Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, February 9, 2007)

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


FORUM AFRIQUE AVENIR

President Chirac will visit the “Forum Afrique Avenir” on Monday, February 12. It was his initiative to bring to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie at la Villette, as a prelude to the Africa/France summit, a large number of Africans who epitomize the talents, plans and successes of Africa.

The president will address the forum of African success stories at 12:15 p.m.

Brigitte Girardin, Minister Delegate for Cooperation, Development and Francophony, will take part in the forum which will afford an opportunity for over 60 speakers, including about 20 women, to describe their paths to success in Africa.

The participants, who come from some 40 French, English, Portuguese and Spanish-speaking countries, will speak for all of Africa of the diversity, vitality and creativity of the continent. They will reflect successes in such varied areas as business, rural development, teaching, agrofood, culture, research and media.

Nearly 1,000 young French together with Africans from abroad and Europeans are also expected at the day-long event to talk with these witnesses from Africa who undertake things and succeed. They will also be able to communicate with 20 Internet centers in African countries by means of the ADEN system [a program for digital inclusion in Africa] implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The conclusions of the Forum will be presented to the heads of state and government in Cannes on February 15 and 16.

The objective of the “Forum Afrique Avenir” is to present a realistic and dynamic image of the renewal of Africa by focusing on its entrepreneurial capacities, its ability to innovate, to face the challenges of globalization and bring its full weight to bear in the global balance.

(…)

GLOBAL AIDS FUND

I will read the statement Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy made yesterday, Thursday, February 8:

“I am very pleased that Professor Michel Kazatchkine, ambassador for the battle against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and communicable diseases, has been elected to the post of executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. I congratulate him on his election most warmly.

“In electing Professor Kazatchkine to be the head, the Global Fund has recognized the distinguished contributions of the doctor, research scientist, administrator and diplomat in the fight against the great pandemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. I have been able myself to appreciate the personal and professional qualities of a man who puts his passion and talent into serving a universal cause.

“In choosing Professor Kazatchkine, the Global Fund also acknowledges France’s unwavering commitment by its side in the fight against these three great pandemics. We are the second largest donor to the Fund, contributing 225 million euros in 2006 and 300 million euros announced for 2007. May I remind you that the Fund, with actual total funding of nearly $1.5 billion in 2006, is the first multilateral instrument of its kind. To the same end, the UNITAID initiative, launched by France and supported by 23 other countries, is also helping to facilitate access to drugs for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria for countries in the South.”

MIDDLE EAST

I will read the statement made by Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy this morning.

“I welcome the inter-Palestinian agreement reached in Mecca yesterday on the formation of a national unity government. I pay tribute to the decisive intervention of the king of Saudi Arabia in facilitating the outcome of the negotiations.

“After several weeks of deadly clashes between Palestinian factions, the agreement affords all Palestinians an opportunity to overcome their divisions and rally behind a national unity government.

“The inclusion in the government’s program of respect for international resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO constitutes a step in the right direction, towards full adherence to the international community’s demands to which we are attached, particularly with regard to recognition of Israel.

“In these conditions we consider the formation of the new government on the basis of this program should be encouraged and supported by the international community so as to pave the way for new relations of cooperation and the revival of the peace process.”

Q - The minister insists a lot of recognition of Israel, but is Israel prepared to recognize the PLO or a Palestinian state?

There is a reference to it in the agreements reached with the PLO.

Q - Yes, but not recognition?

France welcomes this agreement. It’s an important element, and you’ll have seen that this is not necessarily the case in all capitals. We earnestly hope that the agreement is implemented and that the international community stands ready to support this new government.

It is also obvious that we remain attached to the Quartet principles and that recognition of Israel remains of course a very important element. Don’t expect us to waver from this line of conduct. In our eyes the important thing is that in the program discussed in the context of these discussions at Mecca, which appear in the annex of the agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas, it is stated that the new government will have to work to achieve its national objectives as defined by the resolutions of the Palestinian National Council, the articles of the fundamental law, the document of national understanding and the decisions at Arab summits.

These are obviously elements we have noted with considerable interest. The future government is also invited to respect Arab and international legality and the agreements signed by the PLO.

That is what is important in our view.

Q - In other words, for France there’ll be no boycott of the new government?

