Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, December 21, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
France condemns in the strongest terms the deadly attack that took place today in a mosque in northwestern Pakistan which caused the deaths of over 50 people.
France expresses its solidarity with Pakistan in these tragic circumstances.
Q - I’d like to have your comment on the statements by the American president yesterday. He said that absent a president with broad support, a consensus president, he would urge the majority to elect a president by simple majority. President Sarkozy told us the other day, after his meeting with the American secretary of state, that you and the Americans were still on the same wavelength. Is that still the case? Is that your approach?
I can confirm that this is indeed our approach and I would like to remind you, in response to your question, of the statement made in Paris on December 17 in the evening after the donors’ conference. It was a report of a meeting held between representatives of Egypt, France, Italy, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, UK, US, the president of the EU Council, the Commission and Javier Solana, the Secretary-General/High Representative, under the auspices of UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. The statement, still current, referred to the agreement of all in reaffirming and reiterating “our call for unconditional Lebanese presidential elections without any further delay.” We also said in the statement that we “support the legitimate, democratically elected Lebanese government and the Lebanese armed forces in their efforts to maintain the sovereignty and stability of Lebanon,” and we “reiterate our call for the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon.” That is our position. We call for presidential elections to be held in Lebanon as soon as possible.
Q - That wasn’t my question. The question was for comment on President Bush’s remarks yesterday.
But it’s my answer. My comment is that it changes nothing with regard to the statement which remains valid today and clearly states the position that we all share.
Q - But when President Bush calls for the parliamentary majority to elect a president by simple majority, do you agree with him?
I refer you to the declaration of December 17. For the rest it is up to the Lebanese to adopt the rules that govern how their elections are held, in accordance with Lebanon’s constitution. What we all want is to see the presidential election held as quickly as possible so that a Lebanese president with broad support is elected. It’s not our place to take a position on the rules of procedure. The Lebanese apply their rules in accordance with the Lebanese constitution. It’s their responsibility.
Q - … There probably won’t be an election, there’ll be an escalation. There’s been talk of sanctions and warnings. Is French diplomacy moving into a higher gear with respect to those inside and outside Lebanon who are blocking the electoral process according to France and the United States?
I don’t think one should talk of escalation. Our position is unchanged. We were in contact with the Syrians to tell them that we were counting on them so that the elections in Lebanon take place satisfactorily in accordance with the Lebanese constitution. That is still our position, and we hope that the Syrians are going to heed us. We hope that any eventual foreign interference is exercised in a positive sense. We are committed to the stability of this region, and Lebanon’s stability is essential for the region’s stability. That is why it is very important that the presidential election should take place in satisfactory conditions, and we’re asking everyone not to put obstacles in the way.
Q - One of the very acute problems in Lebanon now is the dispute about the agreement brokered by Mr. Kouchner in the presence of Mr. Berri and Mr. Hariri. With regard to the composition of the future government after the new election, can you confirm that at that meeting there was agreement on the proportions of majority and opposition in the new government?
There were talks. Bernard Kouchner had contacts with everyone, as you know, Saad Hariri, Nabih Berri, General Aoun and others, and in the wake of all these contacts, in the framework of these contacts, we’re calling for an agreement on the election of a president with broad support. Mr. Kouchner did everything he could to help reach this agreement, and we hope that all these endeavors, all these efforts, will end up producing results. But at the same time, as I have said all along, agreement depends on the Lebanese. It is not for us to dictate the rules.
Q - Until today you were hoping for an agreement by a large majority, 51% of more?
I’ve not mentioned figures. We’re hoping that an agreement will be reached leading to the election of a Lebanese president. You will not have any figure from me. As I’ve said, it is up to the Lebanese to determine the modalities of the agreement and adopt the rules.
Q - There’s been a lot of negotiations and consultations with Syria and Syrian leaders. You asked the Syrians to facilitate the election of a Lebanese president and to reach an agreement. Did France and Europe offer the Syrians anything for facilitating the election? And secondly Syrian Foreign Minister Mouallem has stated exactly what Syria wants in the composition of the next Lebanese government, namely 13/17 with a share of ministers and the presidency. Does France support this?
I don’t have to comment on your second point. Mr. Mouallem made his statements—these are part of his discussions with the Lebanese. With regard to your first question, one shouldn’t present it as a “deal” or exchange. In our contacts with Syria, our objective--and it’s a shared objective, it’s in Syria’s interest and the interest of the entire region--is for there to be a stable situation in Lebanon, and stability there requires the presidential election to take place satisfactorily.
Q - President Sarkozy mentioned the possibility of clashes among Lebanese. Do you have any information that would lead you to believe that?
No. What we all want, as we’ve said and repeated this morning, is to see an agreement emerge among the Lebanese.
