Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, June 19, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
His Majesty Abdullah bin Abdelaziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, will make an official visit to France on Thursday, June 21. The sovereign will be received by President Nicolas Sarkozy for a meeting followed by luncheon. He will be greeted on his arrival on June 20 by Prime Minister François Fillon.
Bernard Kouchner, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, will receive his counterpart, HRH Prince Saud al-Faisal on Thursday, June 21 at 9:00 a.m.
This is the first official visit to France by His Majesty King Abdullah since his accession to the throne. His last visit as crown prince was in April 2005. This visit comes in the context of the strategic partnership established between France and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1996.
The visit will afford the opportunity to strengthen political dialogue on the main international and regional questions, in particular the peace process in the Middle East, the situation in Lebanon and Iraq, and the fight against terrorism. Questions of bilateral interest will also be on the agenda, specifically cultural and educational cooperation and training, to which we wish to give new momentum.
In the economic domain, France is Saudi Arabia’s 8th ranking supplier. The country is our 2nd leading trade partner in the region.
Q - What does strategic partnership mean?
It’s a partnership that was launched with Saudi Arabia during President Chirac’s visit to Jeddah in 1996, which includes among other things very close political dialogue between the two countries. Our views are very close to those of Saudi Arabia on a lot of issues. There are high-quality personal relations at the highest level.
There’ve been many bilateral visits lately. King Abdullah when he was still crown prince came to France in April 2005. Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdelaziz paid a visit in July 2006. President Chirac made one of his last visits abroad to Saudi Arabia in March 2006. And now we have this official visit by the King giving new momentum to the strategic partnership.
Q - About the peace process in the Middle East. Do you have the same approach as Saudi Arabia?
As we’ve said many times over in regard to peace in the Middle East, we support the idea of relaunching the 2002 Arab peace initiative to which Saudi Arabia contributed. From this point of view, we have very close views with the Saudis. We wish to confer with them on this question and on the other issues I mentioned.
France, in close consultation with its European partners, intends to continue its efforts to mobilize the international community around the UN and African Union. The aim is to improve the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur and the region, in eastern Chad particularly, and to find a political solution to the crisis in Darfur. To that end France will host a ministerial meeting of the enlarged International Contact Group on Darfur in Paris on June 25.
Close cooperation with the African Union on the Darfur question is continuing. The head of the Africa and Indian Ocean section is due to go to Addis Ababa tomorrow where he will meet African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Said Djinnit in order to prepare for the meeting on June 25.
Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner will brief AU President Konare on the conclusions of the June 25 meeting.
Q - Where will it be held?
Probably at the International Conference Center on the Avenue Kleber.
Q - Who is attending?
As far as the participants are concerned, I should prefer to give you more details on Friday once we have a more complete list of responses.
A number of countries are to be represented. The US, with Ms Rice, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and Norway. The United Nations will be represented as will the European Union through the German presidency, Commissioner Louis Michel, who is responsible for development questions, and Mr. Solana.
Portugal will also be there as the next president of the European Union, as will the EU special representative for Sudan, Mr. Brylle. Other countries are expected, such as China, Russia, Japan, Italy, Egypt, Sweden, Denmark, Ghana and other regional and international organizations such as the Arab League, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
And as I just said, there is ongoing contact with the African Union.
Q - Does that mean the African Union isn’t attending? (…)
We are taking care to have very close consultations with the African Union in preparing this meeting. The African Union is naturally invited. It is up to them to assess the position they wish to take—keeping in mind that so far, if my information is correct, the African Union has not attended Contact Group meetings.
We’ll have to see what happens at the meeting in Paris on the 25th. We’ve not had a definite response from the African Union.
Q - And Sudan?
The minister spoke about this initiative to President Bashir and his Sudanese counterpart when he was there. But Sudan itself has not been invited to attend this meeting.
