Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, February 27, 2007)

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


SAUDI ARABIA

I will read the statement issued yesterday by Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy:

“I have been informed that several of our compatriots living in Riyadh were victims of an armed attack on the road between Medina and Yanbou. Three died in the attack. Another was wounded and is hospitalized in Medina.

“Our ambassador in Riyadh and our consul general in Jeddah are on the way to the scene to provide all necessary assistance to our compatriots and to establish with the Saudi authorities the circumstances of the attack.

“I condemn this horrible attack in the strongest possible terms. I express my deepest sympathy to the victims’ families and friends.

“The French authorities are mobilized alongside the Saudi authorities so that full light is shed and the perpetrators are arrested and punished.”

This morning the minister issued another statement after the death of the teenager who had been seriously wounded:

“I have just learned with profound sadness of the death of the young French boy who was seriously injured in Saudi Arabia yesterday.

“My thoughts go out to his family and friends, to whom I offer my sincerest condolences and all my sympathy. The French authorities stand by their side at this painful time.”

It appears that our compatriots were tourists in the region. They were coming from the archaeological site of Madain Saleh and heading towards Yanbou. As you know, they were originally part of a group of 26 people who left Riyadh on February 22 in several SUVs. On February 26 in the morning, some of the group, 17 individuals, returned to Riyadh and nine French citizens continued their route to Yanbou. That is where the attack occurred. Two of the Frenchmen died immediately, a third man and the teenager died a little later on from their injuries.

An investigation is in progress on the Saudi side. We are completely ready on the French side to cooperate with the investigation. We thank the Saudi authorities for their assistance and cooperation following the attack. Our ambassador in Riyadh and our consul general in Jeddah are in Medina with the families. There’s also a doctor from our consulate in Jeddah who’s in Medina. We’re sending from France a specialist to counsel the families who’s due to arrive today. That’s all we can say at this time.

(…)

As the minister said this morning, we’ve no knowledge of anyone claiming responsibility for the attack. Various hypotheses are conceivable, but at this stage we’re not favoring any one in particular. We must let the investigation take place. It’s essential the witnesses to this attack, since there are witnesses, talk to the police authorities, for us to match the various elements to orient the inquiries and for the perpetrators to be found and punished as the minister demanded yesterday.

(…)

A word also about the security of the local French community. There are nearly 3,600 French nationals registered with our consular services in Saudi Arabia. Of these, 2,200 live in Riyadh and nearly 1,400 in Jeddah. Even before the attack, our travel advisory site, “Conseils aux Voyageurs,” posted an elevated risk of terrorism in Saudi Arabia and urged our nationals to take certain precautions. After the attack, our consular services contacted French nationals, by text message, advising caution and asking them to be very vigilant as to the risks they might run.

So far as we know, the group was traveling alone. They were in two SUVs. In the original group of 26 people, there were 14 Belgians and 12 French. Then the group split up, and these nine French nationals continued on to Yanbou.

(…) I prefer not to say any more about the attack. You saw as I did that a number of reports, from a local source, described the circumstances of the attack. The assailants arrived in vehicles and opened fire on our compatriots. A number of things were related, but I prefer not to comment on them because I would give the impression of corroborating them whereas I’m not in a position to do so. It must be the investigation, based on eyewitness testimony, that tells us precisely how the attack took place.

(…)

We have no knowledge of any specific attacks on French citizens [living in Saudi Arabia].

I learned from a Saudi source [that the group was heading to Mecca] but I’ve no confirmation. The purpose of the group, as I said, was tourism. I can’t confirm that some members of the party were Muslim.

(…)

I don’t believe the trip was organized by a travel company. I gather a number of Belgians and French nationals living in Riyadh undertook the trip on their own. I don’t believe it was planned by a travel agency.

(…)

In the group that was attacked, there were nine people, six adults, three children and teenagers They were three couples accompanied by their children.

(…)

A 17-year-old was also killed. As you see, it’s actually the men that were the victims in this attack.

(…)

CYPRUS/FRANCE

European Affairs Minister Delegate Catherine Colonna will have talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister George Lillikas on Wednesday, February 28, at 4:30 p.m. at the Quai d’Orsay.

The two ministers will discuss relations between France and Cyprus and the main European issues, specifically, preparation of the European Council on March 8 and 9.

Q - Can you tell us about the Cypriot question in regard to Turkey? The customs issues? Has Turkey finally opened its doors to Cypriot ships?

Things have not changed on the Turkish side. As you know, the European Council, drew certain conclusions from Ankara’s attitude having to do with the pace of negotiations with Turkey, deciding to freeze the negotiations on certain chapters. Unless something escaped my attention, I’ve not seen any breakthrough on the Turkish side which might cause the European Union to review its position.

