Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, July 31, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
I will read a statement that was made by Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner:
“I have learned of the execution of a second South Korean hostage by the Taliban. I express my horror at such barbarity. France condemns in the strongest possible terms this heinous and unjustifiable act which universal moral values condemn.
“France offers its sincere condolences to the victims’ families and friends and to the South Korean authorities, and assures them of its support at this tragic time.
“We demand the quick release of all the hostages held in Afghanistan.”
Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner received the minister of foreign affairs and cooperation of Niger, Aichatou Mindaoudou, together with the secretary of state for cooperation and Francophony, Jean-Marie Bockel.
The meeting took place in the context of the regular and friendly dialogue that France has had with Niger since democracy was restored in that country in 1999. It afforded the opportunity to reaffirm the excellence of our bilateral relations and France’s support for the fight waged by Niger against trafficking and extremist elements.
The secretary of state for cooperation and Francophony will be in Niamey on Saturday, August 4, and will be received by President Tandja.
Q - You’ve not mentioned the business with Areva whose representative was expelled a few days ago in spite of the excellent relations you’ve described. I’d like to know if the matter was discussed and if a solution was found?
I refer you to Areva since there was contact between the company and the minister from Niger.
Q - During his visit to Africa, President Sarkozy mentioned a possible French initiative concerning the Touareg rebellion in northern Niger. Can you tell us more about it?
The government of Niger is trying to end the rebellion. We told the government of Niger again, through its minister, that we fully support their efforts.
Q - After his trip to Lebanon, Mr. Kouchner repeated twice that if the situation remained the way it was in that country, war could break out. In Mr. Kouchner’s mind, it would be an internal, regional war? You said last week that if there was an impasse, you wouldn’t stop the process. Would you consider another meeting with other representatives than the Lebanese representatives mediated by France or France and another country?
The minister did not qualify the risk of war. As he recalled, Lebanon’s history counts 32 years of war in its 64 years of existence. So the risk exists.
With regard to your second question, clearly there is no impasse, and the process is not stopping. After La Celle Saint-Cloud we want to let all the representatives of the Lebanese political forces meet with each other, talk and engage in dialogue. The process is continuing in Beirut. As the minister said, you’ll have noted that at La Celle Saint-Cloud there were the “lieutenants” and that here in Beirut he met with the “commanders.” So the dialogue is continuing on various issues--the presidential election with respect for constitutional deadlines, a national unity government, etc--and especially so at the luncheon at the Residence des Pins.
Everyone realizes that it is important for this dialogue to continue, and that is why Mr. Kouchner concluded by saying that he was prepared to return before the end of August.
At the same time, as the minister also said, responsibility lies first and foremost with the Lebanese, all the Lebanese. Just as at La Celle Saint-Cloud there were five representatives of civil society, the minister, Bernard Kouchner, met with representatives of civil society who shared their concerns with him, their wish to intervene to seek an end to violence. The idea is still to let the dialogue continue until election time, with the resolve to reach an agreement among all the Lebanese political forces.
Q - Mr. Kouchner also spoke of the responsibility of Syria and Iran in relation to the situation in Lebanon. What is the exact responsibility of Syria and Iran in this process?
Lebanon’s stability depends on all the countries in the region, and on Syria especially. In recalling this, the minister said it was necessary to maintain pressure on Syria so as to ensure that all the neighboring countries, and particularly Syria, contribute to the stabilization of the situation in Lebanon.
Q - And Iran?
The minister mentioned Iran’s role in the same sense. Relations are close along all the countries in the region. That is why we are asking all of them to contribute to the stabilization of the situation in Lebanon. That is the meaning of the minister’s comments.
Q - Yesterday’s ceremony in Bouake was important in the peace process. On the French side, do you consider it an important stage in the Ivorian peace process to the point of considering a reduction in the military presence? Second, have the conditions for President Gbagbo to visit France been met now?
With regard to your second question, I don’t have the answer today.
As regards your first question, the ceremony that was held in Bouake symbolizes the reconciliation between Ivorians that was initiated by the Ouagadougou accord. It’s a further step in the implementation of the peace process. There were six heads of state present in Bouake: Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe of Togo, Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Joao Bernardo Vieira of Guinea Bissau and Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin. Their presence shows the support of African heads of state to the implementation of the Ouagadougou accord. And the international community joins in this support as evidenced by the presence of all the ambassadors. We also noted the statements by President Gbagbo who indicated his wish to swiftly take Cote d’Ivoire to free and transparent elections.
So it is a very positive event, and we’re now waiting for the details that President Gbagbo announced he would give on August 6 on the modalities for preparing elections.
Q - Conceivably the principle you mentioned regarding Syria and Lebanon also applies elsewhere. There was a recent call by the Cypriot president to begin negotiations according to the July 10, 2006 process. There was also a call from the secretary-general himself, Ban Ki-moon. But so far, it’s been rejected and the situation is blocked. Would France like to see this dialogue begin?
We’ve noted the blockage you refer to, and the Greek and French foreign ministers discussed the matter yesterday. On the French side our position is unchanged. We want to see a just, lasting, comprehensive solution, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council we will be fully involved as we’ve always been in helping to identify a solution.
It is a problem of concern to the entire international community but it also one which is of more particular interest to the European Union. It really is essential for us all to work to find a solution./.
Q - When President Bush proposed a Mideast initiative, were the Europeans, and particularly France, aware of American moves in the Mideast? Instead of calming the situation, America said arms sales were (…) for Israel and Saudi Arabia. Do you have any comment on Condoleezza Rice’s appearance with the defense secretary in Sharm al-Sheikh? Have the French been briefed, is there coordination between you?
There are two things. First, there’s President Bush’s initiative, with his idea of an international conference. As we’ve said, we think any proposals that help ease the situation and foster dialogue should be examined. As the 10 Mediterranean EU ministers said in their letter to Mr. Blair, we are in favor of holding an international conference on the final status of the Palestinian Territories. Initiatives of this type deserve to be examined, in consultation with the countries of the region, because all the countries of the region have an interest in peace. As for Ms. Rice’s visit, with the announcement of agreements with certain Gulf States and increased military aid for Israel, I would simply like to remind you that we are aware of the need for security but that for us, stabilizing the region will come first and foremost through political and diplomatic solutions, particularly in the context of the Mideast peace process. It’s the lack of political prospects in the region that feeds and strengthens extremism. As for your last question on the information we’ve received from the Americans, as I already have had the opportunity to tell you, Ms. Rice and Mr. Kouchner are in very regular contact and discuss all subjects together. The French and American authorities enjoy a close, trusting and regular relationship.
Q - The American President proposes that Ms. Rice preside over the conference. What is France’s reaction to that?
I didn’t know Ms. Rice was supposed to preside over this conference, you’re telling me something new. It seems to me it’s a little early to know whether we’re in favor of this or that president. President Bush had announced the conference for the fall, so there’s still some time ahead of us. What we think is important is for the members of the follow-up committee of the Arab League and the Quartet—to which belong the UN and the EU—take part in this exercise, if it takes place. It seems premature to talk about who will preside over it.
Q - There are indications from Kigali that Mr. Kouchner could soon pay an official visit to Rwanda. Can you give us any details about that?
I am not aware of a trip to Rwanda by Mr. Kouchner. On the other hand, what I can tell you and what the minister has indicated is that we support resuming the diplomatic ties that were broken off by Rwanda in November 2006.
Embassy of France, July 31, 2007