Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, June 29, 2007)

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


UNITED STATES/FRANCE

Congressman Robert Wexler, Democrat from Florida, member of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs and chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, also a member of the French caucus, will be received by Bernard Kouchner, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, on Monday, July 2. Mr. Wexler will also meet with Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Secretary Rama Yade.

The situation in the Middle East, Iran, Turkey, Kosovo and Darfur will be discussed. The visit will also afford the opportunity to strengthen transatlantic dialogue with members of the US Congress ahead of the French presidency of the European Union in 2008.

Mr. Wexler will also meet representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities in France.

(…)

DECENTRALIZED COOPERATION

The Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs supports decentralized cooperation, a major goal in France’s external action. It supports cooperation projects that mobilize the know-how and skills of local authorities for the benefit of their partners.

To this end it introduced new, more flexible and more transparent arrangements for supporting decentralized cooperation in October…

An initial report can be made following the period of assessment that ended June 27. Out of 283 projects submitted, 216 were chosen and will benefit the local authorities of 77 countries.

Cooperative projects involving several French local authorities, coordination with other donors, the innovative character of the projects and the place given to young people in the prospective actions were among the main selection criteria.

Taken together, the projects selected represent an overall expenditure of 60 million euros, of which one third or 18 million euros will come from the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs.

(…)

Q - With regard to decentralized cooperation, there are three projects between the Ile de France council and Lebanon. When you say the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs is supporting decentralized cooperation, does that mean that projects that are dragging on a bit for various reasons could be reinvigorated and projects which it would be judicious to extend supported with extra funding? Are they likely to be re-examined?

We are not the ones who decide to carry out a decentralized cooperation project or even to reactivate one. It’s the local authorities who must take that decision. What we can do is help, and our assistance, as I’ve just said, is being done in the context of bids, that is quite transparently. I can’t tell you specifically what is happening with regard to Lebanon, but we also take into consideration in our selection criteria the political relations we have with the countries concerned and our proximity to them. I am certain that that will plead in favor of decentralized cooperation projects with Lebanon.

COLOMBIA

Q - After the tragic events in Colombia, there was a meeting yesterday between the Colombian foreign minister and the French, Swiss and Spanish ambassadors. What was said at the meeting? Do you know any more about the perpetrators of the attack?

We condemn the assassination of 11 of the 12 hostages from Cali. All the signs unfortunately point to confirmation of their deaths.

We reiterate our very firm condemnation of hostage-taking.

We offer our sympathy to all the families of the assassinated hostages and more broadly to all the hostages’ families who live with tragedy every day.

We are in regular contact with the Colombian authorities who have told us of their wish for close cooperation.

We appeal to the FARC that after President Uribe’s decisions to release members of the guerilla movement, they in turn make a gesture leading to a humanitarian agreement, the need for which is more obvious than ever after the tragedy that has just occurred.

Also I can confirm that our ambassador was received by the Colombian foreign minister. It is not my place to give out details of this meeting. The general idea is that we should maintain close consultations on this matter with the Colombian authorities, if they are so disposed. That is what we will continue to do and we will continue to act with Switzerland and Spain to move forward towards a humanitarian solution in this painful matter.

(…)

Q - What does France expect from Rodrigo Grande now that he is Havana?

We recalled that gestures have been made by President Uribe, including Mr. Granda’s release. What we’re hoping to see now are gestures by the FARC. I don’t want to be more specific on the point you refer to. There’s work which is being done, which is in progress. I can assure you that the French authorities are not neglecting any path in order to reach a humanitarian agreement. Consultations are under way with the Swiss and the Spanish.

Q - Have there been French contacts with Mr. Granda since he was released? The Colombian president has said he wouldn’t launch any operation to free them. What is your position?

With regard to possible contacts with Mr. Granda, I don’t know what is happening,

As for consultations with the Colombian authorities, we have regular contacts. Our ambassador saw the Colombian foreign minister yesterday.

The last point--we are not in favor of military intervention which would endanger the lives of the hostages. This is an unchanging position which we reaffirmed yesterday.

DARFUR

Q - We’ve not seen any very specific decision since the meeting in Paris. What was decided apart from the fact of meeting again?

We gave a very full briefing on Tuesday morning that included the main conclusions from the meeting.

First, point one, it wasn’t a peace conference or a donors’ conference. As we said at the start, it was a meeting to mobilize the international community. We had 17 countries there, including China, Russia, the United States, plus a significant number of international organizations, the UN, the EU and the Arab League, so it was well attended.