The Contact Group usually meets without the Sudanese authorities. This doesn’t mean obviously that the Contact Group is directed in any way against Sudan, but it is the usual practice with regard to the group’s work.
So we’ve informed the Sudanese authorities as far ahead of time as possible. But they’ve not been formally invited to the meeting.
Q - Now that the principle of the hybrid force is accepted, what is the exact purpose of the meeting?
We’ll give you more details about it at the Friday briefing. But the idea is to give an additional boost to the various actions aimed at finding a solution to the question of Darfur.
There’s the political process which is very important, especially to ensure that the talks involving the rebel movements are given new momentum.
There is also the new impetus to be given with regard to the hybrid force. As you said, we now have the Sudanese authorities’ acceptance in principle of the hybrid force. There was even an agreement reached recently in Addis Ababa between the UN, African Union and Sudan on the arrangements for deploying the hybrid force.
But it is important for the international community to show that it is acting. Because we will have to support the deployment of the hybrid force and finance it, and a number of questions still have to be resolved from this standpoint.
We also want to discuss the situation in eastern Chad at the June 25th meeting. It’s not Darfur directly, but it is a consequence of the situation in Darfur. As you know, we’re working with the Chadians on possible proposals to the participants of the enlarged group on the 25th.
Q - You say the Sudanese government hasn’t been formally invited. Are other political forces, the rebels, for example, going to be there?
The Contact Group is a process involving the international community. It’s a kind of umbrella group or catch-all for representatives of the international community. In addition, there’s a political process, specifically in the framework of the Tripoli group, which includes the Sudanese authorities and the rebel movements.
But neither the Sudanese authorities nor the rebel movements will be in Paris.
Q - Has France decided to take part in the hybrid force?
It’s a question that hasn’t yet come up since we’re still not at the stage of a call for troop contributors. Also, as you know the hybrid force was due to be composed predominantly of Africans.
Then, there’s the question of possible support for the force. There will be a process conducted by the UN department of peacekeeping operations to establish the force, to support and finance it. Certainly France in one way or another will support the deployment of the force. But I can’t say today what we’ll be doing.
There’s the French contribution and there’s also our significant contribution through the European Union. As you know, the EU is already one of the principal contributors to the African force, AMIS. There was nearly 400 million euros in EU support, if my information is correct, and a further 40 million euros was agreed at the latest general affairs/external relations council. France provides nearly one-quarter of that amount since these credits come from the European Development Fund.
Q - Is the idea of a force to secure the borders of Chad and the Central African Republic still on the table?
On one hand, there’s work going on on the hybrid force. On the other, work on the force for eastern Chad whose purpose will not be to secure the borders but to secure the environment in the camps. The goal is more humanitarian.
With regard to securing the borders, the Chadians and Sudanese consider that this is a matter falling directly within their authority.
Q - You mentioned several times the possibility of enlarging the Abuja agreement. If the rebel forces aren’t invited on Monday, when can it be done?
There’s a whole lot of work being carried out under the auspices of the UN and African Union special envoys, Mr. Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim. It is their job to bring together the Sudanese authorities and rebel movements. It’s in the framework of this joint UN/AU work that things are being done.
I believe there are to be meetings soon which are being planned to that end. There’s a UN/AU roadmap that’s been agreed. But that isn’t the purpose of the meeting on Monday.
That’s being handled by Mr. Eliasson and Ahmed Salim. It’s a difficult job because, as you know, there are 18 rebel movements.
Q - About the hybrid force. The Sudanese want to assign very specific missions to the Western forces, air logistic missions, and they want only African troops on the ground. Do you agree with this scenario?
We are abiding by what has been agreed. The force will be predominantly African. But if we see that the contributions from African countries are not enough to make up a robust and credible force, then at that point the department of peacekeeping operations will be able to call on other contributors. That’s the agreement.
Q - And the mission of these non-African forces?
