Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, May 29, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
NAME OF THE MINISTRY
In application of the decree of May 18, 2007 on the composition of the government, published in the Journal officiel on May 19, 2000, on the appointment inter alia of the minister of foreign and European affairs, Bernard Kouchner, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is henceforth called the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.
We consider it troubling that the Iranian authorities have recently taken a harder stance with regard to foreign researchers, journalists and representatives of nongovernmental organizations going to Iran, particularly dual citizens.
The possibility for researchers, journalists and representatives of nongovernmental organizations to go to Iran in complete security is a guarantee of the country’s openness to the world. Contacts between civil societies are a valuable link which it is in no one’s interest to forego.
Q - What’s your reaction to Mr. Larijani’s statements about wanting French mediation on Iran’s nuclear program?
As you know, France is very much committed to dialogue and negotiated solutions with Iran. With regard to the Iranian nuclear issue, it is France which launched, with Germany and the UK, the diplomatic process to resolve the crisis in 2003.
It was again France which, through the president of the Republic, proposed a dual suspension at the UN General Assembly in September 2006. Suspension by Iran of its sensitive activities and suspension by the international community of the implementation of multilateral sanctions. This idea was endorsed by the Security Council in SCR 1737.
We continue to act in this vein today. We stand in complete solidarity with our European partners and the three other members negotiating with us.
Iran is confronted with a clear choice which has been presented to our Iranian interlocutors many times: either to comply with its international obligations, which are not negotiable, or to expose itself to the risk of growing isolationism. It seems to us that there is still time for Iran to agree to suspend its activities. Mr. Solana, who is negotiating for the Six, has our full support and is due to meet Mr. Larijani again on Thursday.
To answer your question, we have taken note of these proposals. We are in favor of negotiated solutions and, with regard to issues other than the strictly nuclear, we are ready to talk about regional questions as we’ve done already with the Iranians.
Q - Where will the meeting with Mr. Larijani take place? How is it that the Iranians and Americans after 30 years, are beginning to talk to each other again and how is it that the French criticize Iran?
It’s not for us to say where the meeting will be held. It’s a meeting between Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani. The EU spokesman will be able to answer this question.
You know our assessment of the situation in Iraq and how concerned we are by this situation.
We consider in this context that meetings between Iranians and Americans are a good thing if they contribute to stability in the region. It goes without saying that we can only welcome the fact that such contacts are taking place and that we therefore encourage them. If Iran demonstrates proof of responsible conduct so as to improve the situation in the country and region, and makes a useful contribution to stabilizing Iraq, we will be extremely satisfied.
Q - Mr. Larijani has made a four-point proposal to resolve the Lebanese problem and is asking France for its contribution. What’s your reaction to this proposal?
As I said, we are open to discussions on regional problems. Similarly as we’ve just mentioned, there’s this dialogue between the Iranians and Americans on Iraq. We are ready to discuss the regional situation, including the situation in Lebanon.
The ideas put forward by Mr. Larijani have already been discussed. As you know, the foreign and European affairs minister was in Beirut a short time ago. He had talks with various people there and questioned them about some of his ideas.
We are ready to listen to ideas whatever their source so long as they help to strengthen the stability, territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Lebanon
Q - Mr. Larijani proposes to annul the international tribunal and have a Lebanese court try Mr. Hariri’s assassins. Do you agree with this?
You know our position on the international tribunal. We take the position that the Lebanese government has referred the matter to the UN, considering that that there was a deadlock in the national discussion and that it was up to the international community to help assign responsibility in the assassination of the former Lebanese premier.
It is true that in this context we are now engaged in a discussion at the UN which takes into account the views of various parties so as to reach, we hope, a resolution as quickly as possible. Clearly, we are not working on the same lines as Mr. Larijani’s proposals.
Q - You just said that you’re ready to discuss regional questions with Iran. Does that mean France grants that Iran has a right of oversight in Lebanese affairs?
I don’t believe that one can put things quite like that. As I said, proposals have been made by the Iranian authorities or by Iranian representatives for dialogue on a number of regional problems. We are open to this dialogue.
Q - You say you’re ready to discuss Lebanon with Iran. Do you have the same position for Syria for discussing Lebanon?
With Syria our position is known. We have said all along that we were ready, once the country showed it was willing to respect the relevant Security Council resolutions, to engage in dialogue with Syria. The simple fact is that we’ve not seen any willingness so far to begin application of the relevant Security Council resolutions. We’ve not changed our position on this.
Q - So you consider that Iran is complying with the resolutions and isn’t in the same position as Syria?
I believe that we responded to an offer to discuss regional problems with Iran. When I answered your question on Syria, I said we are also ready to have such a discussion once the relevant Security Council resolutions, which are addressed specifically to Syria, are implemented, and Syria applies them. We have two contexts which are a bit different.
Q - Which resolutions specifically?
SCR 1559, 1595 and 1791. I could cite the long list of resolutions but you know them better than I do.
