Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, August 24, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
Q - At a time when there’s a vote on the extension of the UNIFIL mandate and a focus on implementing SCR 1701, we’re still seeing many Israeli air raids in southern Lebanon—sometimes 18 or 19 a day. Do you have any reaction? Is there a way for the international community to exert pressure on Israel to stop these incursions, which could trigger a response?
First, there was a presidential declaration on SCR 1701 in early August that noted a certain number of essential points on every aspect of the resolution. We are nearing the end of discussions in New York on the extension of the UNIFIL mandate, which expires on August 31.
What we’ve seen is that SCR 1701 has made it possible first to put an end to the hostilities of last summer, and second, to move ahead on a certain number of issues that are included in the operational part of this resolution.
The presidential declaration on August 3 summed up all of these elements, indicating that we were keeping a close eye on the full implementation of the resolution and that we hoped the UNIFIL mandate would be extended if necessary, which should be the case quite soon now.
As for the very specific subject you just mentioned, it’s one of the operational points of SCR 1701 that the Security Council adopted unanimously and, via a presidential declaration, addressed in early August, noting its concern. In our view, there was no need to reiterate the details that had been addressed in the presidential declaration in the resolution extending UNIFIL’s mandate.
That’s why we supported a resolution of a technical nature that extended UNIFIL’s mandate under the same conditions. The entire mandate entrusted to UNIFIL during the summer of 2006 was reiterated in the resolution that should be adopted soon. We therefore remain in the same framework, with the same concerns, including the one mentioned last year.
Q - This resolution is still being partially applied and the conditions remain the same. If we start off again with the same resolution and the same terms, it will still be only partially applied, with respect to both the importation of arms into Lebanon and Israeli incursions.
As I said, SCR 1701 made it possible first to end hostilities. That was its top priority. After that, there were a certain number of specific provisions on which we’ve seen more or less encouraging progress, depending on the subject.
The Lebanese army must reestablish its full authority over the entire territory. The parties must move forward on the path of a lasting cease-fire and the long-term solution proposed within the framework of SCR 1701.
In the resolution we are about to adopt, there will be these same terms indicating that the parties must move forward where progress has been insufficient. That can’t be done overnight. SCR 1701 had an ambitious program, including the seven-point plan of Prime Minister Siniora. All that is very ambitious. It was our hope at the time that we would have an ambitious resolution providing for progress in the future. We are well aware that you need more than a day, or even more than 365 days, for all that to be applied. We are therefore continuing our efforts as necessary.
Q - But there are still overflights…
There are several elements in the resolution that need to be better applied.
Q - There’s an argument about whether or not the Lebanese constitution should be amended to allow certain candidates to run, if necessary, such as the commander of the Lebanese army or someone else. The Americans were vaguely in favor of it. What is France’s position? Do you think it could facilitate the holding of presidential elections on September 25 or should we keep things the way they are?
We are involved with a facilitation mission in Lebanon to restore dialogue among all the parties. It’s a commitment undertaken by the minister himself; he named Ambassador Cousseran his envoy to move this mission forward.
Ambassador Cousseran has left for Beirut. He is there right now to verify a certain number of elements, and this subject is one that he will be discussing, as it’s an important development for Lebanon on the political level. As for the presidential elections, we hope a president will be elected in accordance with the established timetable and the rules set forth by the Lebanese constitution. But obviously, it’s up to the Lebanese and to them alone to choose their president. It’s not France that will choose the president of Lebanon.
It’s an important topic of discussion among the different parties. If, in our facilitation mission, we could help bring about a consensus among the different parties to resolve this issue, we would do so gladly.
Q - Will Mr. Kouchner be going to Lebanon soon?
It’s possible that Mr. Kouchner will be going to Lebanon soon. In any case, we’ll wait for Mr. Cousseran to come back so that we can assess the situation and see if a trip by Mr. Kouchner could be useful.
Q - When will Mr. Cousseran be back?
He should be back in the coming days.
Q - Early this week, the U.S. secretary of state for Mideast issues, David Welch, was in Paris for a few days before traveling on to Tripoli. Lebanon was certainly discussed, especially the coordination of deadlines for Lebanon. What point of view did Mr. Welch express and what was the French response?
Mr. Welch was indeed in Paris. He met with a certain number of officials, and several subjects were discussed, including Lebanon.
