Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, January 16, 2007)

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


EUROPEAN UNION

I will read the statement by Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and European Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna:

“I welcome, together with the Minister for European Affairs, Catherine Colonna, the election of Hans-Gert Pottering to be president of the European Parliament.

“We know Mr. Pottering well, and have close and trustful relations with him. Ms Colonna had the opportunity to meet him again yesterday during her visit to Strasbourg.

“We offer the new president of the European Parliament our congratulations and warmest wishes for success in the mission which has been entrusted to him. The talents which Mr. Pottering has displayed for nearly 30 years in this assembly and the strength of his convictions about Europe will be valuable assets for the success of his mandate.

“We are convinced that under his presidency the European Parliament, whose missions have steadily grown and which occupies a central place in Europe’s institutions, will continue to pay its important role, especially in building the support of European citizens for European integration.”

FRANCE/LAOS/CAMBODIA

Brigitte Girardin, Minister Delegate for Cooperation, Development and Francophony, will be in Laos and Cambodia from January 18 to 21, 2007.

In Laos the minister delegate will be received by Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith. She will sign the framework partnership document between France and Laos which sets out the strategic guidelines for cooperation in the country for the next five years, representing a financial commitment of between 65 and 80 million euros. Laos is the 26th country in the priority solidarity area to conclude such a framework partnership document with France.

In Cambodia, Ms Girardin will be received by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. She will visit the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh and the site of the Baphuon Temple at Angkor restored by the Ecole française d’Extrême Orient. The minister delegate will proceed with an evaluation of the framework partnership document signed between France and Cambodia in September 2005 and sign a codicil to the document.

The financial commitment for French cooperation for 2006 to 2010 amounts to between 110 and 124 million euros.

The visit will demonstrate our commitment to help the development of Cambodia and Laos, members of the priority solidarity area and la Francophonie, where France is the third-ranking donor of bilateral funds.

MIDDLE EAST

The Israeli government recently announced it was stepping up construction in certain settlements on the West Bank and near Jerusalem.

In accordance with France’s constant position, we consider this move, which is contrary to international law and the commitments Israel took under the Roadmap, is one of the main factors blocking the peace process and that it complicates the prospects for a final settlement.

The decision sends a particularly negative signal about wanting to engage in dialogue and restore confidence between the parties as stated at the important meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority on December 23.

Q - What’s happening about the tramway project involving French companies?

Our statement refers to the call for tenders recently made on the Israeli side, on one hand for the construction of new housing units at Maale Adumin and on the other, the construction of 1,000 housing units in the settlement of Har Homa which lies opposite Bethlehem. Our statement is a reaction to those moves.

With regard to the tramway project, we’ve already spoken of it here. We do not consider that it brings into question in any way the French position on these questions which is well known. The action of French companies in the context of contracts of this type obviously doesn’t in any way imply a change of position by the French authorities.

(…)

Q - One option that’s been discussed in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is to table an old idea again involving the establishment of a provisional Palestinian state. What’s your opinion?

Our perspective is clear; it’s the perspective of two states co-existing side by side in security.

I’ve seen the comments by Mr. Abbas who is opposed to a temporary solution. I will say it’s more a problem linked to the negotiation and to the dynamics of negotiation.

I’ll repeat, what’s needed is for the two parties to agree to dialogue and to negotiate. Then, with regard to the sequence of the various stages, we have the Roadmap which gives us a framework, and that also depends to a large extent on the agreement of the two parties. So I don’t have to comment directly on this point, but the perspective is clear—that of two states living side by side in security.

Q - I’d like to go back briefly to yesterday’s briefing and your comments on Ms Rice’s visit to the Palestinian Territories. The US is committed to providing a large sum of money, several tens of millions of dollars, to train and arm Fatah… Do you think this type of action at this time is productive for calming the situation and promoting the Palestinian reconciliation that France wants?

We’ve already commented on Ms Rice’s visit, noting a number of positive elements in what she said, in particular the American desire to relaunch the peace process. There’s the prospect of the tripartite meeting, and we’ll see what it brings, but if it’s in line with the meeting between Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas on December 23 then it’s something that can be very positive, obviously.

Similarly, we’re continuing to ask for an early meeting of the Quartet. I don’t know precisely when it’s going to meet but we’d like the Quartet to meet soon now.

To reply more specifically to your question about financing Palestinian security forces, this is a choice made by the United States. What I can do is recall the EU position.

The European Union has set up a mechanism which finances a number of social sectors, salaries in education and health. That is the choice made has been by the EU, and I don’t wish to comment on the choices made by the Americans in this area.

