Visit to Turkey
Q. – The local news agency Anatolia is reporting you as saying you’ll discuss with the Syrian opposition the establishment of a no-fly zone.
THE MINISTER – I didn’t say that. Ask the question.
Q. – Then what today can prevent a civil war, of which there are already very clear signs in Syria?
THE MINISTER – I was asked about the possibility of creating a no-fly zone. I answered first of all that we’re encouraging the Syrian opposition to stick to its line, namely of refusing to be caught up in a spiral of violence and civil war and continuing to do what it’s been doing so bravely for months: demonstrating peacefully. Secondly, I said that if we had to contemplate an intervention at some point or other, it could only be in the framework of a Security Council resolution; you’re well aware that the conditions don’t exist today. That’s what I said very clearly yesterday.
The situation remains extraordinarily worrying. There have been further bombardments of villages in northern Syria, so we must step up the pressure on the regime. Let me remind you that I was one of the first to say, several months ago now, that the Syrian regime is losing its legitimacy and will have to step down one day or another. The turning-point in the situation was the Arab League taking a position a few days ago, confirmed in Rabat the day before yesterday.
The regime was given three days to accept the Arab League’s latest proposal, namely to send not a military force but observers who could verify that the Syrian authorities’ commitments are honoured: that is, for the troops to return to barracks and the demonstrators to be able to speak out freely. Will this proposal be adopted? I voiced my scepticism just now; we’ll find out very soon.
So we’re continuing to work with the Arab League, Turkey and all our partners. I’m delighted to see that we’re all taking exactly the same line. We’re continuing to step up the sanctions. The European Union adopted a new wave of sanctions on Monday. I hope we’ll get a resolution voted through at the United Nations General Assembly condemning the Syrian regime’s behaviour. We’re also working with the opposition: I’ve made contacts in Paris and I’m ready to see them again. I know Turkey is hosting some of the Syrian National Council’s leaders here in Istanbul. That’s the strategy we’re developing.
I fully understand the impatience of all those who tell us the death toll is continuing to rise: more than 3,500 to date, and 20,000 prisoners against whom torture is commonly being used. This situation is absolutely intolerable and we must unite all our efforts to make it stop.
Q. – In short, we must avoid a Libyan scenario at all costs, is that it?
THE MINISTER – It’s not comparable. I repeat, they’re completely different situations. With Libya, there was a call for international intervention – with Arab countries, because UNSC 1973 was co-sponsored by Lebanon. You’re well aware that we’re in an entirely different situation today, even if the Arab League has changed its position. Furthermore, Syrian society is much more complex than Libyan society, with the different communities you know about. So I don’t think we can compare the Syrian and Libyan situations.
Q. – But could this also turn into a civil war, and could that also require an international intervention, which would have other consequences?
THE MINISTER – I’ve already answered you on that point. We must indeed take into account the security problems throughout the region.
The destabilization of Syria is a regional security issue and even goes beyond that. That’s why I can’t understand why the Security Council hasn’t managed to agree to speak out on this subject, at least urging the regime to stop and threatening it with tough sanctions unless it does so. But you know why we’re not succeeding in doing that. (…)
Q. – Regarding sanctions against Syria, could you tell us specifically what kind of sanctions are currently being discussed? What did you talk to the Turks about?
THE MINISTER – We’ve targeted… I’m talking about the European sanctions, because they’re the ones concerned for the time being.
We’re not yet at the level of international sanctions, for reasons I reiterated just now. We’ve lengthened the list of Syrian figures hit by an assets freeze or a travel ban by means of a refusal of visas. We’ve also asked the European Investment Bank to suspend all its operations in Syria. And we’ve provided for an embargo on oil imports. So all possible means are being used.
Q. – You must have supported the sanctions Turkey is thinking about – for example, energy sanctions?
THE MINISTER – Of course. Energy is really is essential for the functioning of the economy. Our concern is always the same when sanctions are imposed: namely, to hit the people as little as possible, in order not to make their everyday lives too much worse. It’s a very difficult balance to strike.
Q. – Regarding this no-fly zone, the idea was raised with humanitarian goals in mind, to protect the population; what form would it take?
THE MINISTER – I’ve told you that France isn’t in favour of unilateral initiatives and that these kinds of operations must be devised in the United Nations framework. A combination of conditions may be met; that’s not yet entirely the case.
Q. – This may perhaps become an international initiative?
THE MINISTER – For the moment, the Arab League hasn’t taken this initiative. Let me remind you that it took the initiative of proposing to send civilian observers to ensure that the commitments the Syrian regime made in theory are properly respected. Tomorrow we’ll know the result of the three-day deadline given in Rabat the day before yesterday; this could be a first step.
Q. – If the crackdown continues and the issue is taken to the UN, would you be in favour of a no-fly zone, which is being demanded by the Syrian street?
THE MINISTER – It needs to be thought about. For the moment, the conditions haven’t been met. France shouldered her responsibilities from the outset by explicitly condemning the Syrian regime’s behaviour. We’ve acted with our European friends and are among those who, for the time being, have imposed the toughest sanctions.
Nine successive waves of sanctions have been adopted. What’s been very important over the past several days is the position taken by the Arab League. It tried mediation, an initial mediation which failed, and, today, you saw that it took a harder line. So we want to work with the Arab League, Turkey and our other partners who have fully realized that this regime has to stop this savage crackdown it’s continuing to carry out on its own people. I’m well aware that it’s difficult, that the regime is digging its heels in and that sanctions produce results only with time. We’re also continuing our contacts with the opposition, which is behaving extremely courageously and extremely responsibly by refusing to resort to violence so as to avoid triggering a civil war.
Q. – In Turkey there’s currently an extremely worrying wave of repression against the Kurdish political movement in the name of fighting terrorism. Does France support this policy of Turkey?
THE MINISTER – We support the fight against terrorist movements. That doesn’t mean we aren’t worried about the freedom of expression of political movements who respect the law. That’s the dividing line.
When M. Guéant came here, he proposed a domestic [security] cooperation agreement to Turkey because France, too, is affected by terrorism. For the past few years in Europe our country has had the most citizens taken hostage. So we’re on the same wavelength on that./.