Obviously, if there were some positive movement on the Turkish side, then the European Council would act accordingly.

(…)

IRAN/NUCLEAR ISSUE

Q - Do you have any information about yesterday’s meeting in London on Iran’s nuclear program? Was there any movement towards a common position on Iran?

It was actually a meeting of political directors. It was a meeting of high-ranking officials in London.

As you know, the purpose was to determine the next stages in the process on the Iranian nuclear issue.

The political directors noted that Iran was not complying with its obligations. That is perfectly clear and comes out in the report by the IAEA director general. They noted that it was important to move forward on a new resolution, still with the same approach, that of resolution 1737 and still based on article 41 of the UN Charter.

We consider, and this was also what the British said, that the meeting was constructive and allowed us to begin thinking about the content of a new resolution. But we don’t have complete agreement on the content of this new resolution. Contacts will be continuing.

You saw that the Americans said there might be further contact, perhaps Thursday, between the political directors. This still has to be confirmed, but it’s a possibility, maybe a video conference or by telephone. So there will be new contacts fairly quickly to continue the discussion among the political directors and try to work out the details of this future resolution.

At the same time, and this is a point we pay close attention to on the French side, the political directors said clearly they were open to a resumption of negotiations with the Iranians providing that the Iranians make the gestures that we expect of them and suspend enrichment activities.

So that’s the report on the London meeting. As I said, we feel that progress is being made towards the objective of adopting a new resolution. The minister said this morning he hoped that it’s done quickly.

Q - Do you have some idea when the draft resolution might be voted on? Are you still thinking of deepening the sanctions or expanding them?

With regard to your first question, it is premature to talk about voting on a text when it doesn’t exist yet. We have to agree on the content of the resolution, that it leads to a text and then the matter moves again to New York. In New York the talks will continue, and that’s where we’ll decide when we can move on to the vote. We’re not there yet.

We hope that this preliminary phase among the Six goes fairly quickly and that we can then send the question to New York and get the resolution passed.

With regard to your second question, we’re still taking the same approach. It’s a gradual approach. We have resolution 1737. We’ve said all along that we were taking this gradual approach, taking measures under article 41 of the Charter. So the idea is to deepen the content of 1737 and think about additional measures.

Q - What?

I don’t wish to be too specific because we’re still at the preliminary stage of the discussions. I imagine the various participants presented their ideas yesterday. There isn’t complete agreement on these ideas at this stage. So I would prefer not to divulge what was proposed by the various participants.

Q - The minister spoke this morning about economic sanctions that might be included in the resolution.

It’s still the same type of sanctions under article 41 of the Charter, that’s what the minister meant to say. Resolution 1737 is mostly about sanctions targeting the nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.

So the idea is to see if some of these sanctions can be deepened, if some of the measures in 1737 can be made more binding and if other measures can be added.

Q - Still the minister said there’s a good chance of an agreement very soon. Can you give us a more precise idea of what is involved?

I’m not going to say much more about the elements proposed. We’re working with a view to reaching an agreement as quickly as possible, still on the same lines, i.e. international firmness and unity.

This means some common ground of understanding will have to be found with the other partners in the group of Six, specifically the Russians and Chinese. So we can’t second guess when this agreement will happen, but we’re doing everything possible and we hope it’s reached soon.

Q - Without second guessing, you can tell us what was said in London.

It was a meeting of high-level officials, of a discreet and rather confidential nature. I can’t tell you in detail what was said at the meeting.

I repeat, our sense from it is that there’s an agreement to work on a new resolution and an agreement to add things in line with 1737. But there was no definitive agreement yesterday on the detailed proposals that may have been made by various participants.

Q - There was no agreement on the proposals?

Had there been complete agreement, we’d have said so. It was a preliminary discussion to do the groundwork, but it was rather a constructive discussion and goes in the right direction in our view.

Q - Apparently former foreign minister Roland Dumas went to Iran this past weekend. Was he there in an individual capacity or was he on a mission?

As we said before, I can confirm that he went to Iran in a private capacity. He was not asked to conduct official French business.

Q - Is there a possibility of contacts resuming before Iran responds to the conditions laid down by the Six?

We’ve said all along that contacts were possible. Moreover Mr. Larijani and Mr. Solana had contact recently in Munich. They saw each other in Munich on the sidelines of the conference on security. We are still open to contacts.

What we have always said on the other hand, and this remains the position of the Six, is that in order to resume formal negotiations with the Iranians, enrichment activities have to be suspended.

Q - Will there be contacts soon?

I’ve no information. It’s just that the door isn’t closed.

Q - Was Iran’s former foreign minister, Mr. Velayati, in Paris ten days ago?

I saw interesting interviews of Mr. Velayati in the French press but I’ve no information about his being in Paris.

Q - Is it you and the British who’ll be drafting the proposed resolution?

