Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, November 27, 2007)

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


(…)

JAPAN/WHALING

We’ve been informed that a new season of “scientific” whaling in the Antarctic began on November 18. During this season, the JARPA II Campaign (Japanese Whale Research Program in the Antarctic) plans to kill 935 minke whales, 50 fin whales and for the first time 50 humpback whales. These last two species are listed respectively as endangered and vulnerable in the red list of threatened species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

While recognizing Japan’s right to carry out scientific hunts in accordance with the 1946 Whaling Convention, France, like other protector countries, expresses its serious concern over this program which it has always denounced especially as it is now recognized that scientific research can be conducted on whales without killing them. It further regrets the scant scientific data provided by Japan after these campaigns. Lastly it notes with disappointment the increase year after year of Japan’s quotas for scientific hunts and the number of species hunted.

In addition France calls on every party present in the Antarctic to abstain from all unconsidered actions constituting a danger for crews and for the marine environment.

France reaffirms its long-standing commitment to protect cetaceans as evidenced by its actions in the Mediterranean, the Pacific, Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, and its active participation in the International Whaling Commission which is to hold its next meeting in Santiago, Chile in June 2008.

Q - Why is it always Japan that’s cited as being the great whale hunter when the statistics show that the northern European countries are also great whale hunters?

I’m going to reply in two parts. First, I’m not an expert in countries that hunt whales so I can’t really tell you why.

On the other hand, part two of my response is positive: this is a campaign carried out by Japan. That is why we’ve mentioned Japan.

Q - Japan hunts whales for so-called scientific reasons by season whereas the northern European countries hunt in all seasons. That’s one more reason to try to compare the figures because it’s the kind of problem which is raised only for press coverage.

We take note and we’ll talk about it again whenever you like.

IRAN NUCLEAR ISSUE

Q - Iran test-fired a missile with a range of 3,000 km. In your view, is this a Shabab-3 missile and what comment do you have?

We have taken note of the reports you’re referring to concerning a new Iranian missile.

I’d like to state that the proliferation of ballistic missile technology is a matter of major concern for France and also for the international community. I would remind you that UNSCR 1696, 1737 and 1747 contain sanctions against Iran to fight these proliferating activities both with respect to the nuclear domain and missiles. This is particularly true of SCR 1737 and 1747 which I’ve just mentioned.

This news is a cause of concern and illustrates the need to be extremely vigilant with respect to Iran’s intentions and actions.

Q - Do you have information about the exact nature of the missile?

I’ve no further information.

Q - Do the negotiations being conducted by the three countries and Iran concern only the nuclear issue with Iran or ballistic nuclear weapons?

The talks we’re conducting are not between three countries but in the context of the E3 + 3. Let me remind you of the statement adopted in New York on September 28 which concerns Iran’s nuclear activities. Now, we have Mr. ElBaradei’s reports and we’re waiting for Mr. Solana’s. Once we have these two reports, we’ll be going to the Security Council and we’ll see if we need to work on a new resolution.

The issue at this time is Iran’s nuclear activities. We’re asking it to comply with its international obligations, that is, suspend its enrichment-related activities and implement the additional protocol which provides for enhanced monitoring and transparency.

Q - If Iran complies with your demands, will you then start an inquiry into the ballistic missiles?

We’ll be discussing all the issues concerning non-proliferation as I’ve just said. This is a priority for us.

Q - Before the Iranian case is closed, two sub-issues have to be resolved. Is that correct?

Speaking generally, the proliferation of ballistic missile technology has to be controlled. We are bound, as you know, by this obligation and by the commitment to non-proliferation. On one hand, there’s the E3 + 3 exercise and on the other, the non-proliferation of ballistic missiles which is a matter of major concern. There’s no cause and effect relationship between the one and the other.

Q - To sum up, you’re not denying the nature of what is happening Iran?

I don’t have sufficient information at this stage to answer you.

Q - So you’ve made a statement without being sure of the nature of events, is that right?

