Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, December 26, 2007)

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


SOMALIA

Let me remind you of the foreign minister’s statement of December 24: “I would like first and foremost to express my great relief following the announcement of the release of our compatriot, Gwen Le Gouil, the journalist held hostage since December 16 while reporting near the port of Bossaso, Somalia. I would most particularly like to thank President Mohamud Muse Hirsi, his advisers and the local community of elders for their willingness to help us manage this affair.

My thanks also go out to all those on the French side who spared no efforts in working to bring about this happy ending.”

SRI LANKA

The minister of foreign and European affairs, Bernard Kouchner, welcomes the release of two French journalists from the France 24 television network who had been arrested in Sri Lanka on December 24.

Mr. Kouchner sends his heartfelt thanks to all those who helped bring about this release, and notably to the Sri Lankan authorities.

Q - Did France ask the Sri Lankan authorities to release the two France 24 journalists who were arrested in Ratgama and accused of getting footage of a military detention center while they were filming a Tamil family visiting incarcerated relatives? Were you able to visit them?

I refer you to my statement concerning the two journalists who were just released.

FRANCE/ISRAEL EXHIBIT

The exhibit “To whom do these canvases belong? French policy on seeking the provenance, custodianship and restitution of art works looted during World War II” will be held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem from February 19 to June 4, and from June 24 to September 28 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris.

Launched at the behest of Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner and by Culture and Communication Minister Christine Albanel, this exhibit chronicles the French government’s actions to return to their legitimate owners art works and objects looted in France by the German occupiers during WWII. It aims to inform the public, particularly younger generations, about Nazi looting during WWII, its condemnation by the Allies beginning in 1943, massive restitution operations undertaken at the end of the conflict, and new individual restitution measures made possible in the last 10 years.

The 53 works in this exhibit are part of the “Musées Nationaux Récupération” (MNR) comprising the remainder of art works and objects of French origin that were recovered by the Allies in Germany after 1945; because their legitimate owners were not found, they were entrusted in the early 1950s to the directors of Musées de France, part of the Culture and Communications Ministry (about 2,000 of the 60,000 were recovered).

The exhibit is in direct line with the conclusions of the study mission on the spoliation of Jews in France, known as the Mattéoli Mission. Those conclusions notably recommend that in order to bear witness to the looting, a few significant works selected by common agreement should be exhibited at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, with a notice concerning their origin and the reasons for their presence. Research carried out by the directors of the Musées de France under the auspices of the Mattéoli Mission has established that some 10 percent of the looted works came from Jewish families, although their original owners could not be determined. The origin of the remaining 90 percent is well known, but those works correspond essentially to purchases made during the Occupation by German museums and collectors on the French art market, where many works were available that had been sold under duress. They were returned as part of a policy to recover works from France that had been acquired by the German occupiers. The works on view illustrate the state of our current knowledge about this complex, painful history.

A list of the 53 works exhibited at the museum in Jerusalem will be published on the website of the Israeli Justice Ministry accompanied by photographs and notices of provenance, in order to permit any person with rights to those works to come forward and assert them. This project was developed and concluded with the full agreement and support of the Israeli authorities, the Museum of Israel, and its government and parliament.

Any requests for restitution must be addressed to the head of the archives of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs along with the documentation required to identify ownership of the piece.

A complete, illustrated MNR database was put online in November 1996 by the Musées de France management on the Ministry of Culture and Communication website (www.culture.gouv.fr). In 2004, the Réunion des Musées Nationaux [an umbrella organization of French museums] also published some of the works in a catalogue of 1,000 old paintings. An illustrated catalogue accompanying this exhibit will be published in French and English.

JAPAN/WHALING

France noted with satisfaction the announcement by the Japanese government to suspend the capture of humpback whales in the Antarctic. This is a positive signal in the current context of accommodation within the International Whaling Commission, whose 78 members are contemplating the institution’s future and the means to end the deadlock.

France strongly encourages Japan to pursue this path and to end its program of so-called scientific whaling in the Antarctic (JARPA II), which plans to kill nearly 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales that appear on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) red list of threatened species.

This is the message that was conveyed officially to the Japanese government in a formal protest led by Australia on December 21; 30 countries participated, including France, Germany, Brazil, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the European Commission, expressing their very strong concern over the JARPA II campaign.

IRAN

Q - Can you confirm that France and Iran are in contact via Egypt, where the minister is right now (with the president, of course), along with Iranian leaders (Larijani)? Can you also confirm high-level contacts between France and Ali Akbar Velayati about 10 days ago? If so, what are they discussing at present?

Given the many subjects of common interest to our two countries, we have regular contacts with the Iranian authorities.

MAURITANIA

Q - In September, you said the risk of a terrorist attack in Mauritania couldn’t be ruled out after an al-Qaeda threat, without advising the French to stay away. The northern and eastern parts of the country were warned against but not the center, where four French tourists were killed on Monday by Mauritanians close to a group affiliated with al-Qaeda. What measures are you considering now?

Given this tragedy, we are in the process of reevaluating our approach to the risk involved in traveling in Mauritania.

GEORGIA

Q - Can you confirm that Georgia’s former defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili, who went over to the opposition and was arrested in Berlin in late November at the request of Georgian authorities, has requested political asylum in France? Is Paris considering granting his request?

We have no information in that regard.

LEBANON

Q - Is France working on a Security Council draft resolution concerning Lebanon? What are the major aspects of that draft and what are its objectives?

Such a draft resolution isn’t on the agenda.

EGYPT

Q - A meeting was held in Egypt between Mr. Kouchner, his Egyptian counterpart Abu Ghait, and the secretary-general of the League of Arab States, Amr Moussa. Can you give us any details about this meeting, in which the Lebanese crisis and the Palestinian problem were discussed, according to the Egyptian foreign minister?

That meeting took place as part of a private visit by the minister./.

Embassy of France, December 26, 2007