Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, February 13, 2007)

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


LEBANON

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

“I learned with horror of the twin attacks on two public buses this morning north of Beirut, near the town of Bikfaya, which caused many victims.

“I wish to offer the victims’ families France’s total sympathy in this terrible experience and offer them my very sincere condolences. I also want to wish the injured a speedy recovery.

“France condemns in the strongest possible terms this hateful and cowardly attack which comes almost two years to the day after Rafiq Hariri’s assassination, on the eve of its commemoration, and close to the home town of another victim of terrorism, former industry minister Pierre Gemayel. The persons responsible for this new attack, like those of the previous attacks over the past two years, will have to answer for their crimes.

“Faced with this new attempt to destabilize Lebanon, it is essential that the Lebanese people close ranks so as to avoid falling into the trap that has been laid for them. At this difficult time, the French authorities reaffirm their solidarity with the Lebanese leaders in their efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms and to preserve Lebanon’s stability, unity and sovereignty.”

You’ll have seen that President Chirac has sent a message to Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora in which he expresses his horror and dismay on learning of this new attack.

Q - Do you have details about the toll?

It’s not for me to give them.

Q - The Lebanese defense minister was in Paris yesterday to discuss with his French counterpart about France training Lebanese army officers. (…)Would France be ready to become more engaged in training Lebanese security personnel?

I did see that the Lebanese defense minister was in Paris. I’ve not had the report of the talks so I can’t tell you more precisely what was said. In general we are altogether favorable to cooperation actions which would strengthen the Lebanese army whether in terms of training or the supply of equipment. A French general officer has been appointed to work more specifically on this question. He has been to various countries in the region and several partners countries to see what kind of cooperation we could offer the Lebanese army. So we’re definitely in favor.

With resolution 1701 and the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south, it’s clear there is increasing responsibility falling on the shoulders of the Lebanese army. On the French side, we already have bilateral cooperation with the Lebanese army, and I believe we are prepared to strengthen it.

Q - And looking beyond resolution 1701, to Lebanon’s internal security?

Yes, of course, the Lebanese army has an important responsibility with regard to the country’s defense and security. It’s true that deploying in the south is new—that’s the reason I mentioned it. But there is a larger responsibility obviously.

Q - Did Mr. Murr tell you about his fears for his security? The explosion which took place this morning targeted buses which left from his village, not very far from the place where there was an attack on him a few months ago.

Once again, I’ve not seen the report of his meetings so I don’t know whether this point was mentioned or not.

Q - In the statement, you say that the perpetrators have to answer for their crime. What do you mean by that?

That depends first on Lebanon’s judicial authorities. An inquiry is going to be made, and we hope that it will lead to the identification of the perpetrators of this attack and bring them to justice. As far as international action is concerned, as you know, there may be a request from the Lebanese authorities, a request for technical assistance addressed to the commission headed by Mr. Brammertz. Then it will be up to the United Nations to decide how to respond or not to the request for technical assistance. So we’re going to wait and see if the Lebanese authorities ask the commission for technical assistance in the next few days as they have the option of doing.

Q - Do you encourage this request?

It’s up to the Lebanese authorities to see whether they think they need technical assistance from the international commission of inquiry.

Q - Can you be clearer about what you mean when you refer to the “trap” which the Lebanese must avoid falling into?

We see that this attack occurred on the eve of the second anniversary of Rafiq Hariri’s assassination. We see that those who carry out such attacks do so with the aim of destabilizing Lebanon and perhaps also fueling Lebanon’s internal quarrels. What the minister said in his statement is simply that when confronted with this type of attack, there needs to be a reflex response of unity on the part of the Lebanese and they need to close ranks to avoid playing into the hands of the people who are committing such attacks.

Q - Do you think there needs to be a larger international force in Lebanon at this time?

That’s a matter for the United Nations to assess, for the UN department of peacekeeping operations. For the time being there’s no movement in that direction.

As you know, UNIFIL is deployed more to the south of the country, and I’m not sure that adding reinforcements in the south would be helpful in confronting this type of terrorist attack.

GUINEA

Q - Is there a plan under way to evaluate French and European nationals? There’s talk of American ships taking part in this operation.

As you know, we expressed our very serious concern yesterday regarding the latest developments in the situation in Guinea. We have taken note of the local authorities’ decision last night to call a state of emergency.

We are paying close attention to the security conditions of our nationals. Our embassy in Conakry has strengthened its arrangements for contacting French nationals and will take the necessary measures depending on how the situation evolves. The recommendations we’ve given out are to stay at home and comply with the security instructions. The Lycée français is closed.

To answer your question more specifically, no decision to evacuate has been taken at this stage. We are studying the possibilities for our nationals to return to France on a voluntary basis on flights that might still be coming into Conakry. As you know, several companies fly to Conakry, among them Air France.

