Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, February 20, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
Q - Can you confirm that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is coming to Paris Friday?
I can tell you that a European tour by the president of the Palestinian Authority has been announced and it’s indicated that he will be in Paris at the end of the week. For now, the details of his program aren’t known, but I can confirm that he will be in Paris at the end of next week, probably Friday or Saturday.
Q - Will he meet Mr. Douste-Blazy?
Right now, the program hasn’t been decided. So I can’t tell you more about it.
Q - What’s your analysis of yesterday’s meeting in Jerusalem? Are you satisfied?
We already made a statement yesterday saying that for us what was important was the fact that the various interlocutors are talking to and meeting each other. From that point of view, it was a good thing.
In addition we hoped to see a political horizon, especially for the Palestinians, since the important agreement reached in Mecca. We feel that from this point of view the meeting was useful.
Now, we have to see what the follow-up of this meeting will be. As you know, we’re awaiting an important meeting of the Quartet in Berlin tomorrow. It will be an opportunity to consider with the various representatives of the international community what lessons can be drawn from the important agreement signed in Mecca and therefore what developments can be expected from it, both in terms of cooperation with a national unity government and relations with that government.
Q - But a few days ago Mr. Mattéi said that France hoped the meeting in Jerusalem would let Mr. Olmert to make gestures towards the Palestinians, specifically releasing taxes and freeing political prisoners. On that level are you satisfied with yesterday’s meeting in Jerusalem?
We have not analyzed all the results of the meeting. Once again, I'm telling you we considered it an encouraging sign. There still remains the fact that we feel more progress is necessary to achieve a totally satisfactory situation.
Q - Do you have an idea how the Quartet operates? It consists of four entities. For example, if the Americans don’t agree, can this freeze everything or are decisions taken by majority? How does the Quartet operate?
As you know, we’re not members of the Quartet as such. It is indeed a meeting with four participants.
The Quartet operates more on consensus precisely so as to offer an assessment from the international community as a whole in regard to this extremely difficulty situation of the Middle East. Each one comes with his arguments, and they try to agree on a common position.
We earnestly hope that the position the Quartet takes tomorrow will be the European position since we worked to formulate a European position at the general affairs/external relations council and we continue to support the efforts of Javier Solana, who is the EU representative in these meetings.
Q - Can you restate the European position for us?
You can find the European position in the statement by the general affairs/external relations council. Grosso modo, we said that we were encouraged by the Mecca agreement and were ready to work with a legitimate government which adopted a platform reflecting the Quartet’s principles. I invite you to read the statement closely.
Q - You don’t have the same idea as the Americans and Israelis?
I’m telling you the position of France and the Europeans. I invite you to contact the others to find out what their position is.
Q - Are you going to present Mr. Abbas with a French or European initiative, especially about the idea for an international conference?
The idea for an international conference is one we’ve floated several times already and we maintain it, as we’ve said. It’s not an international conference to take the place of the parties. It’s an international conference to assist the negotiators in their discussions. So it’s an idea which is still on the table and which, from this point of view, is helped by the events in Mecca on February 8 and yesterday’s meetings.
As I said, the fact that people can meet, talk among themselves and study other possible ways to agreement seems to us very useful and very important, and something the international conference can back.
As regards what we’ll be presenting and saying in the next few days, that will depend on what the Quartet discusses in Berlin tomorrow and the ideas presented to us by the president of the Palestinian Authority when he’s in Paris at the end of the week.
Q - Is France going to amend or alter its position vis-à-vis the new Palestinian national unity government? Is France going to put the boycott on hold?
As I said, we’re waiting for both the government’s final composition and its program. This is obviously very important for calibrating the nature of our relations and the nature of our cooperation.
Q - You spoke of lessons to be learned from the Mecca agreement. Do you think that even before the composition of the new Palestinian government this agreement constitutes a basis for resuming negotiations and later for cooperation with the future Palestinian government? I’m not speaking of the government but just the agreement itself.
I refer you to the statement we made immediately after the Mecca agreement. I’m quoting from memory that we said it was a step in the right direction as far as we are concerned, but one which deserves today to take shape in the ways I mentioned, namely, the exact composition of this national unity government—as you know, difficulties are continuing—and the program which will be the basis for the government’s work.
Q - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made new statements today. What’s your reaction?
In our eyes, there’s an event in the Iranian issue which is important—the report that the International Atomic Energy Agency director is to present in Vienna, tomorrow normally.
As you know, he’s meeting Mr. Larijani today. So he’ll have the opportunity to discuss the issue quite directly with a high Iranian official.
Until this report is published and analyzed, our position remains the same, namely that we are still open to dialogue with the Iranians, but the international community has asked fairly specific questions regarding Iran’s compliance with its commitments. Noting that these commitments had not been respected, we decided at the end of 2006 to adopt a resolution which is very clear and which lays down a number of sanctions.
What we observe, but I say this with caution, is that apparently these sanctions have caused a number of movements, which are interesting and which now deserve to take shape. The Iranians would have to commit to the direction demanded by the international community in order for us to change position.
Q - You speak of a number of movements. What do you mean?
I refer to the fact that you’ve had rather different announcements coming from Iranian officials. I’m not going back to the various statements or interviews that have been given recently, but they do show that you’ve a certain debate going on in Iran about the stance to be taken on the Iranian nuclear issue. Given that, we consider since this debate has started that it’s in our interest to continue our firm attitude and at the same time to hold out our hand and the offer of dialogue.
Q - Have you heard the Iranian president’s statements today?
I’ve not seen the president’s latest statements. But once again, as we’ve said many times right here, we don’t comment on every statement that is made. There have been a lot of them lately, and they don’t always go in the same direction. We consider the international community’s position to be very clear and we expect an equally clear response from the Iranian authorities.
