France/UK – Libya/refugees/sanctions/no-fly zone – EU/Mediterranean – NATO/no-fly zone – Venezuela/mediation offer – Union for the Mediterranean
THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to welcome William Hague, my British counterpart, to Paris today.
Since my appointment we’ve spoken on the telephone, and I’d like to thank William Hague for making the trip to Paris. He knew I had a very busy schedule in the coming days, because I’m going to travel to Egypt. I thank him again very warmly for coming to me.
As you know, this is a very positive period for the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and France, with the historic turning-point of our 31st summit last November and, in particular, the signature of the UK-France Defence Treaty, which I worked on a bit when I was at a nearby ministry only a few days ago.
Today we devoted the bulk of our meeting to the situation in Libya and, more generally, the south of the Mediterranean, because our heads of State and government, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron, asked us to prepare together the European Council of 11 March, which will be devoted to these issues.
We reached agreement quickly and with no difficulty, because we utterly condemn the attitude of Colonel Gaddafi, who has discredited himself by using violence against his people.
So we’re very clearly demanding that he go.
We then exchanged views on the humanitarian aid that should be provided to all those suffering from the current situation in Libya, particularly the refugees who are hurrying to the Tunisian border or hoping to return to Egypt. We also envisaged stepping up the pressure that must be exerted on the Gaddafi regime to get him to step down – pressure of an economic and financial nature, of course. We also agree about thinking and even acting to plan a no-fly zone over Libya, if the threat Gaddafi is making to use force against the Libyan people materializes in the coming days.
In the framework of preparations for the forthcoming summit, we also emphasized the necessity of more effectively coordinating the immigration policies of the countries north of the Mediterranean, with the aim, of course, of rebalancing economic development between the north and south of our shared sea, to enable all those in the south to enjoy the freedom, employment, work and wellbeing they expect in their countries.
Finally, we also discussed the idea of relaunching the policy of cooperation between the north and the south – in other words, restructuring the Union for the Mediterranean, which we realize is a more necessary idea than ever, by integrating it into the European Union’s overall Neighbourhood Policy.
That’s what I wanted to say – very quickly and simply – while thanking William again for his presence here in Paris.
Q. – This question is for both ministers. Do you agree with the warning by the American Secretary of Defence that there’s been too much loose talk about possible military measures in Libya? Given that establishing a no-fly zone would have to begin with air raids on Libya, do you really think this is reasonable, after what happened in Iraq?
THE MINISTER – The Gaddafi regime’s threat to bomb the civilian population in the cities is unacceptable, and its implementation would be criminal. So we have to prevent such a development. That’s why France has approved NATO’s planning project for a no-fly zone in Libya. We’re open to this idea; we’re working with our partners on this point. Regarding the conditions for establishing this no-fly zone, we’ll take the decision when the situation is clearer than it is at present. We don’t think it can solely be a matter of intervention by a few Western countries. We absolutely need the governments of the region and other participants to take part in such an operation. So William and I have the same viewpoint on this subject, as you can see, whether it be during NATO meetings in Brussels or in our discussion today.
Q. – President Chavez has proposed his good offices to try to defuse the crisis. Do you see any chance of success in this proposal? What’s your reaction to it?
THE MINISTER – For the moment, I can see nothing [in it]. Perhaps William can see more… To expand on my answer, I’d say that a head of State who orders crowds to be fired on and threatens to go and bomb civilian populations has, for us, lost all legitimacy to exercise power, and what we demand is that he go.
I remind you that, a few years ago, the United Nations adopted a new concept, namely the responsibility to protect: governments must protect populations against war crimes, and when they don’t do it the international community has grounds to take their place. That’s where we are today, so obviously no mediation aimed at enabling Colonel Gaddafi to remain in power is welcome.
UNION FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN
Q. – You’ve just been talking about relaunching the Union for the Mediterranean process. We know that up to now, the major obstacle has been the Palestinian problem. Would France and Britain be ready today and very soon to recognize the Palestinian State unilaterally, as the Palestinians are asking, before September? Second question, if you will allow me: very soon the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is going to issue indictments. The Lebanese majority is refusing to cooperate with the tribunal. How are you going to deal with this? My question goes to France, who sponsored the resolution, and also to Britain .
THE MINISTER – On the Union for the Mediterranean, as I’ve said several times over the past few days, we mustn’t abandon this initiative just because it’s been at a standstill over the past two years, since it was launched in 2008. We know the reason for this standstill: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The revolution, the revolutions taking place today to the south of our shared sea are one more reason to relaunch this initiative, and this is what we’re going to try to do by restructuring the Union for the Mediterranean, by linking it perhaps better than has been the case in the past to the European Union Neighbourhood Policy, and I’m pleased to see that France and Britain see eye to eye on this objective.
To answer your question more specifically, we want the next European Council to vigorously call for the peace process to restart and the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to get going again. At this stage we don’t think a unilateral decision to recognize the Palestinian State will achieve this. I think we’ve got to favour dialogue as the solution, but this dialogue has to get under way and for this we’re determined to bring all pressure to bear. On the situation in Lebanon, France wants – as she’s very clearly said – the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to be able to go on doing its job and pursue the investigations which have already been carried out – we’ve said this clearly to the Lebanese authorities – and we’ll decide our position on the basis of that decision.
LIBYA/NATO MILITARY ACTION
Q. – Do you envisage military action in Libya and if so, in what form?
THE MINISTER – I’ve already answered that question. France, as far as she’s concerned, doesn’t think in the current context that a military intervention of the NATO powers would be well received in the southern Mediterranean. It could be counter-productive. That said, given the threats being brandished by Colonel Gaddafi, we have to get ready to act and this is why we’ve given our agreement to planning for a no-fly zone above Libya./.