We are reacting to information reported publicly by the Iranian Defense Ministry which seems to us rather disturbing in view of our goal of non-proliferation.

Q - Why don’t you talk about ballistic non-proliferation every time a country launches a missile to put satellites around the earth? Is there a link between the nature of the military program and the Iranian nuclear issue?

There’s no relationship. Also, it’s not my impression that it is only today and in this particular instance that we take advantage of the incident to reaffirm our commitment to non-proliferation.

Q - Would you have had the same reaction for other countries like Israel and Japan which have launched missiles recently?

The question doesn’t come up in those terms.

(…)

ANNAPOLIS CONFERENCE

Q - Do you have details about the conference in Annapolis? What is France’s role? What is Bernard Kouchner doing there exactly?

Mr. Kouchner has been in Annapolis since yesterday. He attended a dinner organized by Condoleezza Rice with all the guests at which President Bush spoke. Yesterday he met Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit. He met Tony Blair who is the Quartet’s envoy, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner. He also met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and met in passing--I’m not going to give you more details--all the ministers. There are a great many there since all the countries in the region sent a minister to the meeting.

As far as France’s role is concerned, we’ve discussed it often here. Bernard Kouchner has been to Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Territories twice. He’s done everything he could to help the dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians—and remember that the Americans who organized the conference also wanted it to be extensively prepared through discussions between Palestinians and Israelis. And based on the results of the conference, which we shall know this evening, Mr. Kouchner has also been preparing the donors’ conference, which we plan to hold in Paris on December 17 and which will enable us--after the dynamic that’s going to be created in Annapolis, we hope--to see how, in practical ways we can move forward towards economic reconstruction and towards the establishment of Palestinian institutions. That’s what the minister is doing and why he’s in Annapolis.

Q - Does France support the idea of another peace conference in Moscow concerning Syria and Lebanon? Also, with respect to the donors’ conference in Paris, are you going to invite only the representatives of the Palestinian Authority or other Palestinian representatives as well?

With regard to your first question: does France support the idea of another meeting? Yes, of course. We hope that the conference in Annapolis marks a beginning, a new drive. We knew before going there that there was question of meetings that might follow on the conference. If it’s decided, we will support these meetings. We shouldn’t stop with this conference since we know that not everything will be settled at Annapolis.

As for your second question, I leave it to the minister himself to announce the format he sees for the donors’ conference. There will be a lot of countries invited, and representatives of international organizations since the objective is to mobilize the entire international community to work on financing for projects which are part of the plan of action drawn up by Salam Fayyad. That’s where matters stand today. Bernard Kouchner will tell you more about it in Annapolis and in the days ahead we’ll be giving you a detailed presentation.

Q - Hamas has organized a counter-summit in Gaza today while announcing at the same time that it does not recognize Israel. Do you have any comment? Is it possible to achieve peace in the Middle East without Hamas, without a part of the Palestinian people?

We’ve done everything possible to make the Annapolis conference a success. That is my sole comment. We were very pleased that all the countries invited went to Annapolis, thereby showing the international commitment for this conference to be a success.

As for your second question, it is up to the legitimate authority of the Palestinian Territories, the Palestinian Authority, and therefore President Abbas and the Palestinian prime minister, to see to it that the talks with the Israelis advance and that with the support of the entire international community there’s movement towards a Palestinian state, a viable state with strong institutions and an economic situation that permits all Palestinians to live in peace and to live well in a Palestinian state.

Q - Is Mr. Kouchner going to meet with his Lebanese and Syrian counterparts?

I don’t doubt that he will meet both men. He’s certainly going to run into them at least. I told you about the meetings that the minister had yesterday. The proceedings at Annapolis haven’t begun yet. It is too soon now, 7 am in Washington. I’ll be able to tell you later if he’s had other more particular, longer meetings. At events like these, the informal aspects are very important. We’ll brief you on them.

Q - France has consistently called for the release of the 40 Palestinian lawmakers held prisoner in Israel. Are you renewing this call at the peace conference?