We would like to see the Palestinians work together and then set up this government that’s been expected for some time which takes into account the principles set by the Quartet.

(…)

IRAN

Q - A few days ago, a question was asked about the consular status of the Iranian office in Irbil. The Iranians have said – and this has been supported by an Iraqi statement – that the building has been a consulate for a long time, with the approval of the local Kurdish authorities and also of Baghdad. Have you had any contact with the Iranians on this?

Not to my knowledge, and it's very difficult for me to give an opinion on it, since I have no information allowing me to judge the status of either the people or the building itself. I've seen that a number of statements have been made by the Americans, Iraqis and Iranians.

Q - Le Monde is saying today that France is preparing to send a high-level emissary to Tehran next week to talk mainly about Lebanon. Can you confirm this?

I have seen the Le Monde article.

I'd simply like to restate the principles which guide us vis-à-vis Iran.

The first is that we are totally at one with the international community on the Iranian nuclear issue and are very committed to the implementation of the resolutions of the IAEA and the United Nations Security Council.

Secondly, we expect Iran to contribute to the region's stability and consider that it may be useful to have a dialogue with that country on these matters.

The article refers to a possible visit by the minister who has apparently envisaged a possible period when he might go. On that I can say that no decision has been made and that such a decision would be taken only in consultation with our partners, particularly with the countries in the region.

As regards sending an emissary, this is currently being looked into. But here too, to my knowledge, no definitive decision has been taken. Consideration is being given to what tangible commitments could be obtained from Iran during such a visit.

At all events, a possible dialogue with Iran would involve reaffirming our positions on the regional issues. You mentioned Lebanon, but this applies also to Israel, Israel's right to exist and also to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That's what I can say on that article and particularly on the possible sending of an emissary.

Q - With respect to the sending of this emissary and this type of dialogue, you don't appear to have adopted the formula used until now, i.e. a European troika, with the British, Germans and EU high representative. Tell me if I'm wrong, but this time things are being done bilaterally?

I repeat, there's no confirmation of the sending of this emissary. Secondly, on the nuclear issue, our position is perfectly well known, we are totally at one with the international community with respect to the implementation of the Security Council resolutions, including of course the last one, UNSCR 1737.

As regards contacts with the Iranians on the nuclear issue, for us these fall within the sphere of the procedures followed until now and particularly the remit of Mr. Solana who is responsible for these contacts.

The dialogue the article alludes to would be more on political and particularly regional issues. But that in no way calls into question the channels for the discussions and negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Q - If I've understood correctly, the nuclear issue is now at the UN. So it's the Six who were dealing with it before and now it's gone to the Security Council. So if Iran has to deal with someone, it's in principle with the Security Council, not with Mr. Solana, unless he is sent on a special mission to sound out the mood in Iran? But I don't understand a parallel French initiative on regional issues at a time when Iran is isolated from the Security Council?

There are several things in what you say. First of all, what's the channel on the nuclear issue? We mustn't forget that when the offer was made to the Iranians on the nuclear issue, it was made by Mr. Solana who was speaking for the three European nations and also for the Six and so, in a way, on behalf of the international community.

Secondly, if the Iranians decided to return to the dialogue and indicate some developments on the nuclear issue, this channel exists and can be used. Obviously there's also the channel of the Security Council and United Nations secretary-general, but so far, on the nuclear issue, Mr. Solana's has been the one mainly used.

As for the second point in your question, we are totally at one with the international community and consider the negotiating channel a multilateral one. As regards the dialogue on the regional issues, we think it can be useful to have a dialogue with Iran under certain conditions and, once again, provided this can lead to some tangible results and tangible commitments.

Let me remind you moreover that the minister had a meeting with Mr. Mottaki in Lebanon in August, and that they principally talked about regional issues. The minister also saw Mr. Mottaki again in September in New York on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly.

There is a dialogue with Iran on these matters and – and it's in the Le Monde article – a number of Iranian emissaries have also had meetings with senior French officials.

Q - With the increasingly strong US threats against Iran, the French emissary mentioned in Le Monde reminds me a bit of the emissaries sent to Iraq in 1991 and 2003. Does France think there's a risk of a confrontation today between Iran and the United States, not to say the international community?

I don't think one should draw that kind of parallel. What's clear, on the French side – and we've said this several times – is that we want a diplomatic solution, particularly for the nuclear issue. We don't want a confrontation. We want things resolved through the dialogue with Iran. We've said so several times, that's how we see things and we're sticking to it.

