Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, March 27, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
A historic agreement has just been concluded in Northern Ireland. It will allow the former adversaries to exercise power jointly. It opens the way to a definitive resolution of the conflict.
We welcome the personal determination and commitment of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of the Republic of Ireland, and the sense of responsibility shown by the future leaders of Northern Ireland.
The reconciliation bears witness to the strength of the values of peace and tolerance which are those of the European Union.
Mauritania held the second round of presidential elections on Sunday, March 25. So it has completed an essential stage in the process of democratic transition which it started over 18 months ago.
The democratic debate which preceded the presidential election then the satisfactory election process redound to the credit of the Mauritanian people, authorities and candidates.
The Mauritanian authorities respected the commitments they had made regarding the electoral timetable and voting modalities which were observed by international missions, including one from the European Union.
France welcomes the election of Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdallahi and will continue to support the process of democratic transition in Mauritania.
Q - About the British seamen held in Iran. Does France subscribe to the warning Tony Blair gave this morning?
President Chirac said in Berlin, at his press conference, that we stand by the UK and the British authorities in this matter. We demand the release of the sailors who were captured and are now imprisoned. We stand solid with the UK. The minister also made a statement on the same lines in Paris on Saturday.
As regards a possible warning, I’ve seen reports of Mr. Blair’s statements. I don’t know if one should call them a warning. That kind of assessment is a matter for the British authorities. What’s important in our view is our solidarity with the British authorities in this matter.
Q - France went through the same type of situation with Mr. Lherbier. (…)
We’d like to see the sailors released as quickly as possible. Admittedly in the case of Mr. Lherbier and Mr. Klein we thought that the sentence inflicted on them was quite disproportionate to the charge against them. In the case of the British seamen, the British authorities consider they were in Iraqi territorial waters when they were arrested, and that’s definitely an element to be taken into consideration. In any case, we consider there is no reason to hold the sailors in prison and we call for their release.
Q - (…) In diplomatic terms is it more serious or the same whether the men arrested are civilians or sailors? Do the British have to wait 6, 10, 12 months before there’s a decision from the Iranian courts?
It’s not my place to comment on the seriousness. The British authorities say the seamen were in Iraqi waters when they were arrested by the Iranians. That’s what the British say, and we have no reason to doubt them.
Furthermore, on the judicial level, one would have to consult the texts and international custom. I believe that at the international level, in this kind of situation, even assuming the men were in Iranian waters, the matter should be resolved simply by expelling them. It’s something should be ended fairly quickly and which does not warrant keeping the seamen in prison.
Q - British statements yesterday referred to a serious violation of the seamen’s rights. How far does French solidarity go in this given the Iranians’ violation of these seamen’s rights?
With regard to the specific situation of the seamen and their rights, it is obviously up to the British authorities to make statements. I did see that the British authorities deplored the fact that the seamen had not been able to be seen by consular officials. This is indeed a right they should have. We support the British authorities in this matter. We are available if we can transmit messages on our side and if the British wish us to.
Q - Do you think this is linked to what happened in the Security Council?
I’ve no particular interpretation to give of that point of view. Everyone can make up his own mind.
Q - Do you have any comment about the referendum in Egypt?
Egypt has been engaged in a major program of constitutional and political reform for some years which we have welcomed. We have taken careful note of the concerns of NGOs and certain Egyptian political parties about the latest constitutional reform and the referendum. We are taking note of the results of the referendum, which was held yesterday. In our view the objective must certainly be to continue the reforms towards openness and democratization in Egypt.
Q - Is this kind of move likely to strengthen democracy in Egypt?
Again, we’ve observed for some time that there has been an important development from a democratic point of view, for example, the introduction of pluralism in the presidential election. The fact that there have been certain positive developments is something we welcome.
About this specific referendum and the constitutional amendments that have been introduced, we have taken note of the concerns of NGOs and certain Egyptian political parties.
We have noted the results while observing that turn-out was apparently fairly low. We don’t have the final results yet. Turnout may have been rather poor which can perhaps be explained by the fact that little time elapsed from the announcement of the referendum to actually holding it.
What’s important is that beyond this specific referendum, the direction is being maintained, and Egypt is moving towards the democratization and openness of the country.
Q - At yesterday’s press briefing you spoke of your assessment and expectations for the summit, especially regarding the peace process. There were fewer details on the other points. Could you tell us what you expect in regard to Iraq? And about the peace process. Does France support the Arab proposals made in Beirut in 2002? (…) And what’s the French position on the return of Palestinian refugees…?
