Daily Press Briefing

Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson

(Paris, November 13, 2007)

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


Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner will go to Nantes on November 15 to meet the staff of the Ministry’s various decentralized services.

The Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs now has a staff of nearly 900 in Nantes, i.e. over a quarter of Ministry personnel. The Ministry is one of the largest public employees in the city of Nantes. The relocation to Nantes of the Ministry’s central services goes back to the 1960s.

Several departments and sections now have offices in Nantes: administration, information systems, financial affairs, human resources, archives, the agency for French teaching aboard, the department for French residents abroad and aliens in France, which alone employs a staff of nearly 500 (civil registry, movement of aliens, machine-readable documents center and the visa appeals commission).

Q - About the relocations. We’ve always known that the section for aliens in France is in Nantes. But don’t you think it’s quite a long way for aliens arriving in Paris to go?

There are two distinct things. Certain parts of the departments are in Nantes and don’t necessarily receive the public, and others are in Paris. Also in these days of computers, decentralization isn’t a problem. Aliens are obviously received here when they wish and in our posts.

Q - (Inaudible)

It goes back to the 1960s. The ideas wasn’t so much to cut costs. The idea was to relocate, to show that Paris wasn’t the sole center where everything happens. The Quai d’Orsay has obviously been something of a trailblazer in that it relocated to Nantes an important part of its staff, one quarter of the personnel in the central administration as I just said.


Q - An hour ago Bernard Kouchner made a statement in which he spoke of a slight note of optimism in a climate where nothing inspires the least optimism. Does that mean the project to get five or six names from the Maronite patriarch has already made progress? (…)

As Mr. Kouchner is still in Beirut today, I’ll leave it to him to report on what he’s doing and analyze what’s happening. I’ve read his statements like you. I’m not going to interpret what he said.

I refer you for the results of the visit to the press conference he’ll giving this evening at 8:30 p.m. Beirut time—7:30 p.m.in Paris.

Right now he’s still having talks, and I can’t say any more. I understand it’s a bit frustrating for you, but it’s better the minister should brief you himself on what he’s been doing on this trip where, let me remind you, he is meeting the Patriarch and Saad Hariri. He’s also seeing the speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, then he’s lunching with the prime minister. This afternoon he’ll be having talks successively with Amin Gemayel, General Aoun, Sleiman Frangié and Samir Geagea.

After all these meetings, he’ll hold a press briefing at the airport at 8:30 p.m. Let’s wait to hear what lessons he’ll draw from all these talks.

Q - The French initiative at La Celle Saint-Cloud seemed to be based on Lebanese politicians, and on part of civil society. There were six representatives of the one and eight from the other. Today we’re not hearing much talk about civil society. Is the solution that may come about because Mr. Kouchner is in Beirut linked to civil society or not?

When Mr. Kouchner brought together the representatives of the 14 political parties at La Celle Saint-Cloud, he wanted, for this first meeting, to facilitate the discussions, help the exploration of ideas and invite representatives from civil society. Then when he went to Beirut, there was this initiative from civil society, Khalas, that might include certain members who’d also been at La Celle Saint-Cloud. The concern that Mr. Kouchner has shown all along is to work with Lebanese political forces since there needs to be agreement between them for the constitutional election process to go smoothly while at the same time involving civil society so as to enrich the debates.

With that said, the aim today of Mr. Kouchner’s visit to Beirut is to meet with the political forces to assist in the presidential election process.


Q - Have you had any indication from Syria to suggest it will not place any obstacle in the path of the presidential election?

No other indication since what I said yesterday.

Q - So you’re still waiting?

We hope that Syria has understood the messages that were delivered by the Elysée secretary-general.

Q - Does the minister have other trips planned in connection with Lebanon in coming days?

For now the minister is in Beirut. Let’s wait for him to return. Mr. Kouchner is always ready to go to Beirut if it’s useful. If it looks as if it is before November 21, I don’t doubt he’ll return.


Q - Including with the Spanish and Italian ministers?

Why not? Anything that can help the process go well, Mr. Kouchner is ready to contribute. It’s not new, as you know perfectly well.

Q - We’re always hearing about Syria’s influence with respect to Lebanon. On the other hand you hear nothing about the influence of Hezbollah and Iran. Is there a reason?

