Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, June 22, 2007)

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


YEMEN/FRANCE

President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen will make a working visit to France from June 24-26. He will be received by President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday, June 25, at 12:30 p.m. for a meeting followed by luncheon.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh will receive Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner on Monday, June 25, at 7:00 p.m. He will also receive Minister of the Interior, Overseas France and Local Authorities Michele Alliot-Marie and Defense Minister Hervé Morin. The talks will focus on the political and economic aspects of bilateral relations. Yemen’s president will also visit the airshow at Le Bourget and the nuclear power plant at Nogent-sur-Seine.

Ali Abdullah Salem, who was re-elected president of Yemen on September 23, has been to our country many times. His last visit was in November 2006. He will be accompanied on this trip by Foreign Minister Abubakr Abdullah Allawi al-Qirbi.

The visit by Yemen’s president comes in the context of regular contacts between representatives of our two countries and follows on the visit to Yemen by the Minister for Cooperation, Development and Francophony, Brigitte Girardin, in March 2007. During that visit a framework partnership document was signed with the Yemeni authorities, setting out the main lines for our cooperation for coming years. Our cooperation actions are due to develop significantly in the context of an increased financial commitment to Yemen. French aid for 2007-2011 should amount to nearly 100 million euros. The French Development Agency is to open an office in Sana’a in September.

As evidence of the caliber of our bilateral relations, French companies are increasingly present in Yemen, particularly the Total group, in the hydrocarbons sector, specifically the Yemen LNG gas project. France and Yemen also have a high level of cooperation in the security area and defense.

Q - About the visit to the nuclear power plant. Does it suggest a development of this sector between Yemen and France?

The president of Yemen has voiced such a wish. As you know, France has long experience in the electro-nuclear industry. It is normal for Yemen, whose energy needs are growing, to be interested in this source of energy. However, several conditions have to be met before an electro-nuclear industry can be developed, notably the priority accorded to safety and the management of radio-active waste, a commitment to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and strict compliance with the international commitments and obligations, including the IAEA additional protocol.

Q - Is Mr. Saleh going to discuss regional questions as well?

Obviously international and regional questions will be discussed at the meetings with the president of Yemen.

LEBANON

Fouad Siniora, President of the Lebanese Council of Ministers, will visit France on June 26 and 27. President Nicolas Sarkozy will receive Mr. Siniora for a working luncheon on June 26.

Fouad Siniora will also have a meeting with Prime Minister François Fillon.

He will receive Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner, Minister of the Interior, Overseas France and Local Authorities Michele Alliot-Marie, Defense Minister Herve Morin and Secretary of State for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s visit to France will allow us to express at the highest level France’s support for Lebanon’s independence, sovereignty and stability.

Q - Was there an invitation? Or is it a Lebanese initiative?

I don’t know the genesis of the visit. I believe it was a shared wish: Mr. Siniora wanted to come to France, and we wanted to welcome him.

Q - Is it a state visit?

It’s a working visit.

Q - What’s happening about the meeting of Lebanese forces?

The principle of the meeting is confirmed. It is likely to be held in France in mid-July.

Q - So the date has been put back?

No. It wasn’t put back for the good reason that we had never announced the date.

Q - Where will it be held?

In a place of calm, conducive to this kind of meeting.

Q - Where is Mr. Cousseran in his round of visits?

Mr. Cousseran is back after going to Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, the US and Iran.

Q - Is he still in charge?

I imagine that he’ll continue to follow this question.

Q - Is he also handling preparations for the meeting in mid-July?

He’s obviously going to continue to take an interest in it, but not alone.

Q - Can you tell us a bit more about his talks in Teheran? The Iranians have welcomed the French initiative.

There is indeed interest in the meeting on the Iranian side. Mr. Cousseran explained fully the objectives of the meeting. It was received very positively on the Iranian side, which we are glad to hear.

Q - Can you tell us the real objectives of the meeting?