Q - The trial in the Zoë’s Ark case started this morning in N’djamena. What are you expecting? (…)
This is a trial, a judicial matter, and we don’t customarily comment on judicial matters. With that said, I will simply repeat what Rama Yade said a few days ago: Chadian judges will reach their decision. They will do so in complete sovereignty. We only hope that the decisions will reflect a level of clemency. Dates and timetable are a matter for Chadian judicial officials.
Q - What comes next after the donors’ conference in Paris? A commentary on the situation in the Middle East now?
As you know, there’s to be a meeting on January 22 at the political level, follow-up of the work of the ad hoc liaison committee, Tony Blair’s action, and of course the international financial organizations, the World Bank and IMF. It’s all in the summary I gave you of the conference. There’s nothing new.
Q - About Monday’s conference. Were you disappointed by the fact that the amount of money Salam Fayyad requested wasn’t reached for budget support, which was actually the main purpose of the exercise?
I don’t agree with you, and I don’t understand your question. We are certainly not disappointed, on the contrary we were very pleased with the results. As you know, the figure is higher than what we’d expected, and you can’t say today that it’s less for budget support because there is still a significant amount that hasn’t been earmarked. Let me say again, we are absolutely not disappointed by the results of the Paris Conference which exceeded all our expectations.
Q - Apparently the US announced there was to be a six-way telephone conference on Iran, and I thought it was this Thursday and not next Thursday so I'd like to know if it was indeed yesterday and what came out of it aside from the fact that everyone agreed to pursue sanctions and to maintain the unity of the six?
There was in fact a telephone conference for political directors, and the result is as you said: The discussions are to continue, and there is no agreement. France is doing everything possible to find formulas that can be agreed on by all the participants.
Q - About Saddam Hussein’s funds which are apparently still blocked in France. Can you confirm that the amount is about 20 million euros? Why are they still blocked when there’s been a UN resolution since 2003?
There is actually a difficulty. I can’t give you the figure because we’re in the process of examining this matter. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working closely, as you would expect, with the Ministry for the Economy, Finance and Industry.
It is a sensitive question legally as well as from a financial standpoint because it involves property law, and to illustrate one of the difficulties, a part of the frozen assets in France is subject to procedures for seizing it or having it held as surety by creditors of the Iraqi state.
So we’re looking very closely at this matter with the Ministry for the Economy and Finance, and we intend to move forward on it. We’ve also been working for a long time in close cooperation and complete transparency with the Iraqi embassy in Paris.
That’s all I can tell you today but I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the considerable effort France made in canceling Iraq’s debt. You will certainly remember, but let me remind you that for 2004 we canceled a total of 4 billion euros, i.e. about $5 billion.
Q - In Kosovo the situation now is even more complicated. (…) It’s hard to see how the EU wants to act. Moreover, the next EU president is a Slovene, and Slovenia is the only country from the former Yugoslavia which is already in the EU. In practical terms what can we expect…?
You’re right to remind us that the Slovene presidency is going to be actively involved in this question. It has already announced that it considers Kosovo a very important question and that it wants to see progress made You mentioned all these elements so I won’t go over them again.
The European Council has said that the EU stands ready to play its full part in the region. It is in fact a European problem as Bernard Kouchner has said many times. European intervention should include, we hope very quickly, the deployment of an ESDP operation which should contribute to stability in the region.
Q - Will this force be in addition to KFOR?
There are two things. As can be seen from the debates that were held in the UN Security Council yesterday, we will continue to act in both the EU framework and the NATO framework with respect to KFOR. The EU’s action will be in line with what UNMIK was doing in the area of police and justice.
I would like to give you a few details concerning EUFOR in response to the question you asked yesterday about troop levels.
I can tell you that the European Union has assembled the bulk of needed contributions in men. At this point it represents three battalions of various nationalities (France, Ireland, Poland) plus the contribution of about 15 EU countries in men and equipment. We will be continuing our efforts in the coming days, in close liaison with General Nash, to get additional assets with regard to air transport.
All in all we’ve about 3,000 men which corresponds, as you’ll all remember, to the figure we’d mentioned when we first spoke about the issue.
Q - In spite of all the efforts you’ve just enumerated, you’re behind schedule all the same. We’d envisioned October.
You’re a bit optimistic. I believe that we’d actually spoken of early December.
Q - But is there a new timetable?
We hope that the operation will be deployed as quickly as possible.
Q - The FARC have put our their own communiqué confirming what was said a few days ago. What’s more, Fabrice Delloye said that according to his information, the three hostages were in the process of being released. Do you have any information on this, and what steps will the French side take next…?
We’ve no information other than that which you’ve just stated. We are mobilized at the highest level day and night on this matter, as you know, and we really do hope that we’ll be able to reach the humanitarian solution everyone wants that will lead to the release of all the FARC-held hostages, particularly Ingrid Betancourt./.
Embassy of France, December 21, 2007