Of course, we want the Palestinian prisoners released. Will we be renewing our call for the 40 legislators to be released? I don’t have any specific information about it, but obviously in a general context we recall all the appeals we’ve made concerning the 40 legislators and all the Palestinian prisoners.

Q - Mr. Ahmadinejad has invited a dozen or so Palestinian groups to Iran to show his disagreement with the aims of the Annapolis conference. Does France appreciate this move?

We are in favor of anything that might help make the Annapolis conference a success. So anyone who does not help make Annapolis a success does not have our support.

LEBANON

Q - The minister repeated this morning in an article in Le Figaro that he was optimistic and that a president would be found in Lebanon. How come he’s practically the only person to express optimism on this issue?

The minister has said all along that he felt reasonably, moderately optimistic. He’s confident, it’s true. At this point, with his return from Lebanon after the disappointment of seeing the Friday deadline missed, we all noted that there was a new deadline, set for next Friday; and the minister remains confident about the possibility of getting a president with broad support between now and then.

Q - You’re repeating that he’s confident, but I’d like to know why?

Mr. Kouchner, based on all the contacts he had in the region, which he knows well, feels there are grounds for thinking that it’s possible to find a president between now and Friday, as I just said.

Q - Mr. Kouchner said on Saturday at his press briefing with the Algerian minister that he hopes a solution will be formulated this coming week which will ease the situation and lead to a new government.

From the contacts he had after the week he spent there, he feels that Lebanon, between now and November 30, will get a president with broad support, a government, and that a solution can be found. That’s the impression he had after six straight days in Beirut and the contacts he’s continued to have since returning with his Lebanese friends. Based on all this, what he told us before leaving for Washington is that he felt that a solution could be forthcoming--it’s still his hope--between now and Friday. Let’s wait for Friday.

Q - In his view the solution requires maybe a new government and afterwards a president?

That’s not what he said. Read the article which he wrote for today’s Figaro, read again what he’s said in his press conferences. Don’t try to establish a chronology which he didn’t want to establish and which you can’t interpret from what he said or what he wrote.

Q - About what he said, he had promised to denounce the people blocking the election on November 23. That date has now passed, and he hasn’t denounced them. Why?

He said very clearly that this wasn’t the time for accusations and denunciations. I’ve said so myself when you put the question on Friday. When he was asked on Saturday (since it was also asked there), he said it again in these same terms. He said that in the present context, where we’re all hoping for a solution, if the Lebanese decide to set a new deadline, it’s because they hope a solution is going to be found. So it’s not the time for accusations and condemnations.

Q - Do you consider the French initiative for Lebanon still on the table?

The only French initiative is to have helped the parties discuss matters among themselves. I would remind you that this began with the La Celle Saint-Cloud meeting and the invitation to representatives of all the parties including Hezebollah. The goal is to see that the Lebanese talk to each other and together reach a solution. The French have never wanted to take the place of the Lebanese themselves.

COLOMBIA

Q - Relations between Bogotá and Caracas have deteriorated rather spectacularly in the last few days. You must be rather disappointed. Does France hope that Mr. Chavez’ mediation resumes?

We hope the mediation will be continued. We’ve supported it all along. At the time President Uribe decided to break off the mediation, President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a message to the Colombian president. We hope this mediation will lead to the humanitarian solution we want in this matter and the release of the hostages, particularly Ingrid Betancourt. You asked me if we’re still hopeful. Yes, we’re still hopeful and we hope that the mediation will be continued and there will be no obstacle to a humanitarian solution.

Q - You’re repeating a bit what was said last week. Mr. Chavez has since said that Colombia had “spit in his face.” The situation isn’t the same any more.

Let’s not get into polemics. We regret anything that harms the path to a solution. Obviously the talks and the events you’re citing between President Uribe and President Chavez are not helpful today to continuing the mediation. We support any mediation and any facilitation that may help bring about a humanitarian solution. Obviously we can only deplore everything that prevents it./.

Embassy of France, November 28, 2007