Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, May 22, 2007)

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


LEBANON

France condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack in Beirut last night which caused about a dozen victims.

It hopes there will be a full investigation as soon as possible into the circumstances of this cowardly attack and the attack that also struck Lebanon’s capital in the Ashrafiyeh district on May 20.

It calls on all Lebanese to remain united behind the authorities of the state in the face of those who wish to undermine the stability of the country.

France reaffirms its solidarity with the Lebanese people and will do everything possible to assist Lebanon in its fight to end the impunity with respect to these acts of another age. The current process in New York to set up the special tribunal for Lebanon is continuing, and the international community is resolved, like Lebanon, not to allow itself to be intimidated.

Q - Are you establishing a link between setting up that tribunal and the events that have occurred in the past few days?

It is difficult, not knowing the origin of these events, especially with regard to the attacks, to establish that type of link. One may simply have certain thoughts about the fact that these events are occurring at precisely this time.

What is certain, as we said in our statement, is that these events must not lead to any slackening in the efforts to establish the tribunal. Quite clearly, in our view, the choice is not between Lebanon’s stability and the demand for justice. Both are needed. Everything must be done of course to consolidate Lebanon’s stability, but we must also pursue the demand for justice and establish the tribunal. And we think the fight against impunity is itself a factor for stability in Lebanon.

Q - According to information from Lebanon, these attacks have been claimed by the Fatah al-Islam group. Do you have any information about this?

No, we also noted the claims that were made this morning. I’ve no comment on this matter. There will have to be an investigation to identify the perpetrators and those behind these attacks.

Q - Does France plan to take an initiative to get a truce between the Fatah al-Islam group and the Lebanese army?

First of all we’ll have to see if that kind of initiative is requested by the Lebanese authorities. So far as I know, it isn’t the case at this time.

We are paying very close attention to the situation. The minister, Bernard Kouchner, is obviously very concerned about what is happening in Lebanon. As you saw, he phoned Fouad Siniora on Sunday. He is also having talks with a whole series of political leaders, including Mr. Solana who is currently in the region. So we’re obviously ready to help the Lebanese if the government wants us to and feels the need.

Q - How?

That remains to be determined. As I said, everything will depend on what we’re asked. There are possible discussions in the Security Council too if the Lebanese want it. If they think having the Security Council take a position can help Lebanon at this time, we are ready to talk about it.

Q - So France feels capable of helping to find a truce?

That’s not absolutely what I said. Once again, everything depends on the Lebanese authorities. They’re the ones handling this situation. So it is up to them to judge the line they want to take. If they think at some point they need the international community, need France, we are ready to help. But we don’t pretend to tell the Lebanese authorities from Paris how to establish a truce on the ground, that’s certainly not our intention.

Q - Does France have the capacity, for example, assuming the Lebanese government asked it to, to help lessen tensions between the militias and Lebanese government?

We’re not at that point at all. It is up to the Lebanese authorities to handle the situation. If you’re asking me hypothetically if France, assuming we were asked, would be ready to help, I would naturally say yes with regard to Lebanon. But as I said, I’ve not seen any such request from the Lebanese authorities at this time.

Q - Several Lebanese government officials have accused Syria of being behind the Fatah al-Islam group. Do you subscribe to this approach?

We prefer not to make this type of accusation. I believe an attempt is obviously being made to destabilize Lebanon, an attempt to intimidate the country. And we’re saying that Lebanon must resist this attempted intimidation.

Besides, like you, I’ve read the Syrian communiqués, the Syrian statements denying any connection with the Fatah al-Islam group. So we’ve taken note of these statements. There are other stranger comments by the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations but that

is something else.

(…)

Q - The foreign minister is talking a lot about human rights. Have you expressed your feelings regarding the situation of Palestinians in the camp?

It is of course an element to be taken into consideration. In terms of principle we can only approve the determination of Lebanon’s legitimate authorities to exercise their authority and the sovereignty of the Lebanese state over the entire country.

