Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, June 12, 2007)

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


GEORGIA/FRANCE

President Mikheil Saakashvili of the Republic of Georgia is making a working visit to France on June 13 and 14 at the invitation of President Nicolas Sarkozy with whom he is to have a meeting on Wednesday, June 13 at 4 p.m.

They will take this opportunity to address the various aspects of our bilateral relations and Georgia’s relations with its principal partners, in particular the European Union which we’d like to see play a more active role in the south Caucasus. The prospects for resolving the conflicts affecting Georgia will also be discussed.

President Saakashvili, who will be accompanied by Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili and Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, will also have a meeting with Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner on June 13 at 6 p.m.

Georgia has had sustained growth for several years and has implemented economic reforms welcomed by the international financial institutions. Bilateral relations, particularly in the economic sphere, are developing fast, and trade increased by 10% in 2006.

WORLD BANK

Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner met on Tuesday, June 12, with the candidate proposed by the US to be president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, who came to brief him on the main lines he plans to take.

The meeting was an opportunity to emphasize the World Bank’s fundamental role in promoting development and the fight against poverty, particularly in the African countries and in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, especially in the areas of health and education. The development of satisfactory health systems was discussed along with the usefulness of innovative financing mechanisms such as the tax on airline tickets earmarked for the international drug purchase facility, UNITAID.

Environmental issues were also discussed, specifically global warming and access to water resources.

The foreign and European affairs minister said France was ready to continue working closely with the Bank. He insisted on the need to improve the World Bank’s image, which must be closer to its beneficiaries, to strengthen the fight against corruption and better target projects to the development needs of populations. Lastly the minister emphasized the necessary coordination with other international institutions and with UN agencies.

Q - Does France have a clear position on Mr. Zoellick’s candidacy?

As you know, the practice has been for the World Bank president to be an American. Mr. Zoellick’s candidacy has been proposed by the United States.

As the minister said last week, he’s a candidate who seems to us have all the requisite qualities for the job.

Q - Does that mean that France will vote for him?

President Sarkozy and the minister have announced that they supported Mr. Zoellick’s candidacy.

SPAIN/FRANCE

Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner will receive his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, for a meeting on Wednesday, June 13. After the visit to Madrid by President Sarkozy and the foreign and European affairs minister on May 31, this new visit will further strengthen our privileged ties to Spain.

(…)

Q - Are their joint projects with Spain in regard to migrations?

There’s a lot to discuss with Spain on this issue. First, there’s all that we do in the EU context, specifically so as to move towards the implementation of a European policy in this matter. There’s also our cooperation in the context of FRONTEX, the European agency tasked with monitoring and controlling the EU’s external borders.

As you know, a number of initiatives have been taken in this framework, especially for monitoring the seas.

And then there’s all we’re doing with the Maghreb and African countries. With the Maghreb and the Mediterranean countries, that’s mostly in the Barcelona process. With the African countries it’s happening as part of the follow up to the Rabat conference.

There are all these aspects on which we’re working, with the Spanish in particular.

(…)

Q - Mr. Moratinos is a staunch advocate of dialogue with Syria. What is France’s position regarding relations and dialogue with Syria? Do you continue to have the same policy or has France shifted its position on dialogue with Damascus?

I don’t believe one can say there’s been a shift. It’s been repeated that it’s necessary for Syria to cooperate on various questions, especially with regard to Lebanon and also on other issues that the international community is helping to resolve.

At the same time, we’ve said all along that there was no hostility in principle to Syria. We have always said that it was a possible to convey messages, especially through the intermediary of Mr. Solana who has been to Damascus. And then we ourselves send messages through the intermediary of our embassy in Damascus.

Our general philosophy hasn’t changed from this point of view.

Q - Is it true there’s going to be a meeting in a few days between French and Syrian diplomats? Can you say something about it? What’s the definition of the French government and president of this Mediterranean space…?

With regard to your first point about possible diplomatic contacts with the Syrian, I’ve no confirmation. But I repeat, we do have diplomatic contacts with the Syrians. We have an embassy in Damascus. There’s nothing surprising that there should be diplomatic contact with Syria.

