Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, November 23, 2007)

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


LEBANON

Q - Is the minister going to denounce those who prevented the election of a president, as he said he would?

The minister said yesterday that this wasn’t the time for accusations or denunciations. He also said he was prepared to continue doing everything he could to facilitate the pursuit of discussions.

Q - You could say there’s a been a “non-unblocking” of the situation in Lebanon; could you say that French mediation has failed?

It’s not France’s failure. It’s the failure of the discussions that took place among the Lebanese. The minister’s role was that of facilitator. He did everything he could to help with discussions, help with a rapprochement. He met a lot of people. We see today that the Lebanese did not manage to agree. France will continue to do everything it can to help bring about a solution.

Q - Do you have any comment on General Aoun’s initiative yesterday, and on the communiqué that rejected that initiative?

I took note of it. It falls within the province of discussions among the Lebanese. Our only concern is to foster discussions and the means of reaching an agreement on a broad-based president. That has always remained our position. We support any gestures that help with that; we don’t support gestures that hinder it.

Q - Mr. Kouchner has been practicing shuttle diplomacy since July with respect to the Lebanese issue. Now that it can be seen that there haven’t been any results (he even had the backing of European ministers, and not the least of them), what direction will French diplomacy take?

I don’t think it should be said that there’s nothing left for us to do. Talks are continuing. Let me remind you that the minister was in Beirut a few weeks ago with Mr. D’Alema and Mr. Moratinos, not to mention all the discussions, the ongoing coordination and talks that have been going on with other Europeans. France will continue to do everything it can to help with the continuation of talks, with a view to finding a solution.

The deadline has now passed. There has been no softening of the Syrian position, as France had hoped, despite the various contacts and phone conversations between the presidents. What will your position toward Damascus be now?

We are continuing to send Damascus the message you are already aware of—that is, not to hinder the smooth unfolding of the process. Today we see that the process has not unfolded the way we had hoped. But this isn’t the time for accusations. We will continue to remind the Syrians and everyone else that the aim isn’t to hinder the process but to help it unfold smoothly.

Q - You said you would take a position after the deadline for presidential elections.

That date was postponed until November 30. We hope discussions will continue. We hope the constitutional election will be held that evening. We continue to hope that the process will be completed by November 30 because that seems to be the next deadline. Our concern is to ensure that everything goes smoothly and that the Lebanese can achieve the election of a broad-based president.

Q - And if they don’t?

We hope they will. If there’s a new deadline, that means there’s still hope. We see that the process is a difficult one, that there are deadlocks, but there’s now a new deadline; let’s hope it will be the one.

Q - Are you optimistic?

I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic. I hope the Lebanese will reach an agreement.

Q - Will the foreign minister return to Beirut, and if so, when?

He will go back if he believes it’s useful. I can’t say anything more about that today. He just spent several days there. He remains at the disposal of his Lebanese friends.

Q - Still, we’ve been hammering it home for weeks that the whole world wanted the election to take place by the established date, which expires today, and according to constitutional norms. Of course there will continue to be French and other initiatives, but a page has been turned with a country in which there is a presidential vacuum, a country exposed to every danger. Do we continue on in the same vein, with the same momentum, with the same commitment, or do we adjust this initiative, given the new circumstances and the danger they represent, and in which a new strategy becomes imperative?

We maintain the same level of commitment. If, for the next six days, the Lebanese of all stripes want to keep working on the hypotheses they’ve already been working on, that’s up to them. It’s the Lebanese who decide on the strategy. It’s up to them to determine it. It’s their responsibility.

Q - Yesterday, Mr. Martinon, the Elysée spokesman, said that France was counting on all players—national, regional, neighboring, less neighboring—to foster the process in Lebanon, and that France would comment on the situation if it didn’t go as foreseen. Now that we know it isn’t going as foreseen, what is France’s reaction?

We are waiting to see how the discussions will go, and we hope they will lead to a result.

Q - So according to you, there’s no failure for the time being?

No, we’re not going to speak of failure because a new date has been set.

Q - You just spoke about a rule adopted by the Lebanese in recent days. Was this rule established according to the mechanisms?

I didn’t talk about a rule. I said choosing a strategy was up to the Lebanese.

Q - That strategy was based on the mechanism you evoked a few days ago, which consisted of choosing a president by consensus, or with a broad base, from a list of names. That strategy having failed, are we now facing the other choice proposed by the March 14 group?