We already talked about this and then talked about it some more. We recognize that it’s not the only initiative in the works. There are others as well, specifically from the Arab League, and from Switzerland, which are all directed to the same end—the desire to see national dialogue resumed among the Lebanese political forces. It’s good that there should be this convergence of efforts to achieve this objective. That’s the sole objective.

The idea is not to take decisions in the place of the Lebanese. It’s simply to ensure that they can have a dialogue among themselves so as to create a favorable climate and so they can then move forward on the most difficult points, specifically with a view to the presidential elections in the fall.

Q - When did you settle on mid-July? Was it after Mr. Cousseran’s mission?

It’s the date that seemed the most appropriate to us. It comes after the visit to Paris by the Lebanese prime minister.

Q - Is the list of participants already closed?

Not as far as I know. The principle is still the same—there will be representatives of the 14 parliamentary groups taking part in the national dialogue together with four or five individuals from civil society. The format remains the same in principle.

Q - The level of representation is second-tier. ho made that decision?

We didn’t want to replicate the national Lebanese dialogue. In the context of the national dialogue, it is the leaders of the political forces who are taking part, and our aim is to establish a more informal climate.

Q - Do you already have a date for Mr. Cousseran’s visit to Damascus?

No. There is no plan for him to go to Damascus.

Q - Does Mr. Cousseran have other trips planned?

Mr. Cousseran has begun work on preparations for the meeting. It’s always possible that at some point he will make a trip, if necessary, including to Lebanon, between now and mid-July.

UNITED STATES/FRANCE

Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State of the United States of America, will be in France on

June 24 and 25, 2007. She will be received by President Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace on Monday, June 25.

Ms Rice will be received by Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner on Sunday, June 24, for a meeting and working dinner. They will discuss bilateral relations between the United States and France along with the main international questions: the situation in the Middle East, particularly in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon, the crisis in Darfur, Kosovo and the Iranian nuclear problem.

Ms Rice will attend the meeting of the enlarged contact group on the Darfur crisis which will be held at the International Conference Center on Monday, June 25. Before that she will have talks with Defense Minister Hervé Morin.

Ms Rice and Mr. Kouchner will hold a press conference on Sunday, June 24, at 7 p.m. at the Quai d’Orsay.

DARFUR

France is hosting on June 25 a ministerial meeting of the enlarged contact group on Darfur in order to increase international mobilization around the efforts of the African Union, European Union and the UN in Darfur and the region.

President Nicholas Sarkozy will receive the heads of delegation for a meeting at 11:00 a.m. at the Elysée Palace.

The proceedings will begin afterwards at 12 noon at the International Conference Center on the Avenue Kléber, with Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner presiding. They will conclude with a press conference at about 5:00 p.m.

In the context of commitments made by Sudan and the neighboring countries, encouraging perspectives have emerged. So the meeting comes at a turning point: it is important to implement what has been agreed and to speed up the timetable because Darfur and also eastern Chad and the north-eastern part of the Central African Republic are facing an urgent situation.

Participants will examine the re-start of the political process, the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur, reconstruction and development of areas affected by the crisis, and its repercussions on the region.

Q - Can you tell us who is attending the meeting and whether the African Union will be represented?

At this stage--and keep in mind that things may still change--the US, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Germany as the EU president, Italy, Sweden, Demark and Portugal will be represented by their foreign ministers. Lord Triesman, Under Secretary of State for Africa, will represent the United Kingdom, and the deputy foreign ministers of China, Russia and Japan will be there. Egypt will be represented by a deputy minister, Belgium by the minister for development cooperation, and Spain through the foreign secretary.

For the European Union, in addition to Mr. Steinmeier in his capacity as president, Javier Solana, the High Representative for the CFSP, Commissioner Louis Michel who handles development, and Mr. Brylle who is the EU special envoy for Darfur will be there. The UN delegation will be led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It will include Mr. Guéhenno, Margareta Wahlstrom, Messrs Eliasson and Guterres, and a representative from UNDP.

