Foreign Affairs Council
THE MINISTER – Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We began by talking about the situation in the Sahel, particularly in Mali. I welcome the position adopted by our Council, which obviously condemned the coup d’état, called for an immediate return to constitutional order, the holding of elections as planned, an end to the violence, and the start of a dialogue process to find a political solution to the current conflict.
As far as we’re concerned, we’ve suspended our bilateral aid to Bamako – except the aid going directly to the people and, obviously, our efforts to fight terrorism.
I also welcomed – as did most of my colleagues – the action taken by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, which is engaged in mediation, since President Ouattara is organizing a meeting with Mali’s principal neighbours in the next few days.
I don’t have any specific details about President Touré’s current situation; the information I have hasn’t been verified.
More generally, we confirmed the European Union’s determination to be committed in the Sahel to help the countries of the region, particularly in their fight against terrorism. So the European Union’s Sahel strategy and the civilian CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) operation, which must involve Niger – but also, we hope, Mauritania – must be implemented as soon as possible.
We talked at length about the situation in Syria, including with our Turkish colleague, Mr Davutoğlu. I recalled all our efforts, over many months now, to stop this outrageous situation, which appals the general public in our countries.
With the path to a Security Council resolution blocked, we took action, as you know, on three fronts: first, the General Assembly resolution, which is a good resolution and, moreover, sets out Kofi Annan’s mandate; secondly, the meeting in Tunis of the Friends of the Syrian People Group, which isolated both the regime and those opposing the Security Council resolution; and then, thirdly, our action at the Human Rights Council, which again just recently adopted a very severe resolution condemning the Damascus regime.
What’s the outlook today? We got a Security Council presidential statement containing the three points which seem essential to France: first, the ceasefire, with the requirement that the regime take the initiative to stop the use of violence and that, of course, this ceasefire is complied with by the other parties; second, the delivery of humanitarian aid; third – and this was a red line for me –, the determination to begin a political transition process, since the ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian aid mustn’t thwart the Syrian people’s aspiration to freedom and democracy.
Today, we’re making a multi-pronged effort to try and take matters forward. First of all, we fully support the mediation of Kofi Annan, who is a universally respected, tenacious, determined man. Secondly, we’re preparing the meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People Group, which will be held in Istanbul, and we’re going to work on this ourselves in the “core group” framework. I expressed the wish for us to work on two issues in particular: first, inviting Russia, since Russia’s position has evolved, by not opposing the adoption of the Security Council’s presidential statement; second – and this is a second priority area of concern –, help the opposition get organized, unite and define a genuine political strategy, which it hasn’t got today.
I referred to the example of Libya’s National Transitional Council, which came here to Brussels to present its political road map; this hugely contributed to making it credible. The Syrian opposition must do the same, and we’re going to help it. That’s the situation on Syria.
Lastly, I’d like to emphasize the progress on the Common Security and Defence Policy. As you know, in the framework of the Weimar Triangle, France, Germany and Poland very much insisted on a relaunch of the CSDP, whose existence some people pretend to be unaware of. It exists, and it’s already proved itself in the past by several CSDP-led operations which have been successes.
Today, we’re moving ahead on three major points: first of all, preparing and planning two new CSDP operations, one in the Horn of Africa and the other, which I’ve mentioned, relating to Niger and Mali; secondly, the activation of the operations centre, which will enable us to conduct the very operations I’ve just spoken about; and finally, thirdly, the concrete projects of the European Defence Agency to pool capabilities; I’d like to mention in particular the sharing of in-flight refuelling tanker aircraft, which is of interest to our American partners in the framework of cooperation between NATO and the EU’s CSDP.
This progress can always be regarded as insufficient, but it’s real and it enables us to move forward on this subject, which we’re particularly keen on.
I’ve already spoken to you about our meeting with Ahmet Davutoğlu. Given the brevity of the lunch – because he had to leave earlier than expected – the bulk of our conversation was about Syria. (…)
Q. – Did you discuss the issue of a buffer zone directly with Mr Davutoğlu?
THE MINISTER – Mr Davutoğlu mentioned the subject, but he didn’t expand on it, so you’ll have to put that question to him. What he did emphasize very strongly was the growing number of refugees entering Turkey: if I understood correctly, he mentioned the figure of 75,000. He even spoke today about the arrival of Alawite refugees, which proves how much the situation in Syria is disintegrating. The regime is ready to stay in power at all costs, using the most violent means. Having said that, it’s gradually getting weaker: there are numerous defections, even though the regime doesn’t hesitate to take hostage the families of those who might defect. The economic situation is also becoming more and more difficult. Syria has few reserves, unlike a country such as Libya, and he thinks that within a few months the economic situation will become untenable for the Syrian regime.
You’ve also seen that we stepped up sanctions against a number of Syrian figures, including the Syrian President’s wife and his family, freezing the assets they hold in the EU and banning visas. We also added two Syrian oil companies to the entities sanctioned.
Q. – On this point, it’s a bit incomprehensible: why take so long to impose sanctions against the President’s wife and family? (…)
THE MINISTER – (…) The nature of sanctions is that they gradually build up. We’ve had a number of indications – it hasn’t escaped you – about how President Bashar al-Assad’s wife uses her money; it was perhaps this which led us to step up the sanctions. The process goes in stages: we began with sanctions that initially didn’t target Bashar al-Assad; many of our partners didn’t want them to target Bashar al-Assad himself. So you can see it’s a steady process. I’d like to point out above all that the EU sanctions are effective. (…) When we decide on something, we do it, whereas other blocs have decided on sanctions which unfortunately aren’t applied. (…)
Q. – There are going to be elections to the World Bank. The United States has presented a candidate; in principle it’s an American, and [for] the IMF a European. But Africa, and in this case the Nigerian Finance Minister, is also presenting its candidature. South Africa has also presented her candidature. Will France support the American or the African candidate?
THE MINISTER – I think the principle is that there should be this balance between the United States at the World Bank and a European at the IMF. So we have no reason at this stage not to remain within that framework. (…)
Q. – Regarding Syria, there will no doubt be many reports about Asma al-Assad in tomorrow’s press. So we need a precise answer. The Syrian President’s wife has a British passport; we don’t know if it’s valid or not. Did Mr Hague give any details of how he intends to apply the EU’s decisions on this person?
THE MINISTER – I’m not Her Britannic Majesty’s representative. He wasn’t questioned about that. What was decided was a freeze on the financial assets – the bank accounts, to put it more clearly – and a visa ban. Apart from that, it’ll be up to the British authorities, who approved this measure, to draw the relevant legal conclusions on their soil.
Q. – What’s the state of the talks on Belarus, and the envisaged sanctions announced a few days ago?
THE MINISTER – There was unanimous agreement that the regime wasn’t moving in the right direction at all. At the last minute, it seems, they offered to release two or three political prisoners to avoid a toughening of the sanctions. We didn’t fall into that trap, of course.
The goal is the release of all political prisoners and the conduct of fair, transparent elections; that’s not the case today, so we decided to impose tougher sanctions. You’ll have the list, including for companies (…) with admittedly one small exception for a subsidiary, because one of the member states – Slovenia, without mentioning any names – asked for an exception. I pointed out that when you decide on sanctions, you have to agree to a number of national sacrifices to ensure the collective interest prevails, and the interest of the international community. By implementing certain sanctions, France has lost markets or commercial transactions, and we’ve accepted this because it was the price to pay, of course. (…)./.