Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, March 23, 2007)

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


DRC

France calls for the immediate cessation of the violence that has been going on in Kinshasa since yesterday and has entailed civilian and military victims.

It calls on all the parties involved, and first the legitimate Congolese government that emerged after free and democratic elections, and Senator Jean-Pierre Bemba, to re-establish dialogue as soon as possible and do their utmost to find a peaceful, concerted and lasting solution to the present crisis.

France reaffirms its support to MONUC in its mediation between the parties in conflict and its action to provide security to the civilian population.

Q - In addition to that appeal, can you brief us on the situation? (…) Where is Ms Girardin? Has she been able to speak on the phone with the two principal actors in the crisis?

First, with regard to the French community, keep in mind that we have a community of 1,730 French nationals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So far as we know, at this stage, two French citizens were injured by stray bullets yesterday. Their lives are not in danger.

Our embassy has issued advisories to the French community formally advising against travel in the various sectors where gunfire was exchanged.

The children at the Ecole Francaise, the 120 children in primary school and their teachers, spent the night in the French Embassy. This morning they were still in the Embassy building. In addition 72 students and 24 adults from the Lycee Rene Descartes spent the night in their school premises. Their safety isn’t threatened.

Our embassy is following the situation of the French community very closely and is in contact with the Congolese authorities and MONUC regarding their security.

Ms Girardin is still in Brazzaville. She’s not been able to go to Kinshasa at this point. Her program will change depending on how the security situation in Kinshasa develops.

As she said yesterday, she’s in touch with the various parties. I don’t know at this time if she was able to have direct phone contact with President Kabila and Mr Bemba. She spoke with their aides in any case.

Our ambassador and Ms Girardin are both calling for calm and asking all the parties involved to stop the fighting and resume dialogue.

Q - Does France think the fighting is a direct consequence of the elections and their results?

I don’t wish to comment on the reasons for the fighting. What can be said is that there was a transition process in the DRC which went well. The process was supported by the international community, especially by the European Union which had been very actively engaged in the framework of EUFOR. Our estimation is that the democratic transition process had been a success. It had led to free and democratic elections. We have opposite us Congolese authorities who are legitimate.

I don’t think you can say that the present fighting is the consequence of this transition process. You have to look elsewhere for the cause.

Q - So in your view it’s a rebellion?

Our goal is not to say who is behind the fighting. Our message is simple—that all the parties, i.e. both the legitimate Congolese government and Mr. Bemba’s supporters have to resume dialogue to find a peaceful resolution and end the fighting, which has the consequence of challenging the gains made in the democratic transition process which had taken place harmoniously.

(…)

CHINA/FRANCE

A new chapter in French-Chinese relations began with the signing in 2004 of a joint declaration confirming the two countries’ wish to deepen and strengthen their comprehensive strategic partnership.

This partnership now serves as a framework for the whole range of French-Chinese relations in all aspects: political dialogue, economic exchanges and trade, cultural, scientific and technical cooperation.

This is the context that frames the cooperation between young people, which is a priority for both countries.

The ‘800 Jeunes’ program, introduced last year by the French and Chinese prime ministers, Dominique de Villepin and Wen Jiabao, reflects this new ambition. Under the program, 400 young French professionals and high-level students, aged 18 to 35, went to China in 2006 at the invitation of the Chinese authorities. In return 400 young Chinese are invited by the French government this year.

The first delegation of 100 young Chinese, political and youth movement leaders, will be in France from March 24 to 31. Then come the artists in June, entrepreneurs in November and scientists in December.

Each group will be welcomed in Paris and in several cities around the country.

The operation will strengthen the individual and professional links established in 2006.

The program is organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in conjunction with local authorities, French businesses, and the institutional partners already involved in the 2006 operation.

Q - Talking of businesses, are you familiar with the conditions imposed on foreigners, especially the French, who want to go into business in China? Is a Chinese associate systematically imposed on them?

I don’t know all the ins-and-outs. I saw that recently, on the Chinese side, a number of measures had been decided concerning private property in China and foreign investors.

We generally discuss such economic issues and investment questions in our dialogue with the Chinese authorities. We’re in favor of everything that encourages the growth of French investments in China. I admit I don’t know the details of Chinese legislation on this question.

Q - It would be odd if the Chinese came and invested here freely but when it came to investing in China there are stringent conditions.

The question of two-way investments is a matter we discuss in our dialogue with China. But once again, I don’t have the details of the existing regulations. The fact that China has joined the WTO is also an element to take into consideration.

SOMALIA

Q - Do you have any comment on the clashes that have taken place recently?

Apparently a truce is emerging today, though it’s still fragile. Broadly speaking, we deplore the increase in armed incidents taking place in Mogadishu and the attacks, whether they’re directed against the population, the transition institutions or the soldiers with AMISOM.

The deteriorating security situation shows in our view that it is urgent for the Somali transition government to hold the national conference which is scheduled to start April 16.

We believe that only this political process, involving dialogue and openness, will lead to a resolution of the crisis that Somali has gone through for 15 years. That’s how we see the situation.

