Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, January 23, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
France is deeply concerned at the high toll of victims after Monday’s demonstrations in Guinea. It condemns the use of violence by the forces of order in confronting a peaceful population. It aligns itself with the request for an inquiry made by the UN secretary-general. It regrets the arrest of union leaders even though they have since been released.
France supports the ECOWAS declarations urging the various actors to confer and enter into dialogue.
This is the only way for Guinea to resolve the crisis it is experiencing.
Q - What’s your assessment of developments in Lebanon today. Is the Paris III conference at risk of being canceled?
We call on all Lebanese on the eve of the Paris III Conference to show a sense of responsibility. For the rest, the conference will be held as planned.
Q - Can you expand on what you mean by a “spirit of responsibility”?
I think it is fairly clear. The Paris IIII conference is an important event since, as we’ve said, it will be well attended: 35 countries will be present together with the international organizations and international financial institutions. They will be there to mobilize in support of Lebanon, based on the program of reforms that has been prepared and adopted by the Lebanese government. It is obviously a very important meeting for Lebanon, and we’d like all Lebanese on the eve of this conference, as I said, to show a sense of responsibility and present an image of their country which will persuade the participants in the conference to mobilize.
Q - …What’s your response to the fact that large numbers of Lebanese are contesting the package of economic reforms? (…)
This program of reforms was a key element in preparation for the Paris III conference. We had asked repeatedly for the program to be presented. Prior to the conference itself, it was examined by the representatives of the participating states who were in Paris on January 10. The program was considered positive by the participations, the international financial institutions, and it’s obviously important for holding Paris III.
At the same time, it is not for us to say how thing must be organized internally in Lebanon, how the Lebanese government can or should start or pursue dialogue on the reforms. That is something it has to assess itself. I imagine there’s undoubtedly work to do to explain the reforms and to consult with the unions and with the Lebanese people. But what is important for the international community is the fact that the program exists and is considered positive.
Obviously it’s not up to me to pass judgment on the internal aspects and on any eventual disputes regarding one or another aspect of the program. The important thing is that everything should be done through dialogue, peacefully. What’s troubling is the violent incidents that have occurred in the past few hours. It’s obviously not the right way to discuss this type of question.
Q - This morning I heard several commentators accusing France of aligning its positions with those of the Siniora government and not taking into consideration the points of view of the opposition. Your response?
It’s not France which has prepared the program of reforms. It was done by the Lebanese government which is our interlocutor in the preparations for the conference. The reforms were submitted to the conference participants, but the program is the responsibility of the Lebanese government.
Q - How do you plan to persuade the other donor countries and various organizations in view of the fact that since Paris I, Lebanon's debt has soared in spite of previous donations? (…)
Obviously the debt question will be one of the aspects that will be addressed at the conference since Lebanon’s rate of indebtedness exceeds 180% of GDP, so it’s very high. The crisis in Lebanon in 2006 of course didn’t help matters, but the Lebanese government’s objective is precisely to bring down the rate of indebtedness. It has adopted this multi-year program which should, if I’m not mistaken, bring down the rate to 140% of GDP in a few years. That presupposes certain reforms which have been proposed and which, as is always the case, may present some difficulty. Of course, such reforms aren’t always easy when it comes to stabilizing public finances and reducing the debt burden.
But it doesn’t bring into question the relevance of our approach because we can see precisely at this time that Lebanon needs the international community to help it get started again, to help turn around its economic situation, and this certainly doesn’t challenge the relevance of the Paris III conference.
The conference has not been designed to help the Siniora government specifically. It has been organized to help Lebanon as a whole. It’s important for people to understand that clearly.
(…) It is difficult for me to make an assessment of the reasons why the general strike has been called. It is essential for all Lebanese to rally around one objective—Lebanon’s reconstruction and a fresh economic start. Afterwards, there might be a debate on one or other aspect of the package of reforms, as I’ve said it’s not for us to say. It is essential for there to be unity on one objective which is to get Lebanon out of its current economic and financial difficulties.
Q - Given the situation are you worried that Prime Minister Siniora and his delegation may not be able to come to Paris?
That’s news to me. We are expecting them.
Q - Yesterday the minister referred to the plan to send a French envoy to Teheran. Can you confirm that the idea has been dropped?
What the minister said, and what he’d said previously, is that he wouldn’t be visiting Teheran any time soon. With regard to a visit by an envoy who doesn’t have ministerial rank, no decision has been taken.
Q - Could you comment on Teheran’s decision to exclude 38 IAEA inspectors? Are you worried and might it have consequences?
We noted with concern Tehran’s announcement that 38 inspectors, nationals of specific countries, would not be allowed to work in Iran.
The announcement is not, in our view, compatible with the demands made in resolution 1737 whereby the Security Council decided that “Iran shall provide such access and cooperation as the IAEA requests to be able to verify the suspension and resolve all outstanding issues as identified in its reports.”
We therefore expect the IAEA to evaluate the new situation brought about by Iran’s decision, and to act accordingly.
Q - As you know, there are about 200 inspectors. Is the number 38 just a symbolic gesture which is annoying or do you think it is going to impede the work of the IAEA?
As you say, Iran has targeted a number of nationalities since apparently it’s inspectors who are nationals of certain European countries and also Canada who have been targeted.
We believe it is not up to Iran to choose the nationalities of the IAEA inspectors who work on its territory. In any case, we think it is incompatible with the demands in resolution 1737 which ask Iran to provide access and cooperation on its territory. This is something which clearly doesn’t go in the right direction, and the IAEA will undoubtedly have to recognize the consequences.