As for your second point, it is one of the elements which will have to be considered. The initiative is addressed primarily to countries bordering the Mediterranean. But we’re not claiming to define by ourselves the format of this future Mediterranean union. I’ve no definitive answer to your question today.

Q - Have you been notified of a new Syrian ambassador to Paris?

I’ve no knowledge of it.

(…)

SUDAN/DARFUR

Q - You were with the minister yourself in Sudan. You had talks with the Sudanese president. We get the impression there are contradictory statements coming out of Khartoum in regard to the deployment of international forces in Sudan. Did you get a response from the Sudanese government? Has Sudan agreed to attend the international conference on June 25?

You should remember that there were several stages to the minister’s visit.

With regard to the situation in Darfur, the Chad visit was at least as important as that to Sudan. In Chad the minister met with President Deby. They decided that French and Chadians should work together on a presence that could be deployed in eastern Chad to help secure the environment for displaced persons and refugees, and also help them to return home.

We are working on proposals with a view to June 25. The work is beginning today in fact and will continue so as to best define the format of this presence in which there could be a French component, a Chadian component and a European component. And then a link has to be found with the United Nations. We have Chad’s agreement to work on this proposal. The other leg was Khartoum where the minister’s visit had several objectives, and it’s best not to mix everything in this matter. First there was a concern which the minister has referred to about access to humanitarian aid for internally displaced persons in Sudan in certain regions of Darfur. He asked the Sudanese authorities to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations, to facilitate access to humanitarian aid.

Second, the minister urged the Sudanese authorities to accept the deployment of the hybrid force. This is the important element: the minister did not propose a new international force, he proposed that the Sudanese agree to the deployment of the hybrid force. At this time, they’ve simply accepted, may I remind you, a reinforcement of the African force. The goal is to move towards the deployment of the UN/AU hybrid force.

This presupposes that an agreement is found on the various aspects on the chain of command and other aspects. At this time there are consultations in Addis-Ababa between the AU, UN and Sudan on deploying this hybrid force. The minister really urged the Sudanese to accept the deployment and to give their consent to the arrangements for its deployment.

The third aspect is political. The minister first encouraged the Sudanese to actively engage in dialogue with the rebel movements so as to enlarge the Abuja accords. That’s a bit complicated because the rebel movements are very fractured. but the work has to be in this direction. The other political aspect is the meeting in Paris on June 25, of those we call the enlarged contact group.

To reply to your question, Sudan has not been invited to this meeting. It’s a meeting of partners in the international community in order to mobilize on Sudan and Darfur. And as you know, the idea is to enlarge the contact group to certain countries. We’re thinking in particular of Security Council members such as China since China has a very important role in this matter. And we’ve heard favorable echoes from the Chinese with regard to their participation. Enlargement to the G8 countries and also to certain African countries such as Egypt, South Africa and Ghana. That’s the enlarged contact group.

Q - And what was the Sudanese president’s answer regarding deployment of the African Union/United Nations force?

President Bashir reiterated his agreement in principle to a hybrid force. He also recently wrote to the UN secretary-general about it. What is very important, beyond the agreement in principle, is also finding an agreement on the modalities. That is where things are really going to have to be decided, and that is why the consultations in Addis Ababa between the African Union, the United Nations and the Sudan are important.

Q - What’s the purpose exactly of the meeting in Paris? (…)

They are going to discuss international support primarily. The idea is to have the broadest possible international consensus, that’s why it’s important for countries like China and the US to be there as we know they don’t have the same position on this question. It’s very important to have them around the same table to get a consensus, to give new impetus to the political process and also to see how in practical ways the international community can do more to help, including on the humanitarian front.

And then there will also probably be a presentation of ideas we may have with Chad with regard to deploying a force in eastern Chad. So there you have our objectives. We’re not claiming to be a substitute for the other forums that exist today, for existing bodies. The idea is to have all the partners concerned from the international community and to inject some political impetus.