Our embassy in Conakry is in contact with the Guinean authorities to ascertain in what conditions Air France could fly in and out.

Just for your information, the French community in Guinea numbers an estimated 3,000 individuals, of whom nearly 2,700 live in Conakry and 300 in other cities.

(…)

MIDDLE EAST

Q - Can you tell us about the conclusions of the general affairs/external relations council in Brussels yesterday regarding the agreement in Mecca? I also read in the Palestinian press that of the money sent by the European Union, a British bank is collecting a lot of interest, nearly a million euros. Can you confirm this?

Regarding your first point, we’ll be giving you the text of the conclusions. What is important is that the general affairs/external relations council gave a favorable reception to and welcomed the February 8 agreement in Mecca concerning the formation of a national unity government. It paid tribute to President Abbas’ efforts to this end and also expressed its appreciation for the role taken by Saudi Arabia and other Arab leaders in this matter.

There is above all a phrase which is important and which indicates that the European Union is ready to work with a legitimate Palestinian government which adopted a platform reflecting the Quartet principles. This is consistent with the French line. If other steps are taken, if this government is formed on the basis of a platform reflecting the Quartet principles, then the European Union will be ready to work with such a government.

Q - And about the bank reportedly getting huge interest payments for services to the Palestinians?

I’ve no particular information. We’ll look in it.

NORTH KOREA

Q - About North Korea. Do you have a statement or reaction to the negotiations and the agreement that has just been reached?

France is pleased that the negotiators succeeded in reaching an agreement in the six-way talks. This is an important first step in the negotiations, which France fully supports, over the North Korean nuclear question. It hopes that the negotiating process produces concrete results and leads to the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea and the implementation of the joint declaration of September 19, 2005. It again calls on North Korea to comply with resolution 1718.

Q - You say “verifiable and irreversible.” That’s a bit like what you’re demanding of Iran isn’t it? Do you stand in the same perspective?

The two cases are obviously different as we’ve said before. At the same time, while there is a positive step on the North Korean question, we hope this encourages progress on the Iranian question, that there’s a positive emulation that might come into play on the Iranian question.

Q - Irreversible,what does that mean for all the researchers and scientists who have worked in this field, what’s going to happen for them? Will they be transferred to South Korea?

What’s important is to really understand that this is only an initial agreement since you saw that the negotiations will be continuing on March 19. The American negotiator, Mr. Hill, said himself that it was an excellent accord but that it constituted only a first stage. It’s obviously important to treat all this with certain degree of caution, but quite clearly there has been a breakthrough. Next, it’s important for it to be confirmed, and for there to be a successful effort to implement, as we’ve said, the declaration of September 2005 in order to achieve North Korea’s complete denuclearization. That’s an important element.

Q - Do you have details of the agreement?

About monitoring the agreement, I’ve no details since we’re not directly involved in the discussions. I refer you to what’s been said in the news services. It’s not my place to give you details about the content of this agreement.

(…)

RUSSIA

Q - Do you have any comment on Mr. Putin’s remarks about the United States?

We already gave our reaction yesterday.

We have taken note of Vladimir Putin’s comments. We’ve seen in them positions that were already known.

You know France’s positions on all the issues Mr. Putin addressed as we recall them regularly in the context of our dialogue with Russia whether at the bilateral level, in the EU or the multilateral organizations.

Our position is well-known with regard to Kosovo. We consider that Belgrade and Pristina must participate constructively in the discussions that have been started by Martti Ahtisaari.

Q - In other words, France agrees, as a general rule, with Mr. Putin’s ideas?

I didn’t say that. I said that what was important on all these questions was to have a dialogue with Russia without being confrontational. It is very useful to talk about this type of question. It’s what we do with the Russians. The Americans also have frequent and regular dialogue with the Russians. It is important to have a dialogue and to be able to explain oneself when by chance we don’t agree on this question or that.

Q - About the war in Iraq, for example. At the last Quartet meeting, the Europeans and the Russians had positions that were close, but not the Americans.

It does happen that we agree with the Russians. It also happens that we don’t agree with them. This applies to the Americans as well. One shouldn’t generalize. There are actually issues on which the Russian and French positions have been very close. This was the case, as you will remember, before the war in Iraq.

Q - But Mr. Putin is talking about organizing an international conference for peace in the Middle East. Does France support this idea?

Our position on the principle of the international conference is known. We are in favor of an international conference that would allow us to give guarantees to the parties, and encourage them to negotiate. As for the principle of an international conference, we agree. Then one has to see what the modalities are, and when and how it could be arranged.

Q - So it’s not a French idea?

The idea for an international conference for peace in the Middle East is a fairly old idea, we don’t have copyright to it.

(…)

Embassy of France, February 13, 2007