We maintain a dialogue with several countries with respect to Lebanon. As you know, Ambassador Cousseran himself has visited several countries and through him, as well as through our embassies and direct telephone contacts, we maintain a regular dialogue with a certain number of countries, including the United States.
We share a certain number of objectives with the U.S. with respect to the region, and in any case, there is no doubt that we are working for an independent, sovereign Lebanon whose territorial integrity must be respected, and the resolutions—particularly 1701—must be fully implemented.
Q - Why did you abandon the idea of a regional conference on Lebanon?
We are involved in a different kind of exercise. With the Celle Saint-Cloud meeting, which wasn’t a conference, we proposed a sort of facilitation mission with the aim of helping all the parties to resolve a certain number of problems to restore the proper functioning of Lebanese institutions. We are still operating within this framework.
Ideas were presented in La Celle Saint-Cloud. They were then taken up by the foreign minister when he went to Beirut in July. Other ideas emerged during the summer. Now we must take stock in order to see exactly where we stand, and assess what might help unblock the situation a few weeks ahead of the end of the president’s term.
Q - I asked you that question because it was Mr. Kouchner who expressed that idea on July 29 in Cairo before the Arab foreign ministers, when he broached the idea of holding a regional conference on Lebanon.
I don’t remember a proposal of that type. But it’s true that several ideas have been circulating. As far as we’re concerned, we are deeply involved in an exercise you are familiar with—the follow-up to the Celle Saint-Cloud meeting, and we’re hoping it will be useful. But it’s up to the different parties to decide on the future of their country.
Q - What about a Celle Saint-Cloud II?
We’ll see. If it could be useful, why not?
Q - With respect to Mr. Kouchner’s likely visit to Beirut, yesterday I heard Mr. Cousseran mention a visit in the very near future. He seemed to be more certain of that than you are right now. Do the Quai d’Orsay and Beirut have different assessments? I also heard that a probable visit would be conditioned on whether there would be an opportunity to accomplish something, make progress. Is that a consideration in your minister’s decision to come to Beirut soon?
Your two questions are obviously linked. As I said, the minister himself said he would go back to Beirut, so he’ll go. The date hasn’t yet been set, though, and he’ll go only if his trip can be useful. Foreign ministers have a very busy schedule. If he goes to Beirut, it has to be useful. That’s what he’ll see after Jean-Claude Cousseran’s visit.
Q - Will he go to Damascus afterward?
I am not aware of any trip to Damascus, either by him or by Mr. Cousseran.
Q - Will Mr. Cousseran come straight back to Paris or will he visit other countries first?
As far as I know, he’ll be coming directly from Beirut to Paris.
Q - During his visit to Baghdad, Mr. Kouchner mentioned the idea of holding a conference like the one on Lebanon. After his visit, will France take measures such as a new initiative by the French ambassador on the ground, or will this visit remain symbolic?
The aim of the foreign minister’s visit to Iraq was to go to Baghdad to listen to representatives of all components of Iraqi society—not just the President and his ministers, but also a certain number of political parties, religious leaders and representatives of civil society. As you know, the foreign minister spent three days in Baghdad, although other ministers usually spend just a few hours there. Moreover, he didn’t go just to the green zone, despite what you may have read in certain press reports.
He wanted to deliver a threefold message from France. First, he wanted to testify to France’s solidarity with the Iraqi people and express their compassion with respect to the countless victims of violence in that country.
He also wanted to issue a call for a national reconciliation process that would be inclusive, stressing the fact that it’s not a military solution that will reestablish stability in the country, as we’ve said time and time again, but rather a political solution that is above all up to the Iraqis themselves to institute.
Finally, he wanted to offer support for the regional and international initiatives that have been taken, notably the strengthened role of the UN in providing aid and advice. SCR 1770, adopted in early August, sets out a certain number of orientations for the UN. I would like to stress that the minister’s first trip in Baghdad was a visit to the memorial for the UN staffers who were killed four years ago along with Sergio Viera di Mello, whom Mr. Kouchner knew very well. The minister happened to arrive on August 19, the date of that attack. I’m telling you this because I think it’s important.
He also visited the French Embassy, which isn’t in the green zone, to pay tribute to the various embassy employees who are carrying out a very difficult job.