With regard to the consequences for civilians, it is of course to be taken into consideration.

Q - There’s no idea for a humanitarian corridor?

That’s not the problem in Lebanon right now. The problem is the re-establishment of order and calm. For that, as we said yesterday, we have confidence in the Lebanese authorities.

Q - What did the minister talk about with Mr. Siniora? Can you give us more details?

The minister wanted to call the Lebanese prime minister very early on so as to establish contact and express his concern about what is happening in the region—he knows it very well since you will remember that our new minister was very active there for many years. They decided to remain in contact. And as we said, they’re considering the possibility of a meeting as soon as possible. You’re going to ask me if the minister is planning a trip to the region. For the time being there’s no date for such a trip, but obviously the minister is willing to go to the region at any time if necessary.

Q - A lot of people see a cause-and-effect relationship between what is happening in Lebanon now and the upcoming date for voting on the resolution on the tribunal. Are we closer to this date in going to a vote on the resolution? Have you and your allies in the Security Council managed to iron out the difficulties we all know?

With regard to your first point, I mentioned a moment ago that we’re seeing these attempts at intimidation, at pressure surfacing today. Next, everyone is free to form an opinion to decide the objective being pursued by those people who are behind these events, but I don’t wish to get into this.

Second aspect, the resolution--discussions are continuing in New York. We are conferring with all the delegations. I believe that things are moving forward but I can’t tell you today when the text will go to the vote.

Let me remind you of the philosophy behind the text which in our view is fairly straightforward, aiming to help the Lebanese overcome the internal obstruction so as to give life to the agreement on the tribunal and simply adopt the draft statute as prepared. Adopt the statute as prepared by the UN, as negotiated with the Lebanese government and so enable it to enter into force through this resolution. It’s a simply push, in a way, so as to help the Lebanese overcome this internal obstacle.

(…)

Q - Certain Lebanese political forces have requested a commission of inquiry into the events this week and want to call for an international commission. Do you support this? Are you worried about UNIFIL?

With regard to the first aspect, it’s a matter that depends on the Lebanese. If some of them want a commission of inquiry, it’s up to the Lebanese to see if there are grounds for it nor not.

As for an international commission, I’ve not seen that specific request. I don’t believe at this time there has been a request from the Lebanese authorities. If there is one, we’ll have to see whether there are grounds for acting on the request or not.

With regard to UNIFIL, we’re taking all the requisite security measures all the time. But the events we’re talking about are not happening in the area where UNIFIL is deployed.

Q - You talk about reaffirming your solidarity with the Lebanese people and assisting Lebanon. Is it political or military assistance?

It’s a political assistance with a military component through UNIFIl. For now we’re not talking about anything else.

(…)

Q - What can be done for the civilians in the Palestinian camps?

On the principle we support the determination of the Lebanese authorities to re-establish order. Point two, obviously one has to pay attention to the fate of civilians. It is essential the Lebanese authorities facilitate the evacuation of civilian victims and do everything possible to ensure that the population of the camp is spared from a humanitarian point of view. That’s quite evident. We are mindful of the effects of the fighting on civilians.

(…)

Q - There’s a program of assistance for the Lebanese army. Can you tell us about it?

We have assigned a general officer a mission. We have been cooperating with the Lebanese army for some time, especially with respect to training. For the rest, I’ll have to check, especially about the eventual supply of equipment. I believe we’ve provided light equipment to the Lebanese army. But I’ll have to check before I can give you more specific details.

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

One third of the members of the Human Rights Council was renewed by the UN General Assembly at elections held in New York on May 17.

The rejection of the Belarusian candidate by a majority of General Assembly members in the second round of the election is in line with resolution 61/175 adopted by the General Assembly last December condemning the human rights situation in Belarus and with the spirit of resolution 60/251 of March 2006 setting criteria for the election of members to the HRC. Under this last resolution, the candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights must be taken into consideration at the time of the election, and the General Assembly may suspend a Council member who has committed gross and systematic human rights violations.