It will be an important summit. It is being held at a sensitive time with regard to the peace process, coming after the Mecca agreement and the formation of the new Palestinian government, and for Lebanon given the current political difficulties in the country. And also on other questions such as Iraq and Darfur.
We hope that the Arab League and Saudi Arabia, which is hosting the summit, will be able to play a positive role in contributing to progress on the various dossiers.
As regards the peace process, a number of ideas or initiatives have been floated. Ms Rice’s visit to the region has resulted in the idea that there could be a resumption of regular contacts between Israelis and Palestinians, at the level of Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas. This is a positive element. There’s also the idea of a summit which would be open to Israel and a number of Arab countries. Above all there was the Mecca agreement and the formation of a new Palestinian government. You saw that the new Palestinian foreign minister is to come to Paris on April 2. We’re clearly seeing movement again on the peace process. We hope that the Riyadh summit will consolidate it.
We support the Beirut initiative of 2002. We supported it at the time and continue to support it. I believe it’s a good thing for it to be back in the discussion and to be a reference point for the various protagonists.
With regard to certain sensitive questions, such as that of the refugees, we believe that these will have to be resolved through negotiation.
About Iraq, I’ve nothing specific to mention. We took part in the meeting in Baghdad on March 10. There’s the prospect of a ministerial conference on Iraq--the date and place for it haven’t been fixed yet. It is good for the countries in the region to be able to make their contribution to this question.
As for Lebanon, we’ll have to see. Saudi Arabia has been very active lately. It has had a lot of contacts with a certain number of Lebanese parties. We’ll have to see what emerges and what proposals may eventually be made. Everything that is directed to an agreement among the Lebanese is something very positive, and we support it.
Q - What do you expect from the Riyadh summit regarding Darfur?
We’ll have to see what emerges from the summit. To our thinking, what’s important is for the Sudanese authorities to understand the message from the international community and to understand that there is possible space for dialogue. It has to be used to move in the direction of what the international community expects. There has to be progress towards deploying a hybrid force. I think that President Beshir should be present in Riyadh. I don’t have confirmation that he will, but he should be there. We hope that this is the message his counterparts will pass on to him.
Q - (…) Can nothing be done to improve humanitarian access to the refugees? It’s now estimated that there’s no access to two-thirds of these refugees in Darfur?
Yes, obviously we know that there’s a problem of humanitarian access… We think that the best solution is to proceed the way I just indicated. Certain emergency solutions are being advocated here and there, especially the idea for humanitarian corridors that Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy has supported. But aside from these emergency, short-term solutions, a more lasting solution has also to be found. It’s clear that this requires a political agreement between the various parties directly involved, and we think that it is very important to preserve a space for political discussion on this matter. We are ready to contribute to this.
Also, there needs to be progress towards the deployment of a UN force in support of the African force so as to protect the people and facilitate access for the humanitarian organizations. President Chirac and the foreign minister have said that if Khartoum does not heed the message that has been sent to it then other measures will indeed have to be considered.
As you know, there’s an embargo on arms to Darfur and also individual sanctions under resolution 1591. We’ll have to see whether we should go beyond that. If Sudan’s position doesn’t change, we will probably be forced to adopt new measures. This is what is being discussed at the UN.
Q - Without wishing to be cynical, what’s your threshold before you take additional, punitive measures against the regime in Khartoum? We’re now at over 250,000 dead and 2 million displaced. Do the Western countries have a threshold at which they would activate more serious solutions?
We’ve not remained inactive in this matter. On the French side, when Mr. de Villepin was foreign minister, he went to the region, as did Mr. Barnier. Mr. Douste-Blazy has been there twice, shortly after he took office and a few weeks ago.
We have supported the African force that was sent there. That was an element of response all the same to the urgent situation. Then it appeared that this African force wasn’t sufficient, and we had to move on to a new stage. What’s important is to complete this new stage. But, I repeat, you have to take into account all the elements and understand, as the minister explained to the Mutualite, that it is essential for this UN intervention to be coupled with a political agreement and for there to be progress on the political aspects. Without that, it is doomed to failure.
We really have to move forward on both these levels, and that is what we’re working on at this time. For us, the threshold was crossed a long time ago, and that accounts for our being concerned about the situation for a long time. It’s just that you have to find the best possible way to get there.
Q - But there are the Abuja Accords?
The Abuja Accords went in the right direction but they were flawed and did not perhaps involve all the movements. The Abuja Accords probably need to be enlarged so as to take into account some of them that weren’t covered by the agreement.
Q - Is there opposition to strengthening the resolutions against Sudan in the Security Council?