Q - There was no agreement from Chad on setting up a humanitarian corridor because Chad said it didn’t see the need for it. Is Mr. Kouchner worried since the humanitarian issue is really the key question for him, and he says we have to act fast?

With regard to the issue of corridors, the minister has stated his view. You must realize however that is it only one of the options. And we had said from the outset that it depends on the facts on the ground, on the requests we receive. Apparently, there’s been no request for a land corridor from the NGOs or the authorities concerned. There has on the contrary been a request to facilitate deliveries by air.

That is why we proposed, and it’s due to be set up today, that the French troops who are in Chad facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid between Abeche and Goz Beida before the rainy season.

Q - And for Darfur?

For Darfur the proposal is still on the table if necessary. But once again, a corridor can also mean delivery by air. It doesn’t have to be a land corridor.

Q - The idea of the corridor was also to help Darfur. So you need the consent of the Sudanese authorities to fly through their air space?

The NGOs have told us that more than the problem of aid delivery, which is important, is that everything should be done so they can work in satisfactory conditions. That is essentially the message that that minister conveyed to President Bashir, for him to see to it that there are fewer problems for the NGOs. There was an agreement recently between Mr. Holmes and the Sudanese authorities on facilitating the work of the NGOs. It’s important also to improve security conditions because the NGOs have themselves been attacked. That’s where the effort has to focus.

Q - Are we to understand that the meeting on the 25th is aimed at getting a consensus to go back to the Security Council because there are objections, for example from China?

We have the existing SCR 1706. We have an existing framework. We have at the UN an agreement on the deployment of the hybrid force. And then we now have also a roadmap which has been worked out between the UN and African Union to establish this hybrid force. So it’s not necessary to go back to the Security Council. But it is politically important to demonstrate the international community’s support.

Q - Could you tell us what the stumbling blocks are between the Security Council, the Africans and the Sudanese authorities on deploying the hybrid force? (…)

We’re not directly party to these discussions. It’s not a question of the Security Council but rather the UN department of peacekeeping operations which is taking part in the discussions. They are rather technical, and I don’t have all the aspects. But what is important for us is that the UN/AU hybrid force is credible, that the chain of command functions credibly, that the UN can shoulder its responsibilities in good conditions.

The stages you refer you are phases 1, 2 and 3. Phase I was UN light support to the African Union. The second, which is being implemented, is enhanced UN support for the African force. This will be set up in the weeks to come, specifically the availability of helicopters. And phase 3 is the hybrid force. The problem is to move on to phase 3.

Q - The number of soldiers is still 20,000?

SCR 1706 provided for personnel in that range but there has to be agreement.

Q - Is there a time-frame?

In our view it has to be fairly short. I believe what’s envisaged is the end of the year.

Q - What are China’s objections?

I’m not the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson. China has sent a special envoy who recently went to Sudan, and China has wanted to work in that direction. China has no objection in principle to the hybrid force so far as I know.

Q - The resolution provided for 20,000 peacekeepers and 5,000 police officers. In your talks this weekend, did the Sudanese object to these figures?

That specific point wasn’t discussed. It’s a matter for the UN, the African Union and the Sudanese. We want it to be a sufficiently robust force with appropriate equipment, UN personnel and a credible chain of command.

Q - Why wasn’t Saudi Arabia invited since it’s made extraordinary efforts to find solutions to the problem of Darfur and hosted the Arab summit?

I don’t know if it will be there or not on the 25th, but we’ve had contacts with the Arab League about the meeting.

Q - You’ve not had any response concerning Saudi Arabia?

It’s an issue we’ve discussed with the Saudis.

Q - Are the NGOs satisfied with Mr. Kouchner’s visit?

You’ll have to ask them. The minister met with them before leaving. He met with them on the spot in Khartoum. In any case, it doesn’t make sense to talk about NGOs in general since the characteristic of the NGOs is that they all have different positions.

Q - Can you confirm or deny that Mr. Kouchner’s talks with NGO representatives before he went out to the region went badly?