I believe things have to be taken in order. This agreement has been reached, and we consider it to be highly positive. First, because it ends the fighting between Palestinians, which is already a first and extremely positive effect, and because it paves the way for the formation of a new government. This government hasn’t been formed yet, but Mr. Haniyeh is to take on the leadership, and a balance within the government has been agreed between Fatah and Hamas.

It is to be based on a program mentioned in Mr. Abbas’ letter which includes very interesting elements on international legality and respect for agreements signed by the PLO.

From our point of view, all this goes in the right direction, and the French minister has welcomed the agreement. The government will now have to be established on the basis of the program discussed at Mecca, and that is what we think is important.

The European Union foreign ministers will of course be discussing this at their council meeting in Brussels on Monday. Then a Quartet meeting is scheduled for February 21, in Germany. All this goes in the right direction, and on the French side we reacted very quickly and very favorably to the agreement.

Q - What might the practical effects be on France’s position and, beyond that, the EU’s, towards the Palestinian Authority—that’s my first question and the second is, in your view does this new development meet the three conditions laid down by the European community and United Nations?

To take your second point, as the minister said in his remarks, it consists of a step in the right direction towards full compliance with the international community’s demands. When one speaks of a step, it means that there is still some way to go, but that things are moving in the right direction.

To answer the first part of your question, it is obvious that if this direction is confirmed, if the government is formed on that basis, France will definitely be quite ready to see the international community revisit its policy with regard to contacts and cooperation. That is one of the issues, the other being the revival of the peace process with Israel.

Q - To sum up what you said, it’s a step in the right direction but it isn’t enough, correct?

The agreement is a stage, a rather important one of course, but the government hasn’t been formed yet.

Q - But what about the conditions that’ve been laid down?

If the government is formed, taking into account the program which has been discussed in Mecca, then it does open up promising prospects.

Q - When you say the international community must act to revive the peace process, do you intend to work on some ideas with a bit of originality, since the Quartet seems to be at the point of expiring? What can we expect that’s new here?

Our action, and you will see it Monday at the general affairs/external relations council, is to see to it that the French position is shared by our partners as widely as possible. As you can see, reactions in all the capitals are not necessary identical. We have to work with our European partners and also with the Quartet partners so that the signs that come now are ones of encouragement. We must obviously do everything possible not to discourage the Palestinians and tell them that if they continue on the right track, in the right direction, if they go a little further, the international community will be ready then to reconsider its policy regarding contacts and cooperation.

Q - But it’s not only the Palestinians because the Israelis also have to go some of the way?

Yes, of course, and we’ve said all along that in order for the peace process to be revived, the Israelis have to go part of the way, that’s perfectly obvious in our view.

Q - Hamas seems to be making a concession, a step in the right direction to satisfy the international community concerning the three conditions but Israel has never fully respected the 1993 agreements concerning the settlements and Jerusalem. (…) Doesn’t France want to see a more balanced approached with political pressure on Hamas but also on Israel to comply with the commitments?

Without a doubt. Take the example of the recent events concerning the work near Al Aqsa. We reacted a few days ago by calling on Israel to refrain from doing anything that might fuel tensions in Jerusalem. We were very clear about this, and when you talk about respect for agreements, that is of course a very important element. In order for the peace process to be revived, Israel will also have to go part of the way, as I said. It’s clear that on the Israeli side there are discussions and exchanges of ideas about the best way to revive the peace process.

Q - But Israel is build settlements again. (…)

On that our position is clear. As we’ve said, this kind of action, whether we’re talking about expanding the settlements or changing the route of the security barrier--these are unilateral actions which, from our point of view, do not go in the right direction and can only complicate the search for a negotiated settlement. If you refer to what we’re saying on the French side, we reacted just a short time ago to the expansion of the settlements. We also commented again on the wall of separation. There is no ambiguity in our mind about this.

Q - (…) What step can you take to prevent their being a third intifada because of the work [at Al Aqsa]?

We are well aware of the very sensitive nature of the situation of the holy places and like you we remember a number of precedents from the past. We clearly see the risk of the situation degenerating, of becoming poisonous. That is why we said very clearly, a few days ago already, that we were asking Israel to refrain from any act that might fuel tensions. It’s also the reason why we’re paying close attention to the reactions of the Arab and Muslim world. (…)

Q - And at the European level?

At the European level we’ve already taken an initiative by referring the matter to our partners and requesting the EU to make a statement. I would like to point out that there is also a debate on the Israeli side since I saw that some Israeli leaders wanted the work stopped though Prime Minister Olmert isn’t moving in that direction at this time.