The secretary-general of the Arab League will be attending as will the director-general of the OIC, the president of the African Development Bank and the World Bank vice president for Africa.

With regard to the African Union, we’re continuing our contacts. Our Africa section director was in Addis Ababa yesterday where he had talks with African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Djinnit. We’ve been in very close contact with the African Union prior to the meeting and will be afterwards so as to give the African Union the results of the enlarged contact group.

It is up to the African Union to decide if it wishes to be there Monday or not. According to the latest information, the African Union will abide by the line it has followed so far. It has never taken part in meetings of the contact group.

Q - So they won’t be represented?

In any case, we’re working very closely with them. The minister has been on the phone to Mr. Konare several times. Mr. de Gliniasty was in Addis yesterday, and we will brief the African Union in detail on the results of the meeting.

Q - We see Sudan isn’t invited. Will there be a Sudanese delegation on the sidelines of the meeting of organizations present in Darfur?

Let me remind you what it is about. There’s an existing contact group. In the past neither Sudan nor the rebel movements were included in this group. It is a contact group for the international community as there’ve been group on other questions, Kosovo for example. In addition there’s an existing political process, under the auspices of the UN representative and the AU representative to encourage dialogue between the Sudanese authorities and rebel movements. From the beginning it was clear in our mind that neither the Sudanese authorities nor the rebel movements would be invited to the meeting in Paris. This does not mean that we’ve not had contacts with the Sudanese authorities. The minister himself went to Khartoum to talk about the meeting with President Bachir, and also with his Sudanese counterpart. We will of course keep the Sudanese informed of the results of the Paris meeting.

Q - Why is the meeting not being sponsored by the UN?

The UN Secretary-general will be there. I don’t see that we can do better.

Q - But a lot of countries aren’t represented?

We are part of the original contact group. We’ve enlarged it to a number of countries that were interested in the Paris meeting. We enlarged it to China, whose presence is very important. We also enlarged it to countries like Egypt. And this is being done in very close liaison with the African Union and the UN since Mr. Ki-moon himself will be there.

Q - Might the fact that Sudan has accepted the hybrid force have an effect or influence on the objective of the meeting?

I believe that it has a very positive effect on the objective of the meeting because, as I said, we are at a turning point. Sudan’s acceptance of the hybrid force and the modalities for deploying the force is rather an important element, and we wish to strengthen this positive aspect, to consolidate the acceptance by the Sudanese by also showing that the international community is ready to help in the deployment of the force, which is obviously very important.

Q - The Americans are a bit skeptical. Are you skeptical too ?

I can’t speak for the Americans but they’re attending—Ms Rice will be there. We also feel that they are convinced of the usefulness of this exercise, and the usefulness of having the international community, including countries like China, Russia and others, mobilizing and showing that it is present and ready to help in the deployment of the hybrid force. I don’t think there is any reservation on the American side.

Q - And what is France’s position?

We’re saying that it is a very important stage. Quite simply, it now has to be consolidated, and there needs to be movement on the practical work so that the force can be deployed according to a fairly early timetable, and that’s what has to be worked on now.

Q - What are the countries that might supply troops?

It’s one of the points that will have to be looked at by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations ( DPKO). If I’ve understood correctly, the agreement stipulates that there will be a predominance of African troops. That means that the DPKO will turn first to African countries. If they’re not able to provide the contingents then at that point, it will be possible to have other contributors. That holds goods with respect to troops, but one shouldn’t forget that there will also be UN financial, technical and logistic support, which is at least as important as the troops who will be on the ground.

Q - Is it possible that China might participate as well?

I recently saw a statement by the special Chinese envoy for Darfur saying that China was ready to contribute. I believe that China has already sent nearly 300 engineers there—it’s very good news.

