Daily Press Briefing

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

(Paris, August 31, 2007)

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


ROMANIA

Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner will make a working visit to Romania on September 3 and 4. He will meet with Traian Basescu, President of Romania, and have a working dinner with Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu. Bernard Kouchner will address the Romanian diplomatic corps at the annual meeting of Romanian ambassadors.

The visit is part of a sustained round of meetings at the highest level, with two visits to Paris by the Romanian president in November 2005 and May 2006, the visit by the French president to Bucharest in September 2006 for the 11th Francophone summit and that of the prime minister to Bucharest on February 1.

France would like to see its relations of friendship and cooperation with Romania intensified still further through the development of a close French-Romanian partnership within the European Union.

AFGHANISTAN

I will read the statement made by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs.

“I am delighted that all the South Korean hostages have been released. My thoughts go out to the families and loved ones of the two hostages assassinated. France renews its call for all the other hostages, Afghan and foreign, to be released.”

Q - Is France planning to redeploy its combat planes in Afghanistan? Do you have any comment? How do you explain today’s decision?

I refer you to what the Defense Ministry spokesman said yesterday on the matter.

I would also remind you what the president said Monday, in his speech to the ambassadors: "Our duty, the duty of the Atlantic Alliance, is to step up our efforts in Afghanistan.” He added: “With Bernard Kouchner and the prime minister, I have decided to strengthen the presence of our trainers in the Afghan army.”

This is the context of the redeployment of the air assets you’re referring to. And again I refer you to statements by the Defense Ministry spokesman.

(…)

MOROCCO

Foreign Minister Delegate Taieb Fassi-Fihri of the Kingdom of Morocco made a visit to Paris on August 30, 2007. He was received by President Sarkozy, the minister for foreign and European affairs, and the secretary of state for European affairs.

The visit comes in the context of preparations for the state visit the president will make to Morocco before the end of this year.

The visit also afforded opportunity to discuss the president’s project for a Mediterranean union for which the Kingdom of Morocco had expressed support immediately after the president’s election.

France for its part has reaffirmed its support for the candidacy of the city of Tangiers to host the 2012 international exhibition.

With regard to western Sahara, France is pleased that two UN-brokered meetings were held between the parties in June and August. These meetings are part of the momentum created by resolution 1754, which was adopted by the Security Council in April, and follow on Morocco’s presentation of a plan for autonomy—we have emphasized the serious and constructive nature of this plan. We now hope that the process under way will lead to a reasonable solution acceptable to each of the parties, after a negotiated process at the United Nations.

(…)

COLOMBIA/INGRID BETANCOURT

Q - I’d like to go back to what the minister said on Franc Info about the Betancourt affair and the meeting today with the Venezuelan president. The minister was rather vague in discussing contacts with intermediaries who might have been able to get information about Ingrid Betancourt. He also hinted that these contacts would continue and might lead to information soon. Can you tell us more about the nature of these contacts, when they took place and the kind of information you’re expecting?

We have no further comment to make beyond what the minister said this morning. Hostage matters are very complicated, with human lives at stake. I believe the less said the better, even though it’s not very satisfying for you.

The minister recalled the efforts that we’ve made. As you know, he is seeing the Colombian foreign minister next week. There are contacts between President Sarkozy and Presidents Chavez and Uribe, which the Elysée spokesperson briefed you on yesterday. As you also know, we are acting in this matter in close cooperation with the Spanish and Swiss.

Q - About the foreign minister’s meeting with the Colombian minister. Has it been scheduled for some time?

It was planned for the Colombian minister to visit France on September 4 and 5. It’s their first meeting since Fernandez Araujo Perdomo was appointed foreign minister last February after being a FARC hostage for six years. It’s quite normal for him to travel to meet his counterparts. The foreign and European affairs minister will receive him on September 4, at 3:30 p.m. The ministers will discuss the search for a humanitarian agreement in Colombia, particularly in light of the meeting today between Presidents Uribe and Chavez. It will also be an opportunity, for them to review various aspects of our bilateral relations and international questions, as is always the case when foreign ministers meet./.

KENNETH FOSTER’S DEATH SENTENCE COMMUTED

Let me read you a statement by Rama Yade, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights:

“I was relieved to learn that the Governor of Texas has decided to commute Kenneth Foster’s death sentence to life imprisonment following the exceptionally unusual recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

I am delighted with this decision, having just sent a final appeal to the Governor of Texas in support of commutation a few hours ahead of Mr. Foster’s scheduled execution.

Mr. Foster, 30, had in effect been condemned to death for having neither foreseen nor anticipated that a man he was accompanying would commit a murder, and for having fled with him after the perpetration of this crime.

With the scheduled execution imminent, I had written to Governor Perry asking him to commute the sentence. Since then, I had been following this case on a daily basis. I had also asked for and obtained the European Commission’s intervention on behalf of Mr. Foster.

I will continue my personal involvement in death penalty issues. I want our country, together with our EU partners, to continue working for the universal abolition of the death penalty. I will support any and all initiatives to this end. That is why on October 9 I will travel to Portugal for the next conference organized by the EU Presidency in order to mark, with all the requisite solemnity and gravity, the first European Day Against the Death Penalty.”