The Human Rights Council is still in the crucial phase of formulating its mechanisms so it is important to contribute actively to its work. That is the sense of the action that France pursues in Geneva. We hope that at the end of this initial period it becomes an effective tool for furthering the efficient promotion and protection of human rights, individually and universal. Accordingly we will be a candidate at the elections for the HRC in 2008.

MIDDLE EAST

Q - An Israeli citizen died yesterday after rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Does Israel have the right to self-defense? What are the limits to it?

France strongly condemns the continual rocket fire on Israel. As you said, a woman died from it in the town of Sderot.

We are very concerned about the constant escalation in violence in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip and by the growing number of civilian victims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Violence and force cannot bring a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question.

More than ever we call for a sense of responsibility from all parties who must refrain from any action that complicates the search for a solution to the conflict.

So we condemn the rocket fire and we appeal to the parties, including Israel, to exercise the utmost restraint. We said this yesterday. We consider that the escalation which is building can lead nowhere. From our point of view, the solution is political and requires a resolution of the conflict.

(…)

Q - For a week, you’ve said nothing about what is happening in Gaza. (…)

In our statement we state very clearly that we are asking the parties, and Israel in particular, to stop actions which cause victims, and many victims in the civilian population. (…)

Q - ...Do you approve of an Israeli action against someone firing rockets? I’m not talking about civilians but army actions against units firing rockets?

I don’t wish to enter into this debate about the concept of legitimate defense. It is very complex from a legal standpoint, especially so in this particular region given the status of the Territories. Our message is simple. The escalation of violence, the cycle of reprisals, leads to nothing. So the conclusion we draw is fairly simple. It is essential both to stop firing rockets, which are certainly a provocation, and also stop the military actions which are carried out in reprisal because they cause victims in the civilian population and fuel feelings of anger and rebellion against Israel.

Q - Don’t you think there’s a double standard? The Palestinians are already being punished politically and financially by the international community for conduct deemed unacceptable. (….) What is the next stage for the international community and the European Union in particular?

We’re getting into a debate and we know the arguments perfectly well. I would prefer that we don’t do this. You say the Palestinian are being punished. We have never punished the Palestinians, still less the Palestinian people. We’ve discussed this many times. Aid to the Palestinians has not been suspended. It was greater in 2006 than in 2005. We’re not punishing the Palestinians, and it’s definitely not our intention to punish the Palestinian people. France is in favor of resuming direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.

But these are different things; the attitude we took with respect to the Palestinian government, which at the time was led by Hamas, was due to a very simple fact which we’ve spoken of repeatedly: Hamas is on the list of terrorist organizations. So it’s an element we must necessarily take into account.

Then there was the national unity government, and obviously we wish to encourage this government. Nonetheless the Palestinians must help us move in this direction. That means working in a political direction and also ending the rocket fire which only serves to provoke Israeli reactions and makes a political solution more difficult.

Q - Is all of Hamas on the list of terrorist movements or just the military wing?

It’s Hamas so far as I know.

Q - In an interview in Politique internationale, the new French president speaks of preparing a ‘diplomatic doctrine.’ (…) What changes are likely to be introduced in French foreign policy?

It’s a very broad question. First of all the choices of the new French president, in terms of diplomacy, were already thoroughly expounded during the election campaign. For the most part they are known. He will himself have opportunities of course to detail them during his various travels and speeches. As you saw, he'll be doing this quickly in respect of Europe and he will probably have other occasions to speak, in other areas. It’s the same thing for our minister who has just taken office and who will also be indicating the direction he wishes to give to this Ministry in the weeks ahead.

In fact, I believe our minister, Bernard Kouchner, wants to think about a body of doctrine, as you said, on France’s diplomatic guidelines. This is a matter we’ll be working on in the period ahead, but I can’t give you more details today. It is true that in other countries you have ‘white papers’ or documents of that kind on foreign policy.

Q - So there will be a white paper

We’re not at that stage yet, and I just mentioned what exists in other countries.