We don’t mean the same things. When we speak of outside interference, we mean the influence of other countries, Iran in particular, and Syria. When we spoke of the matter, we said that we didn’t want any foreign interference. That doesn’t just concern Syria. We’re talking in general about the countries in the region.



Q - With regard to the Russian prime minister’s visit to France—if I’m not mistaken it was to be November 15.

Yes, it’s the first meeting for the two ministers.


Q - And the postponement of the Georgian foreign minister’s visit?

I’ve only just learned that the Georgian minister would not be coming.


Q - What’s happening about the deployment of European forces in Chad?

I planned to talk about it on November 13 because that’s the date of the next meeting on troop generation, but since you’ve asked, I can brief you on the most recent meeting. It was held at the end of last week and showed that the troop generation process, which is the technical term used, is going well since at this point over a dozen countries, including France, have indicated their willingness to take part in this operation--I leave it to these countries to give you more specific details after the next troop generation meeting.

As regards France, we’ve said we’ll provide a battalion formed of three companies and support units. The European Union should have adequate capacities to launch the operation between now and the end of the year. We would like to salute the efforts of countries like Ireland which is commanding the operation—I told you that General Nash came to Paris a few days ago—and Poland, which are making a significant contribution in troops and which will have important responsibilities in the field. It’s very good news for defense Europe and for its capacity to act autonomously in crises. I propose to wait until the conference on November 14 before filling in the remaining gaps, specifically with respect to medical equipment and transport capacity.

Q - In Paris General Nash had mentioned 4,300 men, right?


Q - So it’s on that order?

Yes. I understand that we’re operating on that hypothesis, knowing full well that there will be increase in strength once we start setting up the force. The figures remain those we’re working with.

Q - The deployment is still due to start before the end of November?

We’d said before the end of the year. We hope it’ll be before the end of November, after the last conference on force commitments in mid-November.

Q - Where are the meetings being held?

In Brussels. This is a European operation which comes under the CFSP.


Q - Chadian judicial authorities are to give their decision about the future of the six French citizens. What attitude will the Quai d’Orsay take should the authorities decide to keep them somewhat longer?

We are waiting for the decision by the Chadian authorities. This is a matter for cooperation between the judicial authorities of our two countries. I’ve no further comment.

Q - Can you give us details about the inter-ministerial mission to Chad?

You’re referring to the mission by the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry inspection services. They actually arrived the day before yesterday. They were due to be in Abeche today and have a month in which to prepare their findings which will be made public. I can’t say more, they’re just beginning. Let me remind you that the purpose of the mission is to understand how Zoë’s Ark was able to conceal its objectives and identity in the operation which took place in Chad.

Q - How long are they staying?

I don’t know what’s planned. They are to hand in their report in a month. The members are free to plan their work as they wish, in liaison with our services there. I’ve no other information on how they intend to carry out their mission. We’ll give you more details later on on how it’s going, if you like.



Q - What is France’s reaction to what’s happening in Gaza with clashes between the Palestinian factions and the embargo which has been imposed on Gaza for some time?

We are extremely concerned about the violent clashes that have taken place in Gaza. I want to recall how important it is in France’s eyes for freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate to be protected in all circumstances. In this context and in the interest of the Palestinian people, we hope that all violence is going to stop.

Q - And the embargo?

There’s nothing new about this. Since Hamas took over by force, the situation leads unfortunately to the violence we saw yesterday. We hope that the situation will improve and that in Gaza in particular the situation will become normal again.

Q - But you’ve no comment on the situation for people?

The situation is terrible, we know. You also know that we deplored all the decisions that might affect civilians in the Gaza Strip. When it was decided to impose power and fuel restrictions, we asked that any action that might exacerbate the situation of the civilian population be avoided. In this context we hope that the meeting at Annapolis and then the donors’ conference will create some political momentum which will permit the situation in Gaza to improve also.


Q - You reacted yesterday to the situation but you didn’t mention the case of Ms Bhutto and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?

I believe I mentioned it I when I said we were very concerned about the situation and were demanding the state of emergency be lifted and the constitution re-instated. We are extremely concerned about all attacks on freedoms and we’re demanding in very firm terms that these freedoms be fully restored. And when I say freedoms, it’s all freedoms—release of prisoners, but also freedom of demonstrate and travel. We hope President Musharraf is going to announce a lifting of the state of emergency as soon as possible./.

Embassy of France, November 13, 2007