MIDEAST

Q - Bernard Kouchner has confirmed that he’s traveling to Israel on September 10. Do you have any comment on the situation there? There are civil society protests against the shutdown of 130 NGOs. Hamas says that it’s a move against them. That’s one point. The second point is: Do you have anything on the checkpoints between the Palestinian territories and Egypt? It seems they’re closed. Hamas wants to hold a demonstration at the border to demand the opening of that checkpoint. Do you know anything concrete? What’s the European stance?

I will talk about Mr. Kouchner’s trip in detail next week.

We deplore anything that fuels the violence, as was again the case the day before yesterday when three Palestinian children were killed in the Gaza strip.

As for the opening of checkpoints, you know we support their opening once security conditions are met.

We are following with interest the talks between the Palestinian president and Mr. Olmert. We encourage all measures liable to help advance the peace process. We call on all the parties to do everything possible to put an end to the violence and make it possible to move forward toward peace.

The foreign minister’s next trip to the region demonstrates the importance he attaches to moving the peace process forward. We will have an opportunity to talk about this again.

The reason he wanted to go there now, without waiting for the UN General Assembly, is because for him it’s one of our foreign policy priorities.

[…]

We are completely in favor of anything that can help remove obstacles to free movement as long as security conditions are met.

LEBANON

Q - According to one official, the official Syrian press considers that President Sarkozy’s proposals are positive and reflect Syria’s real position. Let me quote what he said: “they are helping us construct a solution, in cooperation with him and his government, to help Lebanese reconciliation within a national unity framework that will lead the country to elect a president for all Lebanese.” Do you have any comment?

I am not aware of these analyses on the part of the Syrian press. You are familiar with our policies. You are familiar in particular with the efforts the foreign minister has expended, notably since the Celle Saint-Cloud meeting. We hope the constitutional process that is supposed to lead to presidential elections will be carried through to its conclusion in accordance with the constitution.

I would like to take this opportunity to note that Mr. Cousseran is continuing his consultations as part of the mission entrusted to him by the minister of foreign and European affairs. He was in Washington yesterday where he had meetings at the State Department and the National Security Council.

Q - Will Mr. Cousseran make other trips to other capitals?

The mission given to him by Mr. Kouchner entails ongoing contacts and consultations. That’s why Mr. Cousseran was in Lebanon last week. He has contacts with all of our partners. It was in this context that he went to Washington. He will have other conversations. His mission is continuing and will give rise to many trips and meetings.

Q - The foreign minister confirmed at the Ambassadors Conference that he hopes the Syrians will not intervene in the affairs of the Lebanese with respect to that country’s presidential elections. If Syria doesn’t intervene, there will be good relations between Paris and Damascus. That’s a little strange. Why is he putting preconditions on this relationship? Do you have any explanation?

There’s nothing new in the positions expressed by the foreign minister. We’ve always said that as long as Syria contributes to stability in Lebanon and throughout the region, the French-Syrian dialogue can be strengthened. On this point, I refer you to the President’s speech to the Ambassadors: “If Damascus makes a move in this direction, the conditions for a French-Syrian dialogue would be established. Otherwise, they would not be.” That’s exactly what the foreign minister said when he told you that our relationship and our dialogue with Syria depend on Syria’s attitude in the region.

Q - What exactly is France asking of Syria with respect to the situation in Lebanon?

As I said: for Syria to do everything it can to contribute to stability. I reminded you of the importance of the smooth unfolding of the constitutional process with respect to presidential elections in Lebanon. We hope all the countries of the region will contribute to the stability and smooth unfolding of this process.

Q - Yesterday or the day before yesterday, Mr. Cousseran met with Saad Hariri for four hours in Monaco. Can you tell us more about that meeting?

I don’t have any details about what they said to each other. Mr. Cousseran went to Monaco to meet with Saad Hariri. It was one of the many contacts he has had within the framework of the mission entrusted to him by the foreign minister. He was in Lebanon last week. He met with all the concerned parties. He is continuing his contacts and reports them to the minister.

Q - Did he meet with David Welch in Washington?

Yes

Q - Will the minister visit only Israel and the Palestinian Territories during his trip to the region?

I’ll give you all the details when the time comes. The trip hasn’t been finalized.

Q - With respect to Mr. Cousseran’s meetings in Washington, do you have information about the American attitude toward his mission?

They have a positive attitude. Like us, the Americans want to do everything possible to foster stability in Lebanon and in the region. So they have a very positive view of Mr. Cousseran’s mission.

Q - When the foreign minister and President Hariri say that France is the friend of all Lebanese and all religions, even though we know that during the U.S. secretary of state’s visit she asked France for clear support for the March 14 Forces, well, isn’t there a contradiction?

I don’t think you can call it a contradiction. Ms. Rice said what she said. There’s the American position, which is well known, and there’s the French position. What the Americans see as positive, if I can interpret what they tell us, is that France’s effort, and particularly Mr. Kouchner’s initiative, are very beneficial to the stability of Lebanon and the region.

After that, there are of course the differences you’ve noted between what the Americans are doing and what the French are doing. But we all hope to see stability prevail in the region.

Q - Can you underscore the points of convergence and divergence between you and the Americans on this point, and especially on the presidential elections in Lebanon?

We all hope that the presidential election process will be carried through to its conclusion in accordance with the constitution. But everything depends on the choices of the Lebanese. It’s their decision.

Embassy of France, August 31, 2007