There were several contacts with NGOs, and I don’t believe they went badly. I believe that the NGOs are well aware of the interest in taking initiatives on this question.

Q - Will the meeting be at ministers’ level?

For our part and for a number of participants, it will take place at ministers’ level.

(…)

KOSOVO

Q - Why wasn’t Russia represented at the contact group meeting on Kosovo today?

As we said yesterday, the meeting was held at the level of officials, so we don’t give much publicity to that kind of meeting. It was a working meeting as there are frequently. There have always been different formats for such meetings, but obviously it doesn’t mean that we wish to exclude Russia in any way from the discussions on this question.

As you know, we’ve already spoken a lot with the Russians and shall continue to do so. The purpose of the meeting was to take stock of things after the G8 meeting at which we weren’t able to reach a unanimous position on this question. So there’s a need to continue discussions. We’re doing this initially in the format opted for today, but very soon we’ll be talking about matters with the Russians again. There is no desire on our part to exclude Russia in any way whatsoever. Russia obviously has more than a word to say in this matter, and we really do want to work very closely with it.

Q - Will Nicholas Burns be received by Mr. Kouchner today?

I believe a meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.

Q - Will they talk about Kosovo?

No. Their meeting will probably be devoted to several matters. You know that Mr. Burns handles several political issues at the State Department. He’s the number three there so other questions will be discussed but it is quite probable that Kosovo will be mentioned.

Q - Will Mr. Kouchner discuss Mr. Sarkozy’s offer to continue dialogue?

We are ready to help. One needs ideas to resolve the current difficulties. The president had floated this idea at the G8. It wasn’t received with unanimous support.

Q - Is the idea still topical?

If everyone considered the idea can resolve current difficulties, we’d be very happy. It’s an idea that was put forward at the G8, and I’ll say again, had it received unanimous support, that would have been very nice. We hope to find a formula that will enable us to resolve current difficulties, that enables us to move forward at the UN and supervise the current process.

Q - So it’s a mediation role between the US and Russia?

I hesitate to use the word mediator because I don’t believe there’s any need for a mediator in this matter. Everyone comes with their positions. What is desirable in any case is for the positions of the various parties to move closer so as to reach an agreement.

Q - Is France’s position different to that of the US? (…)

From the beginning we’ve thought it desirable to have a solution at Security Council level because we think it’s in the interest of all the parties. So that’s why we continue to favor the Security Council option because the international community has to show that it is supervising this process and that it maintains a presence on the ground regarding application of the final status. For us, the important thing is not to close the door to an agreement at the level of the UN Security Council.

Q - ...Is France in favor of Kosovo’s independence via a resolution as Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan proposes, or as Mr. Sarkozy said a few days ago, of continuing the dialogue until the two parties are satisfied? (…)

As the president himself said, we agree with Mr. Ahtisaari’s proposals in all their components, including on what that means for Kosovo. There’s no ambiguity this matter.

In addition it is also important for us that it should be done in an orderly fashion and through the Security Council because we think it’s necessary. At this time, we have SCR 1244 and we have to know what comes next, especially as we have to plan for an international presence in Kosovo, and this has to be done through a Security Council resolution.

Our position is therefore to reconcile the two aspects, supervision by the Security Council and the prospect of leading as quickly as possible to a status for Kosovo which in our view must be very close to Mr. Ahtisaari’s proposals.

Q - Does the solution really have to be imposed?

The president suggested a certain delay at the G8 so as to continue the discussions, and he also said that at the end of this period, a decision would have to be taken. He himself thought the decision should be very largely based on Mr. Ahtisaari’s positions.

Q - Have the political directors already met?

The meeting will be in the afternoon.

(…)

LEBANON

(…)

Q - Have a date and place been decided for the meeting on Lebanon?

Not so far as I know. As you can see, we’re in a consulting phase. So everything in its time. First we have to talk about the principle of the meeting, then we’ll set the date and place.

Q - What feedback have you had from Mr. Cousseran’s talks in Lebanon?