Q - (…) Will France now ask its European partners to resume aid [to the Palestinians]? (…)

First, I repeat, but I see that it’s hard for me to get the message across, European aid was not broken off. As we’ve said and have been saying for some time, for 2006 the EU actually gave more aid than in previous years, 650 million euros.

It’s just that our aid in 2006 went through the special mechanism that was set up, the transitional international mechanism.

The issue now is whether we can establish, or not, normal contacts with the Palestinian government and resume cooperation with this government. So the issue isn’t so much as to resume aid but knowing whether we can begin to work again normally with the Palestinian government.

(…)

Q - About recognition of Israel. Do you have reason to think the new Palestinian government will recognize Israel soon? One would have thought the ideal moment would have been during the negotiations in Mecca.

You have to see where we’ve come from. We are of course very attached to the Quartet principles. At the same time, we are well aware of the complexity of the matter. The discussions in Mecca were fairly complicated on the Palestinian side. You can see that things are moving. What’s important is for this movement to go in the right direction. It seem to us that it does.

(..)

FRANCE/IRAQ

Q - What’s the significance of opening an embassy office in Irbil?

It’s a project that’s been in our minds. It will actually be a local office of the French embassy, located in Irbil. It’s definitely not an autonomous diplomatic representation. It would simply be an offshoot of our embassy in Baghdad, established in Irbil because we think it is useful to have a presence in a region which is important in Iraq politically and economically.

As you saw from the papers this morning, for the time being it is still a project. Given the security conditions, the difficulty of links between Irbil and Baghdad, the office hasn’t opened yet.

Q - But it will have consular or diplomatic status?

That’s a more technical point that will have to be taken up with the Iraqi authorities. Normally, it’s an offshoot of the embassy, a local office of the embassy and it should enjoy diplomatic immunities.

Q - Are we to see this as a recognition of a federal Iraq?

We’ll have to wait and see what kind of federalism evolves in Iraq. It’s a recognition of the region’s importance. We have a lot of diplomatic and consular offices in places which are not necessarily capitals. But at the same time the representation will not be distinct from our embassy in Baghdad. It will be placed directly under the authority of our embassy in Baghdad.

(…)

LEBANON

Q - About the incidents on the Israeli-Lebanese border this week…. Do you think that UNIFIL is fitted to this mission? (…)

There was this incident which occurred, which is serious, as the UNIFIL spokesman said. You saw that the Security Council reacted and adopted a statement requesting the parties to ensure that this type of incident doesn’t happen again and asking them to show restraint.

At the same time it is interesting to note that that it is happening now, and it’s a rather isolated incident. UNIFIL has been deployed for some time, and it’s the first serious incident of its kind.

As you said, UNIFIL immediately took steps by deploying a number of blue helmets in the area. And to answer your question, nothing suggests that UNIFIL isn’t adapted to its mission. It seems to us that since being deployed it has carried out its mandate well.

Q - But UNIFIL isn’t a buffer force?

It’s still part of its mandate to prevent incidents and exchanges of fire. It was doing what it’s there for.

(…)

Q - But there’ve been overflights also, a whole succession of incidents.

As we’ve said very clearly, we don’t want this incident to lead to a kind of ratcheting up between the Lebanese army and the Israeli army. That’s why we called on both sides to show restraint, especially on the issue of overflights. (…)

IRAN

Q - You had a reaction yesterday to the test-firing of missiles in Iran. But Iran has carried out a cruise missile test which was apparently successful. Are you especially worried about weapons of this sort proliferating in the Gulf region?

First there was a contract signed between Russia and Iran for delivery of the missiles, then the actual delivery of the missiles. We said at the time that there was nothing to prevent Russia from delivery such weapons. Nothing in Russia’s international commitments to prevent it from doing so. At the same delivering this type of weapon didn’t seem to be necessarily the best signal to send to Iran at this time because it’s out of step with what we’d like to see in Iran’s conduct, especially on the nuclear issue. That was the comment we made.

(…)

Q - Is France in favor of removing the People’s Mojahedin Organization from the EU list of terrorist organizations? It appears there’s some pressure in the European Parliament now to do so?

I believe the organization was put on the list and that there was a decision by the European judicial authorities, mainly for procedural reasons, that said there were not sufficient grounds for listing it. Matters are now being straightened out so that the organization can be put back on the European list. We are entirely in favor of it being kept on the list…

(…)

Embassy of France, February 9, 2007