I don’t know how things will go in practice, nor who will hold the pen.

Q - We’re told the draft is already ready.

I don’t believe there’s a draft that we’ve written. Once there are exchanges and discussions, then inevitably at some point things have to be written down. But I don’t know when this will be done or if it’s been done already, but it’s fairly secondary really. What’s most important is knowing where you’re headed. That’s what’s important.

Q - Are you still on the same wavelength as Germany on this issue?

Absolutely. I don’t know what leads you to suppose that we’re not. We’ve always worked in the EU3 group, with the Germans and British. Things have always gone very well. Simply, what you say gives me the opportunity to say that we stand with Germany in seeking the release of Donald Klein. Mr. Lhherbier was freed Sunday. We welcome it of course, even though he spent 15 months in prison. Unfortunately, the German citizen who was with him on the same boat has not been released. We regret this. We’re demanding his release and we stand in solidarity with the Germans on this.

Q - So it’s just press rumors that you disagree with Germany?

Frankly, I don’t see what this refers to. There’s no difference or disagreement between France and Germany on this question.

Q - You’ve spoken repeatedly of the need for unity among the Six. The Iranian foreign minister has said that uranium enrichment will continue in Iran. What effect might these comments have on unity among the Six?

Maybe these comments are strengthening the unity of the international community. If Iran takes an intransigent attitude, I think it’s rather likely to strengthen the conviction of the Six that we need to consider a new resolution.

Q - In relation to the French position, with French companies forging economic ties in Iran, do you consider French economic ties in Iran are an asset for French diplomacy in the negotiations?

I think the two things are different. There are of course contacts with the French companies active in Iran, but to keep them informed. We told them what resolution 1737 contained. We’ve told them about the situation, but it’s up to them to see what they want to do. There’s no order from the government one way or another vis-à-vis companies which have their own motivations and decide things according to their own criteria, which are economic.

We think that relations with Iran are important on the economic front as in other areas. That’s the reason we consider this nuclear issue must be resolved. It’s the reason we keep on telling the Iranians: let’s resolve this nuclear question in conditions that are satisfactory for everyone, and at that point this will further strengthen relations between France and Iran and between Europe and Iran.

All this appears in the proposals the Six made, which are very interesting for Iran in terms of economic cooperation, Iran joining the WTO, and cooperation in aeronautics. All these aspects appear in the offer the Six made. Of course we want to strengthen relations with the Iranians in this area.

Q - What have the Defense and Foreign Ministries to say about the increasing use of fragmentation bombs which the Americans are exhibiting in Iraq so as prove they come from Iran? Does France have a position on this? Is it something that proves a nefarious Iranian presence in Iraq?

I’ve no particular information. We’re paying close attention to anything said on the subject, but I’ve no specific information about these “proofs” of Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs. We’re listening with interest of course to what the Americans say, but I don’t wish to make a judgment on the matter.

Q - In a broader framework, do you worry that the US may abandon the diplomatic solution and opt for other choices? (…)

It’s a question that comes up all the time. The minister said again this morning that in our view the military option was not an issue.

What we hear on the American side is more in line with the process begun at the United Nations. Mr. Burns was in London yesterday. He took an active part in the London meeting with the objective of honing the new resolution.

We’re working in the framework of article 41 which does not provide for the use of force. Things seem to us to be heading more in the direction of a political and diplomatic solution. There’s nothing in the US attitude for us think that they envision another option. Our position on a military option is well-known. As the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister have said, a military solution is not conceivable and is not acceptable.

Q - You see that the American diplomatic process continues but is it different from the days that preceded the start of the war in Iraq?

I’ll let you be the judge, but it seems to me that the situation is quite different. We’re working on measures taken in the context of article 41 of the Charter, additional measures which are intended to put pressure in Iran, but in the framework of a diplomatic process and at the United Nations. So we think the context is very different.

(…)

MIDDLE EAST

Q - Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is in Moscow. Do you think it’s useful for the Russians to meet with him?

That’s the Russians’ choice. It’s not the first time they’ve received Hamas leaders. They’ve done so before, in the last few months.

With regard to our own position, it’s not changed. There will be no contact with Hamas until there’s a change on the three conditions laid down by the Quartet. Also, there’s the prospect of a national unity government. But that’s different to contacts with Hamas per se.

Q - About the national unity government. Is France having contacts with ministers close to Hamas who might be part of it?

For now, our position hasn’t changed regarding contacts with Hamas. Then if the government is formed, we’ll see on what basis and at that point we will perhaps be able to review our position.

In addition our consul general in Jerusalem is having contacts with the members of Fatah, and with some independents who’ve been approached to be ministers. This is the work at the consulate general in Jerusalem, but there’s no contact with Hamas./.

Embassy of France, February 27, 2007