I don’t necessarily have all the details. That’s a matter for the UN department of peacekeeping operations. What is important from a philosophical point of view is for there to be a credible and robust force which has a credible chain of command. That’s the UN’s guideline. Then it’s up to the UN, to Mr. Guehenno, to determine whether the objectives has been met or not, and how to achieve it.
Q - What were the decisions at Luxembourg concerning the Palestinians?
The decisions at Luxembourg correspond fairly broadly to what we on the French side wanted. The conclusions are, from our point of view, very positive since it has been stated clearly that the EU is going to re-establish normal relations with the Palestinian Authority immediately. With regard to aid, urgent work will be undertaken in four main directions.
First, resuming direct financial support to the Palestinian government. We need to know what the exact modalities are. We’ll find out fairly quickly but there’s some slight technical work to be done to see exactly how it can be done.
Second, supporting the Palestinian police force by resuming the EUPOL COPPS operation with a view to EU technical support to the Palestinian police.
Third, resuming the mission known as EUBAM, the EU assistance mission at the Rafah crossing. As you know, it was suspended in view of events. The idea is to resume the mission very quickly.
Fourth, support for the institutions of the future Palestinian state since we can see there’s a need for reinforcement, especially from the institutional point of view.
We are very satisfied with these conclusions since the minister had urged the EU to move quickly in taking a position after the events of last week. As you saw, the US reacted in the same way. I think one can say that the international community has reacted quickly and well to events in reaffirming support for President Mahmoud Abbas and taking steps to ensure that the Palestinian Authority is strengthened.
This doesn’t resolve all the problems as we well realize. The situation in Gaza is very troubling. In the case of Gaza it was agreed to see what could be done from a humanitarian viewpoint, in liaison with UNRWA, to help the Palestinian people.
You also saw that Ms Livni was in Luxembourg yesterday. She implied that Israel might at last release the monies owed the Palestinians, particularly the frozen tax revenue. We obviously took note of that with considerable interest and we encourage Israel to follow this path quickly and also make a number of gestures so that the situation in Gaza doesn’t get worse. Clearly, it would probably be a very bad move to establish a sort of blockade around Gaza. This could have very serious humanitarian consequences. That’s also a message that was conveyed to Ms Livni in Luxembourg yesterday.
Q - What’s happening about the Rafah crossing?
The EU is going to resume its operation EUBAM at Rafah.
Q - Immediately?
As soon as conditions permit.
Q - Hamas today accused the Europeans and Americans of conspiring against the Palestinian people and against Hamas. Your reaction?
We are not the ones who have done violence in the Gaza Strip and taken control of the territory by military means. We are reacting to a situation which wasn’t necessarily the one we wanted. Once it happened, we certainly had to react and the only possible reaction from the international community, which is almost unanimous on this issue with a few exceptions, is to support Mahmoud Abbas.
Q - Aside from the humanitarian steps, are you studying how to bring Gaza back into the fold of the Palestinian Authority?
That’s a more political and more complicated matter. We reaffirm our constant position in support of the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. From a political point of view, we are against the idea of a partition between Gaza and the West Bank, and we’ve made this clear. But at the same time, there is work to be done among the Palestinians themselves to try to make sure that the current situation isn’t prolonged. That’s something that President Abbas has to do to try to rally the Palestinians, and quite obviously we support him in any efforts he might make to this end.
Q - To go back to your statement about aid. You mentioned support for the police. Does that mean in the West Bank only?
Our interlocutors on this question are Mahmoud Abbas and the government he formed under the authority of Mr. Fayyad. Given the current situation, these actions will be carried out where they can be, i.e. in the West Bank.
Q - And Rafah?
Rafah is not police support, it’s assistance in supervising the crossing.
Q - Aren’t you worried that this will confirm Hamas’ accusation that you’re helping the police?
These missions were begun some time ago already. They’re not new. They were put on hold given the situation we all know. Now, we consider that the conditions are met to resume these missions. It’s important to understand in this matter that we are not playing one faction against the other. We support the Palestinian Authority, with a legitimate president, an emergency government that has been set up, and we are concerned that the people’s suffering should be as least harsh as possible. That’s our position.
