Statements made by the Ministry of Foreign and European Spokesperson (Paris, January 6, 2009)

Mideast
Bernard Kouchner’s Visit to New York
Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

Mideast

Since Sunday afternoon, a European mission has been under way on the ground. It is being led by Czech minister Karel Schwarzenberg, on behalf of the acting EU Presidency, accompanied by the foreign minister of the upcoming Swedish Presidency and by Bernard Kouchner, on behalf of the outgoing French Presidency, as well as Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Javier Solana.

The President of the Republic is also in the Mideast with the same objective of ending the crisis.

These missions are coordinated and complementary. They were prepared jointly—the best evidence of that is that Bernard Kouchner took part in this European mission from the beginning, as foreign minister of the outgoing Presidency, and then joined the President of the Republic.

The two missions met in Ramallah yesterday for talks with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Furthermore, there is only a single European position, regardless of certain commentaries. The Czech position published a new communiqué on the Presidency site noting that the joint European position is the same one that was adopted by the 27 EU foreign ministers at the Paris meeting on December 30, held at the behest of the French Presidency. It is the foundation of the joint European position.

When France talks about Hamas’s irresponsible, unpardonable attitude, is that an expression of France’s national position on responsibility for the conflict or is it in line with the European position as expressed last week?

It is in line with the European position, as the Europeans demanded a halt to the rocket fire on Israeli territory. There is no inconsistency—to the contrary.

In the European position, the demand to halt the rocket fire was combined with a parallel demand for Israel to halt its current offensive.

That’s the French position exactly. The two positions clearly state that we condemn the Israeli operation, and notably the ground operation, and that we have condemned the continued rocket fire. There is no difference between these positions.

The President accused Hamas of being irresponsible and responsible for the current situation. Don’t you think that the international community, and France, as president of the EU, did nothing to loosen the blockade that led to the strangling of Gaza?

We don’t agree with that at all. We shouldered our responsibilities. We condemned the impact of the blockade on civilian populations on many occasions. After a dialogue with the Israeli authorities, we obtained an at-least temporary opening of certain crossing points. It may not be enough, but I absolutely reject your remarks indicating that we didn’t do anything.

Bernard Kouchner’s Visit to New York

Bernard Kouchner arrived in New York this morning to attend meetings on the situation in Gaza at the UN Security Council, which French is chairing throughout January.

He will notably hold talks with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority; Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League; and several ministers, including Condoleezza Rice, David Miliband and Ali Babacan.

He will also meet with UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon before chairing the open Security Council meeting at 5 P.M. The Security Council meetings will continue tomorrow.

With a view to this meeting, and in the context of the deteriorating situation on the ground, France—as Security Council chair—is carrying out non-stop consultations in New York to examine ways to achieve a lasting cease-fire as well as immediate humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip.

These efforts are being coordinated with those deployed on the ground during the talks in the Mideast yesterday and today by the President of the Republic and the European Troika aimed at ending the crisis.

You mentioned negotiations currently being held in New York.

Broad consultations have taken place within the Security Council. This afternoon, the Security Council is holding a public meeting, which will probably be followed tomorrow by other meetings.

There is close coordination between the discussions in New York and efforts in the region—French efforts, European efforts, and those of other actors as well. That’s why Mr. Kouchner has gone to New York. He went to the region as a member of the European mission; he and the rest of the mission joined the French president in Ramallah; he continued on with the French president; and he is in New York to ensure the proper coordination of all these efforts.

[…]

You stressed the coordination between New York and the Mideast. Doesn’t the fact that Mr. Kouchner left the two delegations to fly to New York mean there was a failure because there was no cease-fire?

No. We—the Europeans and the French—did not obtain what we consider to be essential. The fact that Mr. Kouchner has gone to New York while the mission of the President, who was in Damascus earlier and will then travel to Beirut, continues, is precisely to strengthen the coordination of French efforts being carried out by the President of the Republic, in the region, and by the foreign and European affairs minister, who is in New York for the Security Council effort.

Are you trying to get America’s agreement?

We are seeking to work with everyone, whether in the region or in the Security Council. We must keep trying to persuade. Our efforts haven’t yet achieved what we believe is important, but that’s one more reason to continue, particularly given that the situation for civilians is deteriorating.