I’ve not seen a specific report about the consultations for the good reason that they’re not over yet. There have been a number of public reactions which you’ve seen as well as I have. The aim, as we’ve said, is to have a very informal meeting—we’re really insisting on this—which isn’t designed to be a substitute for inter-Lebanese dialogue and neither is its purpose to decide the most sensitive questions from a political view point. It’s neither a new conference nor a formal meeting. It’s really an opportunity for an informal meeting for representatives of Lebanese political forces. We are continuing to work in this perspective and, as I said, it seemed to us that was some interest in it.

Q - Have there been reactions to the initiative from other states like the US or Saudi Arabia?

It’s obviously a subject we’re discussing with our partners in the international community. It’s not for me to speak for them. We explained the idea we had in arranging such a meeting, a very informal idea which doesn’t bring into question our positions on Lebanon, clearly reaffirmed by the minister when he was there, which derive from resolutions of the Security Council. There is no ambiguity in our position, no shift in regard to our basic positions. It’s just that we want to offer a space for informal dialogue because we think it might be helpful at this time in Lebanon’s life.

Q - Can you say which parties have been invited or are going to be?

It will be as inclusive as possible, with the political force represented in the Lebanese Parliament and civil society.

Q - What does civil society mean?

We can’t invite Lebanon’s entire civil society, but people have to be found who are representative of civil society. One of the objectives of Mr. Cousseran’s mission is to see on the spot who these people might be.

Q - Priests, sheikhs, NGOs?

It’s really Mr. Cousseran’s mission which will enable us to best define participation. We’re not going to decide how civil society is to be represented.

Q - Are you going to give a role to the 450,000 Palestinians who are in Lebanon in spite of themselves and who are also a factor to be taken on board in Lebanon’s problems?

The idea is not to resolve all Lebanon’s problems. There may obviously exist a problem of relations between the Lebanese authorities and the Palestinians in Lebanon, but we’re not resolving everything. Our idea is more to promote informal discussions among Lebanese.

Q - To go back to civil society in Lebanon—it’s very vague. There’s a problem of representativeness. Do you mean that the representatives of the political forces are not sufficient?

Once again, when you’re talking about an informal dialogue, it isn’t absurd for there to be representatives of civil society. I agree with you. It is always difficult to define who should be the representatives of civil society.

That is the purpose of Mr. Cousseran’s mission, to see how we can have representatives of civil society. It is up to Mr. Cousseran to see on the spot what the Lebanese would also like.

Q - And can we know what the main subject of the meeting is?

That’s also part of Mr. Cousseran’s mission—to see what the theme is to be for the meeting.

Q - It’s a bit bizarre, inviting people without knowing ahead of time what they’re going to discuss?

The most important thing in this matter is almost more the fact of an informal meeting than the subject itself. We know what we don’t want to do, quite clearly. This framework is not the place where the most sensitive political problems are going to be resolved. But it’s an opportunity to meet to discuss a topic that has to concern everyone in Lebanon, to provoke informal discussions. That’s the idea.

If I told you that we French were deciding the topic by ourselves, you’d say that it’s not a good idea. You’d be right.

Q - We understood at some point that there would be regional or international parties represented at this meeting, and others are saying that it’s only for the Lebanese.

It’s also a little Franco-Lebanese as there will be French officials at the meeting. But it’s not an international conference. There will be no other participants.

Q - You just said for the first time that those invited will be the political forces represented in Parliament. Now everyone knows that the majority party is not enthusiastic about the invitation to meet in Paris. Does that mean that the opposition won’t be invited?

I am not very familiar with the composition of the Lebanese Parliament but it seems to me that in the Lebanese Parliament you don’t just have the political forces of the majority.

MIDDLE EAST

Q - What do you have to say about the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis, and between Palestinians in Gaza?

France is extremely concerned about the escalating violence which has claimed the lives of many Palestinians over the past few days. It calls on the leaders of all the groups concerned to renounce violence immediately, respect the cease-fire and resume dialogue. It is essential in our view that the Palestinian government restore public order in the Territories./.

Embassy of France, June 13, 2007