Q - Is the idea of holding elections among the Palestinians supported by France?
I’ve no judgment to make from this point of view. It’s a matter for the Palestinians. It is up to President Abbas to decide what the best way to rally the Palestinians is. It is clear certainly, over and above the present situation, that there has to be concern for rallying the people.
Q - Are there any French nationals in Gaza? Is the Cultural Center going to continue its activities?
With regard to French nationals, we’ve issued a number of security advisories. I believe there are between 25 and 30 French citizens in the Gaza Strip, most of them dual nationals. Our consular services are in contact with them to check that they are safe. With regard to the Cultural Center, we will be making a decision depending on the security conditions. I believe it is closed for the time being. The minister discussed these questions at his meeting with Ms Livni yesterday and he asked the Israeli authorities to facilitate the departure of any French nationals who would like to leave the Gaza Strip.
Q - What is happening about the conference on Lebanon? Is it being put off because of a stumbling block?
No, for the time being we are continuing our consultations, and no final decision has been taken.
Q - Is the envoy, Jean-Claude Cousseran, going to go to Damascus as part of the preparations for the conference?
We have already said that there was no plan for Mr. Cousseran to go to Damascus and, so far as I know things haven’t changed.
Q - And Teheran?
It’s still open.
Q - Is there a possibility of postponing or canceling the meeting? Are you coordinating with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa?
Point one, I would like to remark that we’ve not postponed the meeting since we’ve not announced the date.
Also, with respect to the Arab League, we are obviously in contact with them, and Mr. Cousseran recently met Amr Moussa in Cairo, a few days ago. We are very keen to know how the Arab League feels, that’s certain.
Q - You say you’re not postponing something that was never definite. But before, you said that the proposal was under consideration. Is it correct to say that the initiative itself hasn’t yet been decided? Was it for media interest?
No, not at all. We are thinking about matters, having consultations, and I can’t say what the outcome will be.
Q - So there’s no longer an initiative?
Yes, there is definitely the idea of holding this meeting. It’s just that we’ve not decided on a date or on the list of participants, and Mr. Cousseran is therefore having consultations.
Q - The Lebanese prime minister is coming to Paris on June 26 for the conference. Will there be discussions ahead of the conference? Is he coming for this reason specifically?
First, the idea is going around that Mr. Siniora might come to France, but for the time being it hasn’t been confirmed by the Elysée. So I’m being fairly careful, but it is conceivable that Mr. Siniora might come to Paris fairly soon.
His visit would go beyond the framework of the meeting. Its purpose would be to show, after the minister’s visit to Lebanon a few days after he took office, our support to Lebanon, to the Lebanese authorities and the Lebanese prime minister. Mr. Siniora would undoubtedly be received at the highest level. This would very largely go beyond the simple exercise we were mentioning just now.
In addition, I would remind you that we don’t want to convene a conference but hold a simple, informal meeting. Of course, if the Lebanese prime minister comes to Paris, I imagine that the question will be discussed with him. I don’t see how it could be otherwise.
Q - Will the people invited to the meeting be political figures or thinkers, intellectuals? Have you raised or lower the level?
I don’t know if the fact of going from political figures to intellectuals would raise or lower the level. I leave it to you to decide. I won’t comment. But our idea is still the same. The idea is to have representatives of political group taking part in the Lebanese national dialogue. That’s not changed. Plus, a few people from civil society.
Q - A European team has just arrived in Lebanon to study the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared camp. Is France part of the delegation?
I’m not aware of it. I’ll look into it. The first question with regard to the camp is restoring complete security. I gathered this had been started but I don’t know if it’s been completed. Before we can talk about reconstruction, order has to be restored in the camp. We support the Lebanese authorities.
Embassy of France, June 19, 2007