We also told you about the four main conclusions at the meeting.

First, support for the political process, and that is rather important because it means that the international community is behind the political process and ready in the event of obstruction to this process to take measures to persuade the Sudanese authorities and rebel movements to engage in it.

The second element is the very strong link between security and the fate of populations. A specific point was made regarding phase 2, i.e. the deployment of the African force. And on the hybrid force. France in passing announced a contribution of 10 million euros. The international community is ready to meet the challenge of the deployment of the hybrid force.

There are also the regional aspects which were addressed and which are important. We explained what we are doing in Chad, especially the air bridge that we’ve set up. We presented our ideas for an operation to secure the eastern part of Chad.

And then one of the conclusions also was that is it is necessary to continue working with the African Union. The minister wrote a letter to Mr. Konare to inform him about the results. He has phoned him, and we are quite ready to continue working with the African Union.

There is to be another such meeting in the fall on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. So it really is a message of unity and coherence on the part of the international community which was sent. From this point of view we consider that the meeting achieved its objectives. I also saw that it had been hailed by most of the participants, and I also saw that the Sudanese government had indicated that it was ready to cooperate on the implementation of the conclusions of the Paris meeting, which is very good news and shows in passing that the Sudanese government wasn’t necessarily as reluctant as we have sometimes read in the press.

Q - But when is the hybrid force going to be deployed?

Once again, I insist on the fact that the choice isn’t between nothing and the hybrid force. Three phases were planned. The hybrid force is phase 3. Phase 2, i.e. enhanced support to the African force, will be put in place well before the end of this year. I would remind you that it involves an additional 3,000 soldiers, with helicopters, logistic support and appropriate equipment.

Q - I’m not underestimating the importance, but at the same time 150,000 people have been displaced in Sudan since January, and we don’t know the mortality rate among the refugees. France is strengthening the force outside Sudan but inside Sudan very little is changing.

Within Sudan, let me remind you that there are actually 14,000 humanitarian workers. It is one of the biggest humanitarian operations ever carried out. The question is more their security, and to ensure their security we think that the best way is to move forward on the political front, on strengthening the African force and on the deployment of the hybrid force.

Q - One satirical French paper said that the air bridge you’d set up has been stopped. Is it true?

Not to my knowledge, but at any moment we can revisit the arrangements according to what is needed. It has already allowed us to deliver a lot of aid to displace persons and refugees. The rainy season will be starting. We’ve always said that the air bridge had to be running before the rainy season.

Q - How many round trips?

I don’t have the details to hand. I think about 30 round trips.

Q - Did you inform the Sudanese about the conclusions of the Paris meeting directly or through diplomatic channels? Have you had any reaction from the Sudanese?

We did inform them and we’ve had a public reaction since the Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said his government was ready to cooperate in the implementation of the conclusions of the Paris meeting, which is all to the good.

Q - Do you have any details?

I’ve no further details. We shall be judging on the actions.

(…)

Q - Ms Rice is a lot more skeptical then the others about Sudan’s willingness to comply with its commitment regarding the hybrid force and wants to table a resolution to punish Sudan in the event it fails to comply with its commitments. What is France’s position?

This appears in the conclusions we told you about. It is very clear. We consider that if there is obstruction, whether on the part of the Sudanese or rebel movements, then we will have to act accordingly and eventually take new measures. This isn’t ruled out. But the priority for the time being is the political dialogue, the deployment of the hybrid force. If there are hindrances, of course we will have to draw the consequences. We’re combining dialogue with the Sudanese authorities and maintaining pressure.

LEBANON

Q - Is the conference on Lebanon going to be held on July 15 and 16 and what are the latest contacts? We know that Mr. Siniora met with Mr. Kouchner a few days ago. (…)

It’s not a conference, it’s an informal meeting as we’ve said repeatedly. The minister did talk about with Mr. Siniora. We sensed that Mr. Siniora was interested in principle in the exercise. We remain in contact with Mr. Siniora and will probably have the details and timetable for the meeting very soon.

Q - Reports at the beginning of the week said that the US and Saudi Arabia didn’t entirely agree with the format for the informal meeting. Can you confirm, since your high-level contacts with Saudi Arabia and the US, that everyone is on the same wavelength on this question?