Q - We’re nearing the 5th anniversary of when Ingrid Betancourt was taken hostage, and her daughter Melanie has been quite tough on France, saying among things that France hadn’t played the American card enough to put pressure on President Uribe to unblock this matter, that there’s been no crisis unit on her mother’s release and lastly that the political resolve was lacking. What comments do you have?
I’m not going to comment very fully. You saw that the prime minister himself was questioned by Ms Melanie Betancourt his morning and so had the opportunity to respond. The essence of the answers that can be given in this matter were given by the prime minister himself;
I’d just like to recall two things. The first is that there was a joint communiqué Friday afternoon from the three ministers concerned, the French, Swiss and Spanish foreign ministers who recalled that we have a regular discussion with the Colombian authorities about creating the conditions for a humanitarian agreement. I refer you to this joint communiqué which said that there was a meeting Friday of negotiators from these three countries to renew the proposal to guarantee security in an area that would allow for dialogue between the government and the FARC. It’s an important element which does show that we are continuing to work on this.
In addition, with regard to the crisis unit, I’d like to remind you as we’ve said before also, that the minister is personally following and directing this matter. He went to Bogotá himself just about a year ago now, and he’s liaising permanently with the various ministries and state authorities involved in this matter. He meets virtually every week with his main aides to review the situation, demand progress and seek new ideas so as to find a solution to this painful case.
Q - And the American card? According to Betancourt’s daughter, France should be working it to bring pressure to bear on President Uribe.
As you’ve seen and as I’ve just said, we’ve chosen an option which is more to work with European partners. With that said, we are still in contact with the various countries concerned. It goes without saying that since the US has a number of hostages there and channels for discussion with the Colombian government, we’re in touch with them on this issue. From there to clearly using the American card--I think we should leave various options open for finding a solution to this difficult matter.
Q - It seems that Saudi Arabia is doing another Taef for the Lebanese. Former Lebanese prime minister Selim Hoss has been invited to Saudi Arabia, is currently in Damascus and may be in Iran tomorrow. It even appears he might be named prime minister. What does France think? I might add there’s even talk of forming a multinational cabinet with 30 ministers, 15 for the current majority and ten for the opposition.
My comment, as President Chirac said last night in the tribute to Rafiq Hariri, which was attended by the minister incidentally, is that we are obviously following the situation in Lebanon with close attention and interest. At the same time, we do not wish to interfere in Lebanese affairs. We are paying close attention to the various ideas going around. Our representatives on the spot are meeting all the partners and evaluating the situation day by day. The idea you referred to is one idea among others which is circulating at this time to try to find a solution to the somewhat difficult situation of forming a Lebanese government. It’s one of the ideas going around, which is obviously being closed followed by our authorities, but it’s not our place, you can understand, to take a position with regard to this particular idea.
Q - Apparently France doesn’t agree with appointing another prime minister to replace Mr. Siniora. The French and the American are supporting Mr. Siniora to the end. That’s the reason I’m asking the question. You don’t agree, in a way.
It’s not our place to agree or disagree. We recognize a prime minister who was elected and appointed democratically. Obviously, once there’s a decision by the Lebanese themselves taken democratically, consensually—it’s a decision that concerns them, and we’d obviously evaluate the conditions in which a government was appointed. But at this point we support the legitimate prime minister. Afterwards, everything will depend on the agreement reached among the Lebanese themselves. And on that we have no position to express in these negotiations.
Q - Has there been a revision of the total amount of aid paid out at the time of Paris III?
It’s in progress. We’ve contacted a number of delegations again for details about their announcements since they were very generous and sometimes called to be closely reexamined. I’ve seen a number of diplomatic messages come back with details, but so far as I know the total isn’t in yet. The overall picture isn’t there yet owing to these uncertainties.
Q - The tendency is up or down?
More on the upward side. Afterwards we’ll need to do a breakdown between what’s a donation, what’s a loan and what comes under private aid. There are a number of details to be obtained, but we’ve undertaken this work.
Q - In what timeframe?
We hope as quickly as possible but we’re dependent on the answers sent in by our partners, it doesn’t depend on us. Count on us to put the pressure on to get these results as quickly as possible.
Q - According to the newspaper Al-Nahar, the residents of a village in the south, Maroun El-Ras, reportedly drove French UNIFIL soldiers out of their village yesterday. Can you confirm this report?
It’s not the first time that people relate incidents of this kind. In most case brought to our attention, we realize after contacting UNIFIL and the French units with UNIFIL that they were micro-events that were inflated and didn’t reflect the real situation. In the case you’re referring to, we’ve no confirmation from UNIFIL of such an incident. I can’t confirm it.
Q - It’s being said that the UN suggested to France and other European states that they train soldiers specifically to cope with incidents like this.
We’re intervening in the context of UNFIIL; we support the Lebanese army according to the terms defined by both resolution 1701 and the security arrangements negotiated subsequently. You may remember that episode from last summer. We are operating within this framework and have no reason to leave it or to provide for special arrangements. The mechanism is already carefully detailed in the security arrangements.
Q - Deadly clashes broke out in Mogadishu today. I’d like to know if you have any information about the situation.
We hope to see the federal transition government implement political measures fairly quickly now which will reduce tensions in the capital and throughout the country so as to prevent violence from flaring up again. In addition the process of the national conference, which was announced by President Yusuf in Addis Ababa, must strengthen this national reconciliation. Lastly, as you know, a UN resolution is about to be adopted providing for an international presence in the framework of AMISON. We are preparing to vote on the resolution since it’s today, I believe, that it’s goes to the vote./.
Embassy of France, February 20, 2007