RUSSIA

Q - We’re seeing more and more firmness from Vladimir Putin with respect to the EU. How will France, the new government, and the EU respond? Will France and the EU be taking a harder line?

As you know, the president phoned Mr. Putin a few days ago, and both parties reaffirmed their commitment to the solidity of relations between France and Russia. The minister will probably contact Mr. Lavrov very soon. He’ll be seeing him at the G8 summit at the beginning of next week in Potsdam, Germany.

Next, you asked if there’s a new tone to relations between the EU and Russia. We’ll have to see what line is defined by the president and minister.

But it’s important not to mix everything up in this matter. There are difficulties at this time on the launch of negotiations on a new agreement between the EU and Russia which are due, as you know, to specific, technical points, specifically Polish meat.

Our position, and I don’t think it is changing, is that we’d like to see these technical questions resolved. We hope that the presidency and Commission, in liaison with Poland, can resolve these problems so that negotiations can start on a new agreement. I’ve no information to suggest that our position on this point is going to change. Then, will there be other points on which the French position may evolve with respect to Russia? I don’t know. I’ve no particular information that would indicate it.

SUDAN/DARFUR

Q - The minister say he wants to move quickly on Darfur. Has he already had contacts with the Sudanese authorities?

The minister is absolutely convinced the Darfur question is urgent given the situation on the ground which remains very disturbing. In particular, the fact that AMIS and the humanitarian workers cannot operate in satisfactory conditions and are subject to attacks. The minister wanted to take up this question very quickly and held a meeting on Saturday. He wants to be able to jumpstart the issue, to get the international community to mobilize more and mobilize more quickly on Darfur.

At the same time obviously France alone is not going to solve this problem. We want to work with the international community, and first with the EU because we think the EU should play a more active role on the Darfur question. We are going to contact our European partners to ensure the question is discussed at the next general affairs council, at the European Council at the end of June and also discussed in the G8. It strikes us as something very important.

At this stage, I can’t say anything more specific about our proposals because we’re in the process of considering and refining them.

Q - For the new foreign and European affairs minister, are the Khartoum authorities still interlocutors with regard to Darfur? Is he going to go to Khartoum as his predecessor did twice?

Yes, the authorities in Khartoum are the authorities in place and must be taken into consideration. There is no hostility towards the Sudanese authorities. What we’d like to see is for them to contribute to a solution in the question of Darfur. There has been progress. One shouldn’t omit to mention the progress, in particular acceptance in principle of phase 2 of the deployment with UN reinforcements for AMIS. But we must go beyond that. The Sudanese authorities have to agree to the principle of a hybrid force, and agree to facilitate access to the people. There is no hostility in principle, and quite obviously we consider we should work with the Sudanese authorities but we hope they make a positive contribution to the resolution of the problems.

Q - The initiative which is being worked on concerns the humanitarian situation or the resolution of the crisis in Darfur?

We wish of course to deal with the humanitarian situation, especially the humanitarian emergency now emerging, but also take into account the political aspect, to work for an expansion of the Abuja accord and also for the deployment of the hybrid force.

WORLD BANK

Q - What changes would you like to see at the head of the World Bank and do you have a preferred candidate to succeed Mr. Wolfowitz?

We have taken note of Mr. Wolfowitz’s decision to resign from his duties as president of the World Bank effective June 30. As a major shareholder in the World Bank, France is committed to seeing the institution continue its action efficiently to advance development, particularly in Africa. It hopes the board appoints the new president quickly. We have no particular candidate in mind.

Q - What do you think of having someone who’s not American for a change?

There is a practice that has been followed since 1946 whereby an American heads the World Bank and a European the IMF. I’ve not heard countries that are on the board say they’d like to bring this practice into question.

Q - For a while there was talk of Tony Blair. He’s a European.

Traditionally, the president of the World Bank has been an American since 1946. I don’t believe anyone wants to change the practice.

(…)

Embassy of France, May 23, 2007