His main objective was to listen to all the components of civil society and the Iraqi political community. He spent a great deal of time with the various parties: the President, the two vice presidents (Sunni and Shiite), the prime minister, the minister of religious affairs, and representatives of the various parties and religious communities, including the Chaldeans. And as he indicated, we cannot afford NOT to be interested in Iraq. This is not a change in French diplomacy—it is the sign of a more sustained interest in one of the major crises on the international scene, in which various problems converge: struggles between religions and communities, and questions of terrorism and security, trafficking and energy. All of these subjects are concentrated in Iraq today, and consequently, the minister believed it was his duty to visit the country very soon. He had long planned this trip, it was something he wanted to do, and he decided to undertake it as quickly as possible.
Q - There have been several conferences on Iraq—financial, intra-communitarian, political, regional… What is France’s idea, what is that little extra thing that France can provide?
Let me get back to the more concrete, more operational aspects. All the interlocutors he met told him that they appreciated that France treats them like a normal country on the diplomatic scene. It wasn’t a symbolic trip; it was a trip that allows the Iraqis to emerge from their marginality on the international scene.
There have been few visits other than those of the foreign ministers of coalition countries and, from that perspective, the Iraqis appreciated a real three-day visit by a French minister at their president’s invitation.
Now, what can we do? The situation in Iraq won’t change overnight. SCR 1770 contains a certain number of indications. With respect to justice, for example, 70,000 people are being held in Iraqi prisons, and more than 10,000 have never had any contact with a lawyer or a judge. Some don’t even know why they’re in prison.
In this area, the international community could work to free those who are being held without reason and to advance the cases of other detainees.
A second example is that of economic development: You have the country with the world’s second-largest oil reserves, and it gets only an hour and a half of electricity per day. That’s absolutely aberrant. We won’t renew the entire Iraqi economy overnight, but we perhaps we can see how the international community might act with respect to economic development in a certain number of areas.
As far as security is concerned, our intention is not to send French soldiers to Iraq, but we could perhaps see what we could do to provide assistance to the police or to the authorities in charge of guaranteeing security in Iraq. These were a few of the subjects mentioned by the minister, and we will discuss them with our partners in the international community. There will soon be an opportunity to discuss them with the EU foreign affairs ministers at the Gymnich meeting, and the minister intends to do so. These are the areas we intend to work on in the future.
Q - Everyone knows that the real problem in Iraq right now is security. As for the support you just mentioned, France has always refused to send personnel to Iraq to help train policemen or officers. Are you changing your position or will you go ahead with such training outside of Iraq? What’s the solution you’re heading toward?
We haven’t yet gone into detail at this level. As I said, the issue of security is obviously important. The minister discussed it and said he would see how the international community could provide support.
Q - Would it be possible for people to be trained outside of Iraq, in France?
We’re not yet ready to precisely define how we would intervene in this area. First, we’re going to bring it up with our European partners. There’s the EUJUST program; perhaps we could develop a similar program with respect to security. But we have to define the modalities.
Q - Did you keep in mind that aid to the Iraqi police was rejected at the time?
To correct what you are saying, we weren’t the ones who refused to provide training three years ago. For various diverse reasons, there was hesitation on the Iraqi side and it didn’t take place. Now we have to see what we can do—not just on the national level but at the level of the EU and more generally that of the UN, which is the best equipped to play a role today on the basis of SCR 1770.
Q - Did the minister meet with U.S. officials during his visit? Is a U.S. timetable for withdrawal still a condition for France?
We haven’t changed our position on a horizon for withdrawal. This visit and the possibilities I just mentioned are aimed at achieving a more specific horizon. As for contacts, Mr. Kouchner saw officials from the international community based in Iraq. He met with the U.S. ambassador for a few minutes and other members of the American embassy. But he also saw the German ambassador and others who are present in Iraq. There aren’t very many of them.
Q - The Sudanese authorities have expelled several Western diplomats. Do you have any comment? Are the concerned French nationals doing better?
We took note of the statements made by the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Ministry. At this stage, we have no additional information. We hope this development will not jeopardize cooperation between Sudan and the international community. The commission could probably provide a few additional details, since the case involved a delegate from the European Commission and a Canadian diplomat.
Q - Did you protest?
I said we took note of these statements, we need additional information, and on that basis we’ll see what we say. You will have noted that the Commission spokesman himself was very cautious about the circumstances. Clarification is needed about exactly what happened.
Embassy of France, August 24, 2007