Syria - Iran
Q. – The American senator John McCain recently asked, “how many more will die in Syria, 10,000 more, 20,000 more”, before we finally act? What do you think?
THE MINISTER – Of course, it’s a nightmare. The regime has gone mad. We support Kofi Annan in implementing his mandate, but we won’t be duped by Syria’s manoeuvring. The Damascus regime has blindly launched itself headlong into a bloody spiral of violence. I still think there are no military options for the moment. There’s no question of our entering into such an operation without a United Nations mandate, and the conditions for such a mandate don’t exist.
So what other kind of Security Council intervention can we envisage? I think I noticed a slight development in Sergei Lavrov’s language. But for the moment, this hasn’t led Russia to really change her stance and agree to a resolution that would give us the legal basis for a UN intervention.
Let me add that, in objective terms, the situation is rather different from the one we experienced in Libya. There are opposition members whose attitude seriously weakens the opposition, insofar as they’re continuing to splinter and clash, both inside and outside Syria. We’re doing everything to try to rally them together around the Syrian National Council (SNC) and to persuade them to be more inclusive and take in Alawites and Christians. They’re not doing this enough.
Q. – Can we contemplate what the Russians are suggesting, namely giving up the demand for a transfer of power in Syria in order to secure an end to the violence?
THE MINISTER – The Arab League plan doesn’t envisage Bashar al-Assad standing down, but rather being sidelined and, more specifically, his vice-president being appointed to negotiate and undertake the transition. That’s really the minimum.
I admit there’s a real dilemma. Can we block a resolution that would be only a humanitarian resolution, with no political dimension, and risk allowing the massacres to continue? Or should we agree to this far from ideal compromise and risk perpetuating the regime? It’s extremely difficult. That’s why there was strong pressure at the UN on Monday to move in this direction – from Ban Ki-moon, the British and the Americans.
Q. – You’re implying that France has refused to make do with any sort of half-measures.
THE MINISTER – I have two red lines. I can’t agree to the oppressors and the victims being put on the same level. So the initiative of a cessation of hostilities must come from the regime. Secondly, we can’t make do with a humanitarian ceasefire declaration: we must absolutely make a reference to a political settlement process based on the Arab League proposal.
Q. – Have we underestimated the Syrian regime’s endurance?
THE MINISTER – Undoubtedly. We thought there would be more defections, sooner. That [belief] is beginning to crumble. We must realize this regime will stop at no kind of barbarism. Ambassadors’ or generals’ families are quite simply held hostage. They’re threatened with reprisals if they ever defect. We may have misjudged this regime’s ferocity. And even Assad’s personality.
Q. – Is France in favour of weapons being supplied – by anyone – to the opposition?
THE MINISTER – No. Unfortunately, this reminds me of a debate we had another time about the former Yugoslavia. Should we maintain the arms embargo and risk penalizing the Bosnians as against the Serbs? We chose to say, let’s not facilitate a military escalation and therefore let’s not supply any weapons. Here we’re in rather the same scenario: to supply weapons means plunging Syria into a civil war that could be appalling, because we can clearly see the determination of each of the communities.
It breaks my heart to see the Christian hierarchy – Catholic and Orthodox – continuing to link its fate to Bashar al-Assad. We understand the Christians’ fears, but their future will be better in a democratic Syria.
Q. – With Syria, are we looking at the limits of the interventionist policy conducted elsewhere?
THE MINISTER – To a certain extent, because of the blocking imposed by two permanent members of the Security Council. But we’re going to persist. In Côte d’Ivoire and Libya it worked. Whatever you say about the situation in Libya today, I’m proud of what we did. It was necessary – otherwise Gaddafi would have massacred the people of Benghazi and would still be oppressing people. There are circumstances in which the Security Council is effective, as in Timor, where a war was stopped.
Q. – You talked about Iran at the Security Council. Did you sense, following Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States at the beginning of March, that the risk of an Israeli military scenario had receded?
THE MINISTER – No. Nor did I sense it had increased. Within the E3+3 group, we’re ready to resume dialogue, without any preconditions. The Iranians are continuously blowing hot and cold. Must we make concessions in order to get a negotiation process going? France takes a very firm stand: no Iranian preconditions and no lifting of sanctions as long as the conditions set by UNSCR 1929 aren’t fulfilled.
Q. – France’s policy is at times deemed too strict, too hostile to compromises…
THE MINISTER – Since many seem prepared to make compromises, at least we’re the guarantee that these compromises won’t be excessive. At any rate, in Israel people consider that France is a country which is steadfast in its convictions and views and that it’s rather protective towards Israel.
Q. – France, unlike the United States and United Kingdom, has never said that all the options are on the table. If there were military action, would France condemn it? Would she refuse to take part in it?
THE MINISTER – I don’t wish to get into scenarios which haven’t occurred. In his speech to the UN in September, President Sarkozy said that if Israel’s security were threatened, France would stand by Israel’s side.
Q. – Does that mean France isn’t ruling out taking part in any potential military action once it has started?
THE MINISTER – No. We would stand by Israel’s side in the event of her being attacked, not help her attack other countries.
Q. – In 2011, France intervened in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. In a changing world, is a military capability, for France, an essential attribute of power?
THE MINISTER – There are times when, in order to uphold the law, force is necessary. And it’s a historical constant. Europe could really draw inspiration from this by continuing to create a genuine Common Security and Defence Policy. (…)./.