Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, March 30, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
Palestinian Foreign Minister Zyad Abu Amro will visit France from April 1 to 3. The visit comes at the invitation addressed to him by Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy at the time of his appointment.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin will have a meeting with Mr. Amro on Tuesday, April 3, at 10 a.m.
Mr. Amro will have a luncheon with Mr. Douste-Blazy the day before, on April 2. That same day the Palestinian foreign minister will take part, at the Arab World Institute, in the launch of France 24 programs in Arabic.
The visit will afford an opportunity to examine the situation in the wake of the Arab League summit and the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Q - He’s not going to the Elysée?
The program as scheduled at this point does not include it.
Q - The release of Corporal Shalit was mentioned in the minister’s letter. Statements were made this week. Do you have any elements before the minister’s visit?
It’s a point that will be on the agenda in the talks. But we’ve no new element today.
Q - Can we expect concrete measures from France towards the Palestinian government on Mr. Amro’s visit?
The visit affords an opportunity to discuss the context and the situation after the Riyadh summit and the Gymnich meeting, and so to see to what extent we’ll be able to resume relations with the new Palestinian government and our direct financial aid.
As we’ve said, and as the minister indicated in his letter, we are ready to resume direct financial assistance. This means that certain modalities have to be put in place. They will also have to be examined with the new Palestinian finance minister who is doing a lot of work on this question now. To answer your question, yes we will be discussing these points. Of course they must be studied in coordination with our partners—that’s why the Gymnich meeting in Bremen today and tomorrow is important.
Q - Is bilateral financial aid possible if there’s no agreement on the question in Bremen?
We will, as we’ve said, be able to resume direct financial assistance, including bilateral assistance. In that case, it’s a matter that concerns France and the Palestinian Territories.
Fabian Nunez, speaker of the California State Assembly, will visit France from April 2 to 6 accompanied by a bipartisan delegation of five legislators.
Mr. Nunez is the third-ranking elected official in California, the richest and most densely populated American state with a population of 37.5 million. It is the leading American exporter to France and has a sizable French community and nearly 400 French businesses.
Mr. Nunez will have meetings in Paris with Dominique Perben, Minister for Transport, Capital Works, Tourism and Marine Affairs, Nelly Olin, Minister for Ecology and Sustainable Development, and Christine Lagarde, Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade.
Mr. Nunez will have talks with National Assembly Speaker Patrick Ollier and, at a breakfast meeting, with representatives of the Senate. Mr. Nunez will also meet with Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Philippe Faure.
In the Paris region Mr. Nunez will meet with executives of ALSTOM and the Reseau Ferre de France and the SNCF. He will then go on to Bordeaux, taking the TGV.
Rail transport is a central theme of the visit, the purpose of which is to study the French high-speed rail system. A proposed rail link running between Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego is currently under study.
The environment is also a major subject. (…)
The visit comes in the wake of frequent exchanges between French and Californian elected officials and shows the closeness and dynamism of our relations: visit to California by the Senate France-US friendship group (April 2005), frequent fact-finding missions to California by French legislators on specific themes (bioethics, research, energy, competitiveness, environment etc.), visit to France (Paris-Millau-Marseilles) by a delegation of Californian senators in September 2006.
France, in line with the Security Council presidential statement on Wednesday, March 28, supports the appointment of Guillaume Soro to the office of prime minister and welcomes this new stage in the peace process. It assures the new government of its support in the implementation of national reconciliation and elections in due form.
Like the international community as a whole, France wishes to pay tribute to the action of outgoing Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny who has helped restore a climate conducive to dialogue in Cote d’Ivoire and to resolving the crisis.
Q - Is the French government planning on early contacts with Mr. Soro so as to set in train the process for withdrawing the Licorne troops?
Let me remind you that we are there in the context of a UN resolution in support of UNOCI. We will adapt our force depending on decisions taken by the UN on the basis of recommendations from the African Union. This will take a bit of time. For the moment we have proceeded with a technical reduction of our presence as indicated by the Defense Ministry.
Q - Do you have any comment on the new government and the resumption of contacts?
We’ve welcomed the appointment of Mr. Soro. Contacts will be established with the new government once it is formed.
Q - About the revived Arab initiative at the Arab summit in Riyadh. What is France’s exact position? Are you encouraging Israel to accept the initiative?
We already commented on this yesterday. I refer you to what was said. As you know, we have supported the Arab peace initiative from the beginning, that is, since 2002. In our view, it is an important point of reference which has been incorporated into the roadmap. We feel it is a good basis for encouraging the resumption of substantive negotiations between Israel and the president of the Palestinian Authority, and specifically on the final status of the Palestinian territories.