Q - What’s your reaction to the re-election of President al-Assad?
We’ve no particular reaction to this internal vote.
Q - In practical terms what do you expect from the Syrians concerning SCR 1559?
I don’t wish to go into details. We’ve commented many times on these various points.
We continue to be of this mind so long as there no tangible signs from Syrian authorities.
Q - You can understand our interest in Darfur since the minister has made it one of his priorities. Is there anything new, specifically contacts between the minister and other officials involved in the question?
As you’ve probably read, Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner met with his Chinese counterpart in Hamburg and discussed the situation in Darfur. As you noted, the minister spoke in Hamburg about studying various options with regard to the humanitarian situation in particular.
As he said, we’re currently considering various options that would support the efforts of the international community in Darfur, particularly humanitarian efforts. We asked our EU partners to consider several lines of action, one of them being to improve people’s access to humanitarian aid by means of a corridor, in consultation of course with the humanitarian organizations, the UN, African Union and the governments concerned. Obviously other options exist and they are all being discussed not only with our European partners but also with our partners in the Security Council, such as reinforcing the assets of the African force and support for the deployment of a UN enhanced support package to the African force.
So there you have our various ideas for debate at this point. I would remind you that we started this exchange of ideas, and you’ll remember that one of the first meetings Mr. Kouchner held was precisely about Darfur. So it’s an issue on which he feels particularly strongly.
Q - Aside from the humanitarian approach and the UN and African Union force, there’s a need in spite of everything for political pressure on Khartoum in order to establish the humanitarian corridor. Did Mr. Kouchner stress this approach with his Chinese counterpart and was the idea well received by China?
The meeting enabled us to convey our message about the need to put a certain amount of pressure on the authorities in Khartoum and at the same time respond to the first concern now, which is access to humanitarian support by the displaced population. These two points were discussed and, as you know, the Chinese recently sent special envoy to Darfur.
In addition we want to have the best possible consultations, including with our Chinese partner, so that in the contact group we can analyze together the elements relating to the situation in Darfur so as to respond to the concerns that have been expressed at several levels over the past few days.
Q - As part of the political pressure, are you in favor, like the US, of a new Security Council resolution on sanctions?
We have taken note of the statements by high-level US officials about strengthening sanctions. As you know, a number of sanctions are already in place. We are open to the present discussion at the UN on possible new measures. But there are already a number of sanctions, which I will recall for you: individual sanctions, an arms embargo on Darfur and a ban on offensive military overflights. A sanctions system exist, and in the context of this discussion we’re having with our Security Council partners, we are active and we will be looking at the proposals that are made.
Q - Talks are in progress?
A discussion is in progress, and we are studying the proposals that have been made.
Q - I gather President Bush is going to be speaking in less than an hour now about Darfur. (…) Has he conferred with France or do you now have to study his comments…?
As I’ve told you, discussions have been in progress for several days in New York, at the Security Council and among partners. It’s not a surprise, you know, that some of them are pretty much on the offensive with respect to new sanctions. The discussion is continuing, and we will be looking at the proposals to possibly toughen sanctions.
Q - Is the French initiative concerning Darfur well established and defined?
It is being evaluated with our partners. As I said, we have several ideas for consideration: should humanitarian corridors be established, should the humanitarian aspect of the force be strengthened, should other solutions be considered with the partners in the region? All this is being analyzed and discussed. We’ve referred these ideas to our EU partners. There’s to be a meeting soon of the political and security committee in Brussels on this question. What’s important to remember from what I’m saying is that at this stage we want consultations to be as broad as possible among our partners, including our Chinese partner, as I said, and the meeting in Hamburg yesterday between the minister and his Chinese counterpart was an opportunity to also convey a few ideas and see how our partners reacted. There’s a proposal, a dynamic opened up by France, and we’re waiting for our partners’ reactions.
Q - Just to refresh my memory, the European Union and France, via the EU or France alone is financing AMIS in part?
Yes, to my knowledge the EU is the main source of financing for AMIS at this point.
Q - What amount?
The EU, through the intermediary of the European Commission and member states has contributed 400 million euros to AMIS since it was set up in 2004.
Q - Does Mr. Kouchner intend to go to Ankara? Can you confirm what it says in Le Figaro today, that Levitte was sent to Turkey?
With regard to Turkey, I invite you to ask the Elysée. You saw that the president’s diplomatic adviser had traveled to Turkey recently. You know the situation we have with the Turkish partner, especially with regard to the prospects for Turkey’s membership in the EU. I refer you to the statements made by the president, especially yesterday after meeting with Mr. Prodi. You understood that we wanted this privileged partnership with Turkey and hoped there were no obstacles to the discussions taking place with Turkey, even though you know the position of the highest French authorities on the prospect of membership.
Q - Could you tell us a bit about the G8 agenda?
The G8 ministerial meeting takes place tomorrow in Potsdam, outside Berlin. Participants are due to examine the texts on the fight against terrorism and non-proliferation, discuss foreign policy issues, including the situation in Darfur, Lebanon, the Middle East and the Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues, and Kosovo. The German presidency took the initiative to invite the Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministers to study the situation in the border area between those two countries, and we welcomed it.