That’s up to the Lebanese to decide.

Q - Will the choice of having a president elected by a simple majority have the support of France?

We support whatever corresponds with the Lebanese Constitution and what the Lebanese decide in respect of that Constitution.

Q - The French press today is talking about France’s loss of credibility and even about a snub. What’s your position on those comments?

France, and Mr. Kouchner in particular, demonstrated its involvement in this issue, the interest it attaches to what goes on in Lebanon and throughout the entire region. As we’ve said: Lebanon’s stability is important to the stability of the region. Today, we’re facing a new date. Mr. Kouchner’s mediation work was lauded, you know it quite well. It therefore seems quite unfounded to talk about a loss of credibility or a failure. I don’t think that’s the reality.

Q - Tonight at midnight, Beirut time, Emile Lahoud’s term will be over. There’s a current government in Lebanon that you support and that you’ve supported for a long time—Fouad Siniora’s government. Will France continue to support Fouad Siniora’s government as of tomorrow?

We support Fouad Siniora’s government. We know what’s written in the Lebanese Constitution; we are familiar with its institutional consequences. If the Lebanese decide to continue discussions, to give themselves more time, we will wait and see what comes of it. A new deadline was set; let’s be patient. We hope discussions will continue in order to reach a result, in respect of the Lebanese Constitution.

ANNAPOLIS CONFERENCE

Q - On several occasions, France hoped and announced that the Annapolis Conference would take place after the Lebanese elections. Now that we know that it will take place before the Lebanese elections, what will France’s position be on this Annapolis meeting?

We regret that the election wasn’t able to take place on schedule as planned because, as we indeed said, we hoped Annapolis would take place after the Lebanese elections in order to profit from the positive dynamic created by the election of a Lebanese president.

But as that election did not take place today, we note that it will not be possible to use this positive dynamic.

Nevertheless, the Annapolis Conference should, we hope, play a very positive role in the continuation of the peace process. That is our hope in going to Annapolis.

Q - What dynamic are you talking about?

The smooth unfolding of the presidential election in Lebanon would have created a positive political momentum for the whole region. A dynamic exists, in fact, for the Annapolis Conference thanks to the discussions and good relations between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert.

Q - Will the Golan be discussed in Annapolis?

We’ve heard what some hope on that subject but for now, I have no answer.

Q - And what’s your position?

We have not taken a formal position in the context of the Annapolis Conference. We’ve always hoped Syria would participate in the Annapolis Conference, and we are in favor of applying the pertinent UN resolutions. But as for the conference agenda, the Americans are the inviting power. We are waiting to see what they propose.

Q - Do they mention it in their letter?

That’s up to them to make public

Q - Can we have a few details about the invitations? Are they based on UNSCR 242 and 338?

I just said it isn’t up to us to make the invitation letter public. We received it. We are invited, but it’s up to the author of the letter, Condoleezza Rice, to make it public.

Q - Yesterday, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian heads of state demanded the establishment of a precise timetable for the proclamation and creation of a Palestinian State. Does France support that call?

I didn’t see such a formal demand by those three heads of state. We knew it was President Mahmoud Abbas’s demand. We’ll look into it. But as for the idea of a timetable, we’ve always said that within the framework of the discussions that would take place, the idea seemed logical.

VIETNAM

Q - A few days ago, on November 17, a group of pro-democracy activists including a French citizen were arrested in Ho Chi Minh City. Do you have any news? Do you know the charges that were filed against these people, and notably against the French citizen? Are contacts under way to try and do something?

As soon as we found out about the arrests, our ambassador and our consul general in Ho Chi Minh City approached the Vietnamese authorities, as they do for all French citizens, to obtain information on the reasons for the arrest and exercise their right to make a visit within the framework of consular protection. To date, our embassy hasn’t been able to visit Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, which we deeply regret. We will of course continue to demand the exercise of consular protection and will not flag in our efforts to do so.

FRANCE/COLOMBIA/VENEZUELA

Q - Are there any new developments in the Colombia hostage affair? Has the ambassador returned to Bogotá?

As you know, the President of the Republic sent a message to the Colombian president asking him to reverse his decision to end mediation efforts by President Chavez. That’s where we stand right now. Our ambassador will be in Bogotá on Monday.

Q - So the ambassador isn’t back in Bogotá yet?

I think he’s leaving on Sunday./.

Embassy of France, November 23, 2007