We hope that the Riyadh summit, which has relaunched this initiative, will establish a favorable context for the resumption of the peace process.
Q - With all the parties, Syria and Lebanon, or only with the Palestinians?
The conclusions of the Riyadh summit were endorsed by all the participants. It’s a relaunch of the plan from 2002, endorsed by all the participants at the Riyadh summit, including Syria, Lebanon and the other countries that may be party to these discussions.
Q - Are you promoting an international conference to discuss all these questions?
We had spoken of it, as you will remember, some months ago. It’s a prospect that is still open in that it could help to take the process forward or in any case create the conditions for dialogue between the various partners.
Q - Mr. Solana…has proposed meetings between the international Quartet and the Arab quartet to set the peace process in train, something the Americans and Israelis have rejected. What’s the process for building confidence and getting a real peace process started in your view?
As we’ve said, yesterday also, we support both the conclusions based on the resumptions of the 2002 Arab peace plan and the call to the Quartet and a number of Arab partners to take together a role in the resumption of the peace process. Your assessment of the various positions probably needs to be more nuanced because the day after the summit everyone has recognized that a number of gains were made there.
As you say, the Europeans are meeting today and tomorrow for the Gymnich, an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers. This issue will be on the agenda. It is premature to see to what extent or according to what modalities the Europeans will offer support. In any case, what is certain is that we support this process and we will do everything possible to encourage it, to foster it, so that progress is made as quickly as possible.
Q - According to the analysts, the Syrian president comes out the winner. The question of Lebanon was not discussed, and there were two delegations from Lebanon. Do you think there’s going to be any impact on the situation in Lebanon?
As regards Lebanon, we note the summit conclusions concerning it. We note that the Arab states reaffirmed their support to Lebanon and the need to end the series of attacks that have plunged the country into mourning since October 1, 2004. They also reiterated their favorable reception of the seven-point plan presented by Fouad Siniora last year. These are points that we consider important.
On the substance, our position is known with regard to encouraging dialogue between the Lebanese and the mediation efforts to enable them to end the current deadlock. We also consider that the establishment of the international tribunal, which is also recalled in the summit conclusions, is a key element that should contribute to Lebanon’s stability.
With regard to Syria, we’ve no particular comment on the various contacts that may have been made at the summit. You know our position with regard to the country’s role and the obligation it has, specifically its authorities, to show in practical ways that it is willing to implement the international resolutions dealing with Lebanon and the affirmation of its sovereignty and independence, and the resolutions dealing with the inquiry into Rafik Hariri’s death and the international tribunal.
We observe that Syria signed on to the conclusions of the Riyadh summit. It is in this context that we will evaluate the efforts to be made.
Q - Do you see a slightly different political trend in the Arab world? The Iraqi president has called the Americans occupiers. His majesty the king of Saudi Arabia has cancelled the invitation to the White House on April 7. Do you think the political situation will change after the summit?
I believe everyone recognizes that the Riyadh summit was a great success for Saudi diplomats. The efforts made by the country and the king’s personal involvement in organizing the summit have obviously been noted by all observers. We join in these favorable comments.
With regard to the specific issue of Iraq, resolutions have been taken by the Security Council. We have consistently advocated the prospect of a withdrawal of foreign forces that would tell the Iraqis that the goal of the international community is indeed to re-establish their full sovereignty. That’s the line we take. We’ve said so many times. I’ve no other comment on the positions that have been recently expressed.
Q - Mr. Ban Ki-moon is going to Beirut to discuss several points regarding resolution 1701 and the international tribunal. Do you think that a decision on the international tribunal will be taken after his visit concerning the move to chapter 7 or approval by the Lebanese parliament?
We are following Mr. Ban’s visit to Lebanon very closely. There will certainly be consultations and talks on the issue you mention. As you know, any such decision would depend on the Security Council. While it’s a move that must obviously be suggested by the UN secretary-general, it will obviously be presented to the Security Council for discussion.
To answer your question directly, you shouldn’t expect a decision on this immediately after or during the trip.
Q - There’s to be a meeting of the Security Council to discuss resolution 1701 and 1559 on April 5. Will the problem of the tribunal be raised during the discussion?
So far as I know, the consultations have just started at the UN on the report that was presented on the implementation of resolution 1701. It is still too soon to tell you what the approach will be in the Security Council on this.
Once again, the secretary-general’s trip to Beirut is an important element. He’s not just going to Beirut, he’s also going to the southern part of the country and will meet with UNIFIL. He’ll be coming back with a whole range of information to put into the talks which are just starting in New York.