We support AMISON’s action and consider that the continued deployment of AMISON should enable the national conference to be held under acceptable security conditions.

The international community cannot impose peace in Somalia but it can and must help it. Of course, it is up to the Somalis themselves to seize the opportunity being presented to them, through the African Union especially, to consolidate the process of national reconciliation.

Q - Do you think Ethiopia should withdraw its troops?

Everything is being done in a concerted way. What’s important is that the force decided on by the African Union on January 19, which was endorsed by the UN Security Council on February 20, should gain in power and be in a position to contribute to security in Mogadishu.

CHAD/SUDAN/DARFUR

Q - What’s the latest news from the front between Chad and Darfur? It seems there were air strikes yesterday.

Certain reports reached us yesterday. We saw that the Chad government had denounced the strike by the Sudanese air force close to the border towns of Bahai and Tine. We had confirmation that there had been an air attack close to a refugee camp near Bahai. Unfortunately it’s not the first time that there have been such attacks, and we consider that this new incident shows once again how urgent it is for the international community to help secure the border areas where the refugee camps are located. As you know, talks are currently taking place in the Security Council to try to move forward on this idea of securing the border zones with an international presence, which obviously still has to be worked out.

Q - You’re talking about the border not Darfur. These are two separate issues in your view?

These are two issues, closely linked of course, but the approach is a bit different, especially at the UN. There are two aspects. The question of Darfur, on which the Security Council has already taken a number of decisions, and more deliberations are taking place.

And then there’s the question of the international presence on the borders with Chad and the Central African Republic. As you know, it’s an idea we support and on which we must have the agreement of the Chad authorities and the authorities of the Central African Republic in order to move forward. Discussions are taking place at this time. I believe the Chad foreign minister is in New York this week to discuss this question.

Q - You have confirmation of a Sudanese air strike. Confirmation from a French source?

No, confirmation was given us by personnel from the World Food Program who are on the spot.

Q - Are there French elements threatened by the air strikes?

Not to my knowledge.

Q - What’s happening in the discussions in the Security Council on Darfur?

It’s a question that has been much talked about this week, especially Monday at the important meeting in Paris during which a message from President Chirac was read and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy addressed to recall very firmly what our position is on the question of Darfur.

First there’s obviously the question of the deployment of the hybrid force and how to move forward on deploying this force. We were concerned by President Beshir’s response on March 6 to the UN secretary-general’s letter. Discussions are now taking place to see what type of measures can be adopted if this situation persists.

We consider on our side, as the minister said, that the UN intervention must be accompanied by a political agreement between the Sudanese government and the rebel movements. It is obviously important and there has to be room for dialogue so as to relaunch the political discussions. There too, efforts are under way to try to get the dialogue going again between the Sudanese government and the rebel movements.

It’s a two-pronged action.

On one hand there is political dialogue, which is quite indispensable, and on the other discussion about the measures that might be envisaged if we’re unable to move forward and we find that the situation is being obstructed. That is what the president said in his message and also what the minister said Monday. So on that we’re open..

As you know, sanctions already exist. There is an embargo on arms to Darfur; there’s also an individual sanctions regime in place, under resolution in 1591. We’ll have to see if we can go beyond what was decided in that framework.

Also there may be other ideas. It would seem in particular that there are ideas on the British side. We are entirely open to a discussion about these ideas at the UN since that is where this should be discussed.

(…)

Q - Is France is favor of setting up a no-fly zone?

We’ll see what is proposed. We are open to the discussion. A discussion will probably start at the UN, and we’re open to it.

(…)

MIDDLE EAST

Q - The European Parliament voted yesterday by a majority to recognize the Hamas government. How did France react to this request? Does France agree with the Quartet’s reaction?

With regard to your first point, I’ve not yet seen the resolution, but our position is well-known. As soon as the new government was formed, the minister sent a message to his Palestinian counterpart, inviting him to come to France. I believe that we were the first country to send such a message to the new Palestinian government. It was a strong signal of encouragement from the minister.

We are currently in contact with the Palestinian authorities to see when the Palestinian foreign minister could visit--we’d like to see it happen as soon as possible. We are therefore holding talks to see what date could be reserved. So we’re very open in our contacts with the members of the government who do not belong to Hamas. That is our position, and it is, I believe, largely shared by the European Union.

Then there’s the more difficult question of aid. I think it’s worth keeping in mind a figure which is very substantial and which you’ve perhaps seen—it’s a bit paradoxical that in 2006 there was more aid to the Palestinians than in 2005. This is true for the European Union but it’s also true for the entire international community.

In 2006 we provided $1.2 billion in aid to the Palestinians as against only $1 billion in 2005. That’s the reference to keep in mind especially when we’re talking about an embargo on aid to the Palestinians. I really think that one should weigh one’s words and look closely at the real situation. It is true that this aid went through other channels but nonetheless it was far more in 2006 than in 2005.

