue started in Somalia, one that is wide open, with as much involvement as possible of all the Somali political forces.
Of course the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces also has to be considered since Ethiopia itself announced it was going to pull out its troops, and the establishment of a stabilization force. We’re working on this. We have a framework in resolution 1725. We have to see now what the mandate of the force could be, what countries could be contributors and also its financing because, as you know, a problem of financing may come up.
The European Union is, I believe, ready to play an important role to support stabilization in Somalia, eventually through the Peace Facility. Louis Michel was there a short while go. We’re currently considering all these aspects.
Q - What legal basis did the US rely on to operate militarily in Somalia? If there’s no legal basis, then in your view isn’t it a violation of state sovereignty? I’m astonished that you didn’t have a specific reaction on this.
With respect to the legal basis, that’s more a question for the Americans. I can say that there was no protest from the Somali authorities, on the contrary I read before coming here that the Somali president thought the US was entitled to carry out this operation. So I’ll confine myself to noting what was said by the Americans and the Somalis.
Q - Even so, aren’t there rules that are binding on everyone in the international community?
If you’re on Somali territory and the Somali authorities don’t protest and, on the contrary, think the operation is justified, you can’t ask me to be “more royalist than the king,” if I may venture to use the expression.
Q - But if one applies your logic to Iraq?
No, it’s slightly differently. I don’t think that when the Americans intervened in Iraq, it was spontaneously supported and endorsed by the Iraqi authorities at the time.
In this case there’s an American operation in Somali territory, there are Somali authorities in place, and I will point out that there was no protest, that the Somali authorities actually consider the action justified. So there’s nothing else to say.
Q - Your answer leads to another question. Do you think the president of Somali represents an independent sovereign state and that his words have legal weight which can justify military or other actions?
In any case there are authorities whom we recognize, specifically the federal transition government which was in Baidoa and can now be installed in Mogadishu. These are authorities whom we recognize and with whom we’re working.
Next you ask me how to qualify the Somali state. I won’t get into this debate. Obviously Somalia has gone through a very serious crisis and this has had an effect on the functioning the state—that’s quite obvious. But at the same time there are authorities who are in place and whom we recognize./.
Embassy of France, January 9, 2007