Q - When you mentioned the purpose of the meeting, you said we were at a turning point, that we had to strengthen, consolidate and eventually establish a plan for deployment—isn’t that more the role of the African Union and UN….?

No. We’re not in any way being a substitute for the current process. There is a joint process between the UN and African Union which is under way with regard to the hybrid force and the political process since they have established a roadmap. This is entirely positive, and we’re not being a substitute for any party. It’s just that we thought it was useful to speed things up in the contact group, be a sort of catalyst, as is happening on other issues. In Kosovo there’s a contact group, and it doesn’t mean that the UN has relinquished the issue.

Q - You didn’t mention Chad and the Central African Republic. Were they invited?

We didn’t want to invite the countries that are directly concerned by the crisis. Sudan wasn’t invited and neither were Chad and the Central African Republic.

Q - How can you be sure the meeting will be effective when the country concerned is excluded?

No one is excluded. They may not be invited as such but, as I’ve said, we’ve discussed it a lot with Sudan, and will continue to do so after the meeting. With Chad and the Central African Republic, it’s quite obvious also. As you know, we are continuing to work with the Chadians at this time on the proposal that may be made on June 25 for the deployment of a force in eastern Chad. We are working very closely with these countries. There is no concern from that point of view.

Q - Now that Sudan has accepted the principle of the hybrid force, are the sanctions being maintained?

We consider at this time that the priority is more the deployment of the hybrid force and implementing what has just been decided. With regard to sanctions one shouldn’t forget that there are already sanctions there-- resolution 1581. Should they be tightened? Proposals have been made at the UN and are on the table, but for us, the priority at this point is really to re-launch, to speed up what has been decided. And as there’s been an agreement in principle on the hybrid force and an agreement in principle of the development of the political process, we feel we should capitalize on this.

(…)

COLOMBIA

Q - There’s been a communiqué from the FARC saying that they agreed to have Mr. Granda as an envoy to verify the conditions of a humanitarian agreement with the government. Your reaction?

We have taken note of the communiqué from the FARC. We have said all along that we were in favor of anything that could help a humanitarian exchange and lead to the release of the hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt, of course. We encourage any movement to this end. It is obvious that it must be done on the basis of an agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government. We encourage any movement to this end.

Q - Have France, Switzerland and Spain presented a new proposal to the two parties on demilitarizing these areas?

I’ve not been informed. We are continuing our efforts with Switzerland and Spain but we are doing so very discreetly and confidentially. I’ve no information on this matter.

IRAN

Q - A documentary filmmaker with French-Iranian nationality is reportedly being held against her will in Iran. Reporters with Borders says it’s written twice to the Foreign Ministry. What’s happening?

We are informed of Ms Solouki’s situation and are paying the closest attention to it. We are in contact with her in Teheran where she is received regularly at the French Embassy. We are also in contact with the Iranian authorities with regard to her situation. Of course we hope that her situation can be resolved and she is granted full freedom of movement.

Q - About six months ago five Iranian diplomats were kidnapped by the US army. Their families are in a difficult situation. What’s your position on this?

Speaking generally, we are very committed to the Vienna conventions and to the protection of diplomats, quite obviously. Next, with regard to your very specific question regarding the persons you mention, I’ve no answer. What was their exact status? I don’t know. It’s a matter that does not concern us directly. It’s more a matter between Iran, the Iraqi authorities and the coalition forces, including the US. To my knowledge, we’ve never discussed this matter directly. Everything really depends on the status of these individuals and the actions they’re accused of. I don't have sufficiently precise information to be able to make a statement.

MIDDLE EAST

Q - Do you have a reaction to the American proposal to name Tony Blair the Quartet’s special envoy for the Middle East?

Just before coming here, I saw a British wire report that it was premature and that Tony Blair intended for now to concentrate on European issues. We’ll see when the question comes up. The British themselves are saying it is premature.

(…) ./.

Embassy of France, June 25, 2007