Q - But isn’t there a risk of confrontation as things stand now?

It’s not for me to say whether there’s a risk or not. Obviously there is some tension, and our wish is not to lead to confrontation but to work for a dialogue with the Iranians on the nuclear issue through the existing channels and then also to discus regional questions.

Q - Is it possible to discuss the region’s political problems with Iran without raising the nuclear issue?

Once again, it’s not a question of ignoring the nuclear problems. Everyone considers the nuclear problem to be a very serious issue which has led to several resolutions being adopted in the Security Council.

I would remind you that there is a time-frame in resolution 1737—an IAEA report after 60 days. So there’s no question of ignoring the nuclear issue which is of course very important but is being handled in a multilateral framework, through the Security Council and Mr. Solana.

It’s not up to us French to negotiate or discuss this question in depth with the Iranians. But in addition there are other questions on which we think a bilateral dialogue with the Iranians can be useful in certain conditions and if there is the prospect of obtaining tangible results.

Q - Iraq for example?

Iraq and other regional questions.

Q - But the major concern of countries in the region is the Iranian nuclear problem.

As I said, it’s certainly not a matter of relegating that issue to the background, nor of ignoring it. That must be clearly understood.

Q - Can you tell us when it was discussed for the first time? What was the Quai d’Orsay’s position? Will it be discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting?

This kind of thing is rarely discussed at Cabinet meetings. Iran and our relations with that country are being studied all the time.

Q - And sending an envoy?

That will largely be up to President Chirac to decide. It’s outside my remit. All this is being done in consultation with the Foreign Ministry, and I can’t say precisely when the consultations will continue nor what they will lead to.

Q - Do you have any reaction to the section in the article [in Le Monde] mentioning the lack of agreement between the Quai d’Orsay and the Office of the President?

I’m no knowledge of any lack of agreement between the Quai d’Orsay and the Office of the President. It is the president who decides the main lines of foreign policy, and it’s obviously done with the full participation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Q - You said that before an envoy is sent you’d have talks with the countries in the region. Aren’t you discussing it also with the US and the Six at the same time?

We have regular consultations with our partners, of course. There’s the nuclear issue which takes certain channels for discussions and negotiations, and there are the other aspects.

Q - If you engage in this kind of dialogue with Iran on the regional question why not also consider a dialogue with Syria which also has views on a number of regional problems—Iraq, Lebanon and others?

I don’t think one should necessarily draw a parallel between the two countries. Each case is different. In Syria’s case, it’s well known what we expect from Syria, we’ve said so many times. It will be judged by its actions. We don’t rule out the idea of dialogue with Syria in the future. As the president and minister have said, Syria has to comply with a number of very specific commitments which are known.

Q - Iran also has to comply with a number of very specific commitments.

Yes, but we consider that Iran has perhaps a rather special role for regional stability. Once again, this doesn’t bring into question the commitments expected of Iran on the nuclear aspects—that’s perfectly clear. It doesn’t bring into question our position on Israel which would be very clearly reaffirmed in such a dialogue. Bu we think that this dialogue can be useful, with the prospect of obtaining certain tangible results

Q - What results do you expect?

It’s not for me to detail them here. The idea is to see how Iran can make a positive contribution to the development of a number of regional issues.

Q - It would be a political contact or will there also be an economic aspect?

We’re talking about decisions that haven’t been taken. It’s difficult for me to say. The main objective in such a dialogue would tend to be political.

(…)

Q - Does the initiative aim to get around the Iranian authorities’ boycott of the French embassy in Tehran or not?

No, that would not be the purpose of such a visit. It would be to have a dialogue on political issues. Also we would like our embassy there to be able to work in satisfactory conditions, as does the Iranian embassy in Paris.

(…)

Q - You showed the Iranians the stick in the Security Council. What carrot do you want to offer them or deliver through the envoy who might be going to Tehran?

I told you, no decision has been taken. The carrot was shown some time ago already. The offer from the Six also had a political component for regional cooperation. It was a comprehensive offer covering nuclear, economic and political aspects. Once again, the offer wasn’t taken up by the Iranians, and we regretted this, but it’s still possible for them to revisit their position and enter into a dialogue about the offer.

Also, as I said, what we can envision is the prospect of dialogue which, we think, is something that might also be interesting for the Iranians because they have the choice between isolation on one hand and possibly new measures by the Security Council in the next few months, or the resumption of dialogue on the various issues, including political questions.

(…)

Embassy of France, January 16, 2007