Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, February 21, 2007)

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


PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY/FRANCE

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will make a working visit to France on Saturday, February 24. President Chirac will have a meeting with the president of the Palestinian Authority at the Elysée Palace at 11 a.m. Mr. Abbas will meet with Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy that same day at 5:30 p.m.

The visit is the third the president of the Palestinian Authority has made to France since he became head of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005. It will be an opportunity for the French authorities to reaffirm their support to President Abbas in his current efforts to form a national unity government. As you know, France welcomed the agreement signed in Mecca which constitutes a step in the right direction towards complete adherence to the Quartet’s principles.

France considers the international community must do everything possible to help the Palestinians form this unity government in order to pave the way to new relations of cooperation and the resumption of the peace process. After the tripartite meeting on February 19 and pending the results of the meeting of the Quartet, France calls on the two parties to work to re-launch the peace negotiations.

INGRID BETANCOURT

I will read the communiqué we issued last night:

“From the moment Ingrid Betancourt was abducted on February 23, 2002, the French authorities at all levels of the state mobilized immediately, and have remained so ever since.

“A special unit was immediately set up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to follow the matter; all this Ministry’s officials involved are permanently assigned to it. It has also involved from the beginning various ministries and state services that could conceivably provide assistance in securing the release of our compatriot. These contributions have never been lacking over the past five years.

“The special unit has met several times with representatives of the Colombian government, in particular the high commissioner for peace. It has organized several meetings with FARC leaders. The envoys sent to Colombia, in the course of over 15 missions, have acted in very difficult conditions, at times even at the risk of their lives. They did so without any other ambition than to free Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages.

“At the same time, many contacts have been established with our partners in Europe, Latin America, the United States and elsewhere. They have enabled us to multiply our efforts and diversify our support. It is in this context that in the past few years we formed a group with Spain and Switzerland to begin the work of facilitation between the Colombian government and the FARC. Today the group is recognized by both parties, with which it has established trustful relations, and it is probably the only intermediary that has managed to get itself accepted.

“More than ever the French authorities intend to continue their mobilization on behalf of the hostages in Colombia. In the face of the painful ordeal which the families and friends of these prisoners are going through, now is not the time for polemics but for solidarity and the involvement of all in the search for a solution which brings the hostages home.”

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy will meet with family members, representatives of the international federation of Ingrid Betancourt support committees and representatives of the French support committee for Ingrid Betancourt on Thursday, February 22, at 4:15 p.m. at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The minister will recall the actions taken by the French authorities to obtain the release of our compatriot and the other hostages. He will give his analysis of the situation and his contacts with the Colombian authorities.

The meeting will be followed by a press briefing at 5 p.m.

(…)

IRAQ

Q - The UK and Denmark announced this Wednesday the start of the withdrawal of their troops from Iraq. Do these announcements go in the direction of the “outlook for withdrawal” sought by France for 2008?

We have taken note of these decisions which are a sovereign matter for the countries concerned.

Any decision in this direction must be accompanied, as we have said all along, by inclusive and genuine political dialogue among all the Iraqi parties, with the support of the countries in the region, with a view to restoring stability in Iraq and allowing it to recover is full sovereignty.

(…)

CHAD/CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Q - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommends deploying an international force of 6,000 to 11,000 in eastern Chad and the northeast of the Central African Republic. What’s your reaction?

We are concerned about the destabilizing effects of the Darfur crisis on the countries in the region, particularly Chad and the Central African Republic. As we’ve said repeatedly in the UN Security Council, it is urgent, we think, to improve the security of the civilian population and the humanitarian operators, which is particularly threatened in the border areas. It is with this concern in mind that we are going to study the recommendations of the exploratory mission that the UN secretary-general led to Chad and the Central African Republic.

(…)

CLUSTER MUNITIONS

Q - Will France be attending the international conference on cluster munitions in Oslo?

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has just accepted the invitation from Norway to take part in the Oslo international conference on cluster munitions. So a French delegation will be attending the conference which will be held on February 22 and 23.

Aware of the risk the most dangerous cluster bombs represent for civilians, France shares the Norwegian authorities’ concern to provide a specific response to this humanitarian scourge as quickly as possible.

France wishes to see the adoption of a legally binding international instrument banning or restricting the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions, which will target cluster munitions whose use entails unacceptable consequences for civilians as recent events have shown.

France considers such an instrument should take the form of a protocol annexed to the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). It hopes that the next conference of states parties to the CCW in November will see the start of negotiations on this instrument.

Pending the definition of this instrument, France hopes that states commit to taking, in a national capacity, all appropriate measures to limit the use and transfer of the most dangerous cluster munitions for civilians./.

Embassy of France, February 21, 2007