Ms Rice was in Paris, and I didn’t sense any reservation on her part about the principle of the exercise. As to the arrangements, given that it’s an informal meeting it is also up to the Lebanese and ourselves to assess the format. What is important for the minister is to have representatives from all the communities, all the political forces represented in the Lebanese Parliament, the 14 parliamentary groups represented in the Lebanese Parliament--that remains our position. I’ve not heard any change in format was being considered.

Q - If everyone agrees, what are the difficulties that still have to be settled?

I didn’t say there were difficulties.

Q - Why hasn’t a date been set then?

Things are moving very quickly. We remain in contact with Mr. Siniora. Things have to be finalized in the next few days, and we will let you know very soon.

Q - About the Palestinians in Lebanon. They've announced a general strike to sound the alarm about the situation of the refugees. It seems the refuges in the Nahr el-Bared camp won’t be able to return for two or three years. Do you have anything specific to say?

I’ve not seen any report specifically on what you’re saying. We’ve commented several times on Nahr el-Bared. We support the Lebanese authorities in their efforts to restore order. I believe moreover that the vast majority of Palestinian think the same. I don’t believe there is great solidarity between the Palestinians and this group, Fatah al-Islam.

Next, there is a humanitarian question obviously. The population of the camp has to be taken into account. We’ve called the attention of the Lebanese authorities to this question. We will have to see after the end of military operations how we can help them and how their return can be arranged. This will be first the responsibility of the Lebanese authorities and the Palestinians. We’ll see if the international community is asked to help or not.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY/FRANCE

Q - Do you have any details about the visit by the Palestinian president today? What announcements will you be making?

We’ll see this afternoon. This evening at 7:15 p.m. the minister and Mr. Abbas hold a joint press briefing. With regard to aid specifically, we’ve already announced that France would quickly release direct aid of 15 million euros. Afterwards, we’ll see what other statements the minister may make this afternoon. I don’t want to anticipate what he’ll say in a few hours.

Q - You announced aid of 15 million euros but this year how much is the French contribution to the Palestinian people?

I believe that French bilateral aid to the Palestinian Territories must be about 20 or 25 million euros a year. This is in addition to our share of European aid.

PMOI

Q - The European Union confirmed today the inclusion of the Iranian Mujahadeen on the list of terrorist organizations. (…) What’s France’s position? What is happening about the case of the leader of the Organization of Mujahadeen?

With regard to your first question, France doesn’t have a specific position. This is a decision by the 27. As you know, there was a ruling by the European Court of First Instance in 2006 regarding the People’s Mujahadeen Organization of Iran (PMOI). After the ruling, the EU reviewed its listing procedures and revised the list which is called, a bit hastily moreover, the list of terrorist organizations though that is not actually its name.

Since then the procedure has been revised. A very precise procedure has been followed which includes a statement citing the reasons why an individual or group appears on the list and requiring this document to be communicated to the groups concerned. The plan is for these groups, the PMOI in this instance, to have the possibility to submit comments to the Council of the European Union. This very precise procedure was followed. The finding, which comes from the 27, is that the PMOI remains on the list. I can only give you this fact. I’ve no further comment.

Q - But in that case why are they allowed to gather in France quite freely?

We’re a country where there’s very great freedom of expression.

Q - But how can you reconcile the two things? An organization on the terrorist list which is permitted to demonstrate?

It’s a matter more for the police authorities. I don’t know who asked for permission to demonstrate. I’m not certain that it was the PMOI directly. I don’t know.

The result of the European procedure with regard to the PMOI is what I just told you. The list is however periodically revised. So if there are any new elements, it is still possible to revise the list. I'm recalling the general procedure without making a statement on the specific case.

Q - And I imagine they can appeal again?

I imagine they have a number of legal options.

Q - Was the decision by the 27 unanimous?

I believe that in this matter decisions are taken unanimously.

IRAN

Q - Can you tell us about the situation in Iran concerning the riots and public unrest?

I’ve no particular comment. We are following all this closely.

Q - Has France reacted to the fact that the Americans want to take unilateral sanctions against Western or foreign companies that are planning to invest in Iran?

In what way?

Q - Congress has just passed a new resolution on taking sanctions.

In general we don’t like legislation that has extra-territorial effects. That is perfectly clear, and it’s valid in this instance and in others. We make our position known to the Americans because we consider that if there are such measures they have to be under the jurisdiction of States where these companies are located. It is not up to the United States to take measures that have extra-territorial effects. The minister said so to Ms Rice.

(…)./.

Embassy of France, June 29, 2007