We’ll see. The discussions are beginning, but conceivably it will not be quite as simple as all that to reach an agreement in the Security Council. But we’ll have to work on it, and elements exist already. We’re not starting from scratch. There are the elements I’ve mentioned, but also the fact that the International Criminal Court has had the matter referred to it by the Security Council. It’s the first time. There are already elements, but it will probably be necessary to go beyond. It’s being discussed in New York. We will of course have to convince the members of the Security Council.
Q - So you’re saying there is opposition to sanctions?
At this point I can’t say that because we don’t have detailed proposals and we haven’t had the debate that will let us know everyone’s positions. But we know that this kind of debate is never very easy.
Q - Mr. Ahtisaari said again yesterday that gradual independence is what’s best for Kosovo. What does France think of this solution of gradual but irreversible independence?
During his trip there last week the minister spoke about the situation. We salute Mr. Ahtisaari for his proposals; we express our gratitude for the work he has done over the last 14 months to find a solution guaranteeing stability in Kosovo.
We regret that no agreement could be found between Belgrade and Pristina, but we consider that the draft statute proposed by the special envoy is a balanced solution that includes extensive guarantees for the Serb community in Kosovo and also takes into account the aspirations of the Albanian community.
We are convinced that the draft can provide Kosovo the stability and clarity it needs for its future. We think that after nine years of a provisional regime and administration by the UN Kosovo needs a clear perspective for the future.
So we will be continuing our efforts now with our partners in the Security Council on the basis of Mr. Ahtisaari’s report so as to pursue the discussions on the final resolution of Kosovo’s status. France of course still has a presence in Kosovo and will remain so, specifically in the context of the future civilian and military presence envisaged by Mr. Ahtisaari.
Q - Though Mr. Ahtisaari has spoken the word independence, the term doesn’t appear in his report. When you say that France supports the conclusions of his report, does that mean that you’re
not ready to support independence explicitly?
If I’ve understood correctly, the term independence does appear in the report itself. It does not appear on the other hand in the draft statute annexed to the report. But with that said, we support, I repeat, Mr. Ahtisaari’s demarche and we support the project he presents in all these aspects.
As to the specific question you mention, i.e. the use of the term independence, I think it’s a point which we’ll be discussing again in coming days. There are meetings scheduled for the Contact Group and also at the UN. So we’ll have occasion to come back to it.
Q - So it’s open to negotiation?
We consider the draft statute is the best solution. We support it without any reservation. It’s just that there’s now going to be a whole series of discussion in the Contact Group and at the Security Council, and that is where things will be decided.
Q - In short, yes to independence but not just any way?
What’s important in our view is really the content of the statute, which we support as I’ve just explained. Then, as regards how things are presented, I think this will have to be talked about between the partners in the Contact Group and the partners in the Security Council.
Q - In Berlin President Chirac referred to the establishment of the international tribunal concerning Lebanon. He wanted it to be done before he leaves office, if necessary under chapter 7. There’s a whole process involved in presenting a resolution in the Security Council. Is France preparing this resolution or is the text already ready in the event difficulties persist in Lebanon?
The president did refer to it at his press conference in Berlin. So I’ve not a lot to add to what he said . Quite clearly, the solution we prefer is for there to be an agreement between Lebanon and the United Nations. What the president said is that if it appears we can’t get a solution through an agreement then another option will have to be considered in the context of chapter 7.
The president said in Berlin that he was considering an initiative to this end. So that’s where we are, but I’ve not seen any draft text circulating. But in fact if this solution is adopted, there will have to be a Security Council resolution taken under chapter 7, which implies of course Security Council agreement. So there will have to be a majority on the resolution and no veto by any permanent members. If that’s the way forward, then we’ll have to work with all our partners in the Security Council.
Q - Technically, a decision to consult with the other Council members is ready?
I’ll say that’s a somewhat secondary aspect. What’s important is that we know where we stand with regard to the agreement between the Lebanon and the United Nations. I think that we’ll know quickly about the possibility or not of having an agreement on this.
If it’s not the case, then we’ll have to work on the chapter 7 option, which is not our preferred approach. But at the same time we have always said that it wasn’t ruled out. At that point we’ll have to begin the usual mechanics of negotiating a draft resolution. So we’ll have to see. Precedents exist. We’ve already discussed them and we’ll undoubtedly have to take our inspiration from them when the time comes.
Q - But the president said things had to move quickly. There are only a few weeks before the end of his term.
What the president said, if I’m not mistaken, is that the initiative could be launched before the end of his term of office.
Embassy of France, March 28, 2007