Q - There’s been talk of fears about attacks on UNIFIL soldiers. (…)
We’ve not received any specific message or threats concerning the soldiers with UNIFIL.
Q - General Pellegrini is also talking about the problems of arms being infiltrated and has recommended having civilians control the border and check the crossing points. Do you agree with this in principle?
The question of border controls is being discussed as part of the follow-up to SCR 1701. As you know, it is one of the key points, and we’ll be discussing with our partners in the Security Council ways of enforcing the embargo mentioned in the resolution and monitoring the borders. It’s an issue under discussion in New York. You will remember that we had found interesting the idea of a fact-finding mission mentioned in the report from the secretariat general.
Q - About the extension of Mr. Brammertz’s mandate… In France’s view is the investigation proceeding without hindrance now? For a while there was talk of certain countries not cooperating, and it caused rather a stir, given that the countries mentioned were those supposed to be cooperating the most closely with the investigation?
The Brammertz commission’s latest report refers to excellent cooperation on the part of all the countries contacted. I’ve no special comment. It’s really the commission itself and its leader who found the cooperation was positive. So I’ve no reason to believe that it isn’t since that’s what the report of the commission says.
Q - [About the alleged threats to UNIFIL.]
(…) If you’re asking me how we assess the threat, of course we have regular information coming in about what is happening in Lebanon and in the south of the country. We have, as you know, a fairly sizable French contingent with the UNIFIL Forces. Our assessment is based on these elements of risk which we know about. (…) We know about the risks but we don’t have knowledge of specific threats.
Q - I’d like to go back to the withdrawal of coalition forces in Iraq. What would France like to see in this withdrawal? (…)
First, about the withdrawal—we’re not there yet. As I said before, the framework is a resolution that was adopted at the end of 2006 providing for the presence of international forces until the end of 2007. So there will be a discussion about the eventual renewal of the resolution and the conditions for modifying the presence, if that’s what the Council should decide.
At this stage it is difficult for me to give you an answer about the eventual arrangements. We’re still far from that situation. For the rest, as you know, we obviously want the focus of all the efforts to be on restoring peace and stability in Iraq and that is why we took part in the meeting in Baghdad, at the level of our ambassador. It is also the reason we are ready to take part in a ministerial follow-up meeting, which could be held in coming weeks. We are closely watching the situation there and the means for restoring peace and stability.
Q - The minister spoke on RTL this morning. He made a statement calling for the release of the sailors. Is France recommending some kind of solution…?
With regard to your first point, as you said, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy referred to this matter on the radio this morning. I’ve nothing to add to what he said. You’ll find the minister’s comments on our website at the end of this briefing. I invite you to read them.
First, the minister expressed our complete solidarity with the British authorities.
Second point, it’s a question that is on the agenda of the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers, right now. They’re discussing it. There are British proposals. Ministers will be able to have an answer for you today or tomorrow (…)
Q - Would you be available to assist in resolving the problem?
We have said we’re willing to take every opportunity of contact with the Iranian authorities to try to move forward on this issue and to obtain the release of the British sailors. We have already said this.
Q - Is France considering taking similar measures to the British vis-à-vis the Iranians, i.e. suspending bilateral meetings?
It’s obviously being discussed at the Gymnich. The assessment will be made by ministers depending on the discussions they’re having in Bremen right now.
Q - President Bush said he didn’t want the Americans to exacerbate military tension in the Gulf region. Do you see a link between this and the arrest of the British sailors? (…) Have the Iranians precipitated things?
No, I’ve no information on this point and no comment. What British Foreign Secretary Becket said this morning is that she hoped there would be a diplomatic solution quickly. I’ll confine myself to underlining Ms Beckett’s remarks.
Q - How are the consultations going between the various members of the Contact Group in preparation for the Security Council meeting?
There’ve been several meetings, as you know, at the level of the Contact Group and exchanges at Security Council level. We’re discussing now the proposals presented by Mr. Ahtisaari. You have enough press reports to show that there’s a lot of interest in the question, including at the highest level, and everyone is expressing his positions. The discussion is open. For us, it’s at the Security Council that the partners have to discuss and find a solution based on Mr. Ahtisaari’s proposals.
Q - The unity of the Contact Group has often been underlined. Is it still possible to speak of unity?
What’s important to recall is that the appointment of Mr. Ahtisaari was made unanimously by the international community. Throughout the work, there has been no divergence among the Contact Group members. What it’s important to recognize today is that the Ahtisaari plan has been endorsed by five of the six Contact Groups members—it’s a fact./.
Embassy of France, March 31, 2007