There will also be the possibility at the meeting of discussing the notion of the rule of law, with all the ideas that are being exchanged on the question at the UN. And then of preparing the summit at which the theme is growth and responsibility in the world economy. This covers freedom of investment, social and environmental responsibility, the fight against counterfeit goods, climate change, energy efficiency and raw materials.
Lastly there’s to be a debate on growth and responsibility in Africa, which aims at strengthening good governance and institutional capacities, encouraging investments and sustainable economic growth, promoting peace and security, improving health systems and fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. As you know, France has taken a particular position on this with the International Drug Purchase Facility, UNITAID.
Q - Ms Merkel recently said that the G8 wasn’t destined to become the G13. Does France support this position?
As you know, we first introduced these meetings of heads of state and government from the industrialized countries. And at the same time we were also responsible for opening these meetings to other partners. We obviously like the opportunity for meetings between the leaders of the main industrialized countries but we also want these meetings to be open to other partners without necessarily going so far as a G13 or G21. All the same we want there to be consultations with partners that are not necessarily members of the group. It was President Jacques Chirac who introduced this openness. From this point of view the fact of opening a part of the meeting to a number of heads of state or government is something that suits us.
Q - Mr. Kouchner has met General Aoun. Was there a statement?
There was no statement. We answered a question at yesterday’s electronic briefing, saying that the minister had met General Aoun to discuss the political situation, recall our attachment to the stability, independence, sovereignty and integrity of Lebanon, and that we also took the opportunity to recall our attachment to the establishment of the international tribunal. And lastly we said that we thought it’s important to prepare for the upcoming elections in Lebanon in calm. It was a private visit and a meeting at General Aoun’s request, which the foreign and European affairs minister granted by seeing him yesterday.
Q - There was no photo of the minister with General Aoun?
It was not an official visit, it was a private one. He asked to see the minister and was received by the minister.
Q - Can you confirm that you’ve received members of Hezbollah at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs to discuss the situation in Lebanon?
We received a request from a legislator, an elected person, for contact at the Ministry. So far as I know, there was no contact. We took into account in our answer the character and legislative function of the person before saying that we were ready to meet him at an administrative level. So far as I know, the meeting did not take place because of scheduling issues.
Q - When you say ‘administrative,’ it means what?
At the level of an official of the Ministry administration.
Q - You haven’t had another request for a meeting at a higher level? There’s talk of a meeting that was supposed to take place next week between a Hezbollah minister and someone from your side.
I’ve no knowledge of such a request.
Q - The minister met General Aoun at his request. There was an attempt to get a meeting by a Hezbollah legislator. Does this signal an opening, a slight shift in French policy towards Lebanon?
I believe there is great continuity in French policy. As the minister said during his trip to Beirut, we are open to contacts with various interlocutors. We’re looking at matters from the perspective of strengthening Lebanon’s stability and, as I said, re-establishing its independence, integrity and sovereignty. In this context any contacts that may contribute to these objectives are useful in our view. And that is why a number of contacts have been made.
With regard to Hezbollah, I don’t want you to give undue importance to the prospect of contact. As you know, there have been a number of contacts, especially in Lebanon and Beirut, with Hezbollah representatives. We consider it is important to maintain a dialogue with the elected representatives of Hezbollah.
Q - At a press conference this morning General Aoun didn’t seem very pleased with his meeting with the minister. He said you’d talked about everything and nothing. Did you find on your side that the meeting wasn’t useful?
It’s not for me to make a particular assessment of the quality of a meeting. I believe there was an exchange of useful comments between the minister and the general, not necessarily a total convergence of views but comments in any case that may be considered useful.
Q - Does the change in regard to meetings with Hezbollah legislators also affect Hamas legislators among the Palestinians?
I’ve no knowledge of contacts with Hamas legislators. There is a notable difference all the same: Hamas is on the list of EU terrorist organizations, meaning that we have a well-known position on this question and that it’s necessary for there to be a real shift on the part of Hamas for this position to change. As you know, Hezbollah isn’t on the list.
Q - About the incidents that have flared up again in Nahr el Bared camp. Does France know of an Arab initiative to stop the altercations? Have you been asked by the Lebanese authorities to intervene at the diplomatic level?
I’ve no knowledge of any particular Arab initiative. What I understand is that a number of discussions are in progress, including with the president of the Palestinian Authority, to try to see want we can do to resolve the problem and avoid a tragedy. From this point of view the minister discussed it with the interlocutors during his trip to Beirut.
As far as we are concerned, we consider that it is important to ensure the protection of civilians and at the same time it is important to re-establish the authority of the Lebanese state when this authority is challenged. That is what the minister said during his trip. There too, any contributions that can help identify a solution to the situation in Nahr el Bared camp are welcome.
Embassy of France, May 30, 2007