What means do you have to pressure Israel? I saw statements by OXFAM and the ICRC indicating that they are prevented from working in Israel and that ambulances are being shot at. Sick people are prevented from being transferred, and even doctors and humanitarian workers are being targeted by the Israeli army. What are you saying to Israel about that? And are you trying to pressure the Americans to relax their unconditional support of Israel?

We are saying very clearly and strongly that we unambiguously condemn the Israeli offensive, as the president reiterated during his joint press conference with Mahmoud Abbas. We are demanding an immediate cease-fire so strongly because we have noted a very marked deterioration in the humanitarian situation. And if we are insisting on the issue of access to Gaza, it’s because we are calling on the Israeli authorities to facilitate a response to this humanitarian crisis, not simply by providing aid but by doing what we can to stop the situation to which civilians are being subjected. That’s what the cease-fire means. Of the terms used, I prefer “effort to convince” rather than “pressure.” I believe it’s more helpful and realistic. This effort is being carried out by the European mission and by the President of the Republic in the region. Bernard Kouchner’s mobilization in New York has the same purpose. Other efforts are also being made, such as those of Turkey and Russia, who have sent envoys to the region.

The Turkish prime minister is also carrying out diplomatic efforts in the region and he is managing to speak with everyone. The day before yesterday, an Iranian official encouraged other countries to launch initiatives. We know Iran has a certain influence over Hamas. What contacts do the Turks have, and can we imagine a day that you might join forces in this regard with the Iranians?

The fundamental thing is to achieve a cease-fire. The entire world is mobilizing. All goodwill efforts are helpful; approaches should be coordinated.

As for coordinating with the Turks, there are consultations and conversations. You will have noticed that Mr. Kouchner will be holding talks with Mr. Babacan in New York.

I imagine that the Iranians too hope that the situation will improve and want to work to that end.

[…]

What is the status of the joint initiative with the Egyptians the President mentioned yesterday? Will we be satisfied with a draft resolution?

We believe the Egyptians have a key role to play. They have made significant efforts in the context of the six-month truce between Israel and Hamas but also with respect to the inter-Palestinian dialogue. You know that a Hamas delegation traveled to Cairo yesterday.

There’s also the geographical reality and the role of that country in the Arab world. For all these reasons, Egypt must play an important role. That’s why there was a ministerial and then a presidential trip to Egypt.

[…]

At what level are backstage consultations being held with Hamas officials?

France doesn’t talk to Hamas. On the other hand, we work with actors that do speak to Hamas. European and French delegations have met with a certain number of them. I’m thinking of Egypt, Syria, Turkey and others.

Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

France is extremely concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

At Bernard Kouchner’s request, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has decided to provide €3 million of emergency aid to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza:

- €1 million will go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA),

- €1 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) and

- €1 million to the local NGOs, including the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, which has a genuine operational capability in Gaza, and to the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights organization, as well as to French NGOs present on the ground, who today have again been called to a meeting at the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs.

On December 30, the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry organized a first meeting with the NGOs present on the ground. Interministerial coordination was also set up with a view to organizing the humanitarian aid that the French authorities can provide for Gaza. The foreign ministers of the European Union Member States agreed the same day “to coordinate the aid donated by every Member State, in collaboration with the European Commission and the outgoing and incoming presidencies.” In this framework, the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry’s crisis center is monitoring the situation, liaising with its Czech counterpart and the European Commission (ECHO), in order, in particular, to assess the needs of the people of Gaza and the requisite response.

Everything must be done to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and enable the humanitarian organizations to overcome the obstacles they are encountering in providing their aid:

- above all, civilians must be able to access the humanitarian goods and services in total safety

- humanitarian personnel must be able to enter and move around the Gaza Strip freely

- it must be possible to deliver in the Gaza Strip sufficient aid, particularly food, to meet all the needs.

The deterioration in the situation is making it all the more urgent, as the European Union asked at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Paris on December 30, to establish a humanitarian truce and open the crossing points to humanitarian goods and personnel so that all the necessary aid can reach the population.