Next, we have to see now how to move forward. There’s this communiqué from the Quartet which was adopted. It’s a communiqué that notes the measures taken. It welcomes the Mecca agreement, hails the formation of the new government and says that the temporary international mechanism is being extended for three months. It’s a measure we’re taking so as to avoid any interruption in the delivery of aid.

We consider on the French side that the question of direct aid to the Palestinian government has to be asked. We’ve already asked it, and the minister will raise it again at the Gymnich at the end of next week. It’s of course a point on which we’ll be having discussion with our European partners. We know perfectly well that not everyone necessarily has the same approach to this issue. So we’ll have to work to move forward, and that is what the minister will do at the Gymnich in Bremen next week. Then if the European positions evolves, we’ll probably also have to review the Quartet position.

(…)

Q - Is it still the French position not to talk to ministers belonging to Hamas? Don’t you think that this position strengthens the Israeli policy of putting into prison legislators and ministers belonging to the Hamas movement?

That’s a slightly negative way of presenting things. We’re not talking at this time to ministers who are members of the Hamas movement, but the good news on the other hand is that we’re talking to the others. Compared with the previous situation, its progress all the same. We can talk with the finance and foreign affairs ministers. That’s a positive development.

With regard to Hamas, our policy is well-known and has not changed. It takes into account the Quartet principles.

Q - But it’s not normal to put legislators in prison!

We’ve been asking for the release of the legislators and continue to do so, just as we’re obviously asking urgently for Gilat Shalit’s release. But we’re also asking for the release of the imprisoned Palestinian legislators; we reiterate this, and it has nothing to do with the fact they they’re from one or another movement.

Q - You’re asking for the release of ministers and legislators whom you don’t want to talk to?

They are two separate matters. It’s possible to think the time hasn’t come to establish contact with them while thinking that it isn’t normal for them to be imprisoned.

Q - On March 17 Tony Blair sent a letter to the King of Morocco in which he said that Britain does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem. At the same time he described as ‘occupation’ the situation in east Jerusalem. What is France’s exact position concerning Jerusalem?

Our position is that of the United Nations. It is a question that will have to be the subject of a negotiated settlement in due course.

LEBANON

Q - Would you have any reaction to General Pellegrini’s comments yesterday that the principal threat is no longer Hezbollah but small Sunni groups?

Actually I’ve not seen the statement, and also General Pelligrini is no longer in command of UNIFIL. So I don’t know in what capacity he made the statements. I’ve no specific information about the origin of the threats concerning UNIFIL. That’s for UNIFIL to assess. There will be a discussion at the UN shortly about following up resolution 1701. I’ve no further information.

Q - What is France’s reaction to Mr. Bolton’s comment to the BBC that the US had deliberately slowed the cessation of hostilities on the Israeli side in south Lebanon?

I saw the statement but I’ve no comment.

Q - Did France know about it?

Everyone is free to form an opinion, but I’ve no particular information on this question.

Q - Reports are circulating in the press that Britain is trying to find a way out, an outcome for Syria in the case of Mr. Hariri’s assassination like the solution found for Libya.

I don’t know if one can draw that kind of parallel. I’ve not seen any particular information on the question and I don’t know what is meant by finding a way out. What’s obvious and is known is that on one hand there is a commission of inquiry, established by the UN Security Council, and on the other we are currently trying to set up an international tribunal.

That is our position, and the international community’s. I don’t believe our objective is to negotiate some kind of way out or compromise. This position is not, I repeat, held by France alone, but by the international community.

IRAN/NUCLEAR ISSUE

Q - About the amendments made to the text. Does that mean that South Africa, Qatar and Indonesia would now be ready to vote for the text or are they amendments decided unilaterally that countries then choose to vote for or not?

The draft resolution has been put in ‘blue,’ meaning that it’s possible to move on to the vote tomorrow, Saturday. Then it’s up to our ambassadors in New York to consider the timeliness of moving to the vote and when. So I can’t say when the vote will be held.

Certainly the discussions are continuing in New York with the countries you mentioned and with the other Security Council members. The co-authors of the text have tried to take on board a number of amendments that were presented by these countries, providing these amendments are compatible with the general philosophy of the draft resolution.

Also we want to maintain the unity of the international community in order to obtain the broadest possible support for the resolution. The best would be for there to be unanimous support for the draft, and we’re working to that end. Discussions are continuing. We’ll see tomorrow if there’s to be a vote and in what conditions it will be held.

Q - About the position of those three countries and especially South Africa… South Africa seems to be taking a tough position because it hasn’t agreed to the text even with the amendments?

I don’t know—you’ll have to ask the South Africans. Discussions are continuing in New York, and we’ll have to see how the position of the elected members of the Security Council evolves. I don’t wish to anticipate any shift in their position. What we’d like is that, given there is dialogue and we’re taking into account certain amendments, for there to be the broadest possible support for the draft resolution.

Q - When you say ‘discussions are continuing,’ does that mean that at this stage there is no unanimity on the draft?

We’ll see when it goes to the vote. We can’t anticipate, but the discussions are continuing in any case. An effort is being made in terms of explanation, dialogue with the countries you mentioned and with others as well./.

Embassy of France, March 24, 2007