Q - They are entitled to choose which inspectors are allowed?
In any case, it’s not a sign of goodwill, nor of wanting to cooperate with the international community.
Q - After yesterday’s meeting between the Palestinian president and the Hamas secretary-general are the European Union and France going to help the Palestinians to unblock the situation?
The ministers discussed this in Brussels yesterday. There’s really no new information. Mr. Solana, who was in the region, briefed the ministers of the 27 EU member states on his visit. The council adopted conclusions which incorporate a number of the elements that you already know, specifically the fact that we encourage the Palestinians to engage in dialogue between themselves in order to move forward with the formation of a government that takes into account the Quartet’s principles.
As regards aid to the Palestinians specifically, the EU recalled its commitment to the mechanism which has been set up. It recalled that it provided most of the aid to the Palestinian people. And then it renewed it’s appeal to Israel to release all the tax revenue currently being held back to the Palestinians.
The EU also expressed its concern about the Israeli government’s recent expansion of settlements. That’s also an important point to note.
And of course, it recalled the fact that the EU is playing an active role, especially in the Quartet, which is due to meet at the beginning of February.
Q - But what do you say to the Palestinians who say that it’s one thing for the EU to ask the Palestinian government to comply with the Quartet’s principles whereas Israel has never respected its commitments to the Quartet? Isn’t that a double standard?
We’re familiar with this debate. We consider that both sides must keep their commitments. We’re saying the Palestinian government must take into account the Quartet’s principles.
What’s important is to get a momentum going which takes into account the Quartet’s principles, and that’s what we will be judging things on. The problem is that at this point we’ve no interlocutor in the Palestinian government. Mahmoud Abbas is president of the Palestinian Authority, but we’ve no Palestinian government which is an interlocutor for the international community. So the priority is to have an interlocutor.
Also, with regard to Israel, we’re asked and continue to ask it to comply with its commitments with regard to taxes, and to stop the expansion of settlements. These are matters we regularly remind the Israelis about.
Q - We’ve noticed for some time that you used to refer, in French diplomatic terminology, to building a viable Palestinian state. The word “viable” seems to have disappeared.
I’ve not noticed it. If a Palestinian state is to be formed, it’s preferable for it to be viable. I think that’s very important, and there’s also a link with the settlement issue. In the conclusions of yesterday’s council, the council asks Israel precisely to put an end to actions that threaten the viability of a solution based on two states. That means that we’re on guard against anything that might threaten the viability of this Palestinian state.
Q - Can you confirm again that France is calling for a viable Palestinian state?
Yes, definitely. There’s no change in terminology.
Q - There’s an idea going around for a provisional Palestinian state which was rejected by both parties in Damascus over the weekend. Is France against this idea of a provisional Palestinian state?
For us the framework of reference remains the roadmap. The timetable probably has to be updated, but the roadmap remains. And we’ve noted that in statements made recently, including moreover on the American side, there is a wish to start final status discussions. This seems us to be interesting.
Q - Do you have any comment on the talks between the Americans and the Poles and Americans and Czechs on an anti-missile defense system which is particularly worrying to Moscow?
I’ve no specific comment. It’s really a matter for the Poles themselves and their cooperation with the United States. I believe what’s important in spite of everything is to take into account the concerns that this kind of project can generate. It’s a good idea to have a dialogue on these questions with all the countries concerned. You mentioned Russia, for a example, and there may be other strategic partners concerned with this type of decision. It’s always useful, I think, in this kind of matter to have a dialogue and be able to dispel any fears eventually that one or another project might cause.
Q - So there’s no concern in Paris?
There’s been an American anti-missiles defense project around for a few years. The Americans are conferring with certain partners. They are increasing cooperation with certain partners, that’s their choice. We French are not directly involved in the American project. We’re not interested in this project but we are interested in more limited projects for the protection of our forces.
So we don’t see things in the same terms as the Americans. What is useful in such matters in spite of everything is for there to be consultations and dialogue to dispel any worries that may crop up here and there, as I said.
Q - But do you see it as a source of instability like Russia?
No, I didn’t say that. I said that if there were worries emerging or questions, it would probably be useful for those behind the project, the United States and some of its partners like Poland, to hold a dialogue with those who are worried or have questions so as to give them answers.
Q - Another point. The Americans seem to favor an extension of NATO cooperation to the Gulf countries. How does France see these projects for cooperation which go beyond NATO’s usual area? What’s your view of the deployment of forces and reinforcing the American fleet in the region?
With regard to your first point, NATO has had a Mediterranean dialogue for a long time. NATO also launched the Istanbul cooperation initiative to countries that are not strictly speaking Mediterranean countries. On the French side, we don’t see this as being negative in principle. One shouldn’t moreover exaggerate the scope of this dialogue and cooperation. The aim is not to extend the area of the Atlantic Alliance well beyond the Euro-Atlantic perimeter. The aim is first and foremost to have dialogue, cooperation and possibly a few exchanges in carefully targeted areas with these countries. This may be useful. It allows us to explain what NATO is and what it does. From that point of view, we’ve no particular problem.
As for the second aspect of your question, the deployment of American military forces, I’ve no particular comment. It’s for the Americans to decide. I imagine they’re doing so in liaison with the countries concerned and, there too, by providing all the necessary elements for understanding this type of deployment.
Q - With Iran too?
I don’t believe the Americans are having a specific dialogue with Iran on this question.
Embassy of France, January 23, 2007