International working group on sanctions against the Syrian regime
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you to the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.
For more than a year, France has been mobilizing her efforts to ensure that the Syrian people, who have courageously been fighting for the advent of a true democracy in Syria, are no longer subjected to the systematic crackdown being carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. More than 10,000 dead, more than 44,000 refugees in neighbouring countries and 1.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian aid: this is the sad toll of the Syrian regime’s criminal crackdown.
In recent months, we have successfully overcome the deadlock in the Security Council by expressing, through the Friends of Syria Group, the international community’s broad consensus on the Syria crisis and its support for the Arab League’s efforts. Those efforts are now being carried forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General and the Arab League, Kofi Annan, who is striving to bring an end to the violence and initiate a political transition in Syria. We must support these efforts and the process of putting a UN mission in place.
The dispatch of the first UN observers, mandated by UNSCR 2042, which was adopted with the support of Russia and China, will enable the UN to receive unambiguous reports. We will be unyielding with respect to the observers’ freedom to do their job, and the complete implementation of the ceasefire obligations.
At the same time, we must maintain pressure on the Syrian regime. That means strengthening sanctions, which have an impact on the Syrian authorities.
After two conferences of the Friends of Syria Group, which brought together more than 80 countries, in Tunis and then Istanbul, we are here today to express, once again, our common will to maintain pressure on a regime that has proven it will stop at nothing to remain in power.
With our European partners, represented here today by the European External Action Service, we have taken numerous measures to step up pressure on the Syrian regime as the crackdown has continued. The Arab League has been engaged on the same path, along with all the countries represented here today.
All of you gathered here have answered the call by the Friends of Syria Group, first in Tunis and then in Istanbul, and you have implemented sanctions.
Our meeting is itself a message: the Syrian regime must understand that it cannot continue with impunity to pursue the crackdown and reject the political transition provided for in the Annan plan and long awaited by the Syrian people.
The Syrian authorities have got us too accustomed to manoeuvres, lies and manipulation for us to relax our vigilance. I note that the fragile ceasefire had hardly entered into force when it was already being flouted by the Syrian authorities, as illustrated by the continuation of the deadly bombardment of the city of Homs over the weekend. We will judge the Syrian authorities not by their words but their deeds. Any violations must be dealt with firmly and swiftly by the Security Council.
Beyond taking political positions, beyond our relentless efforts within regional and UN bodies to increase the Syrian regime’s diplomatic isolation and denounce its crimes, we must continue to target those involved in the crackdown and block its financing.
Sanctions are a particularly effective instrument to deprive the Syrian regime of the resources it uses to finance militias – the lethal Shabiha death squads – and obtain weapons.
And when they target individuals by freezing assets or imposing visa restrictions, they send a strong political message. At the beginning of the crisis, the EU placed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the list of individuals subject to sanctions, because he is the crackdown’s leader. Since then, more than 150 individuals and entities have been added; they are thus clearly identified as bearing responsibility for the implementation of the regime’s repressive policy.
Europe’s restrictive measures also have a deterrent value: the possibility of individuals with sanctions imposed on them being taken off the list is a message to the business community to end its solidarity with the regime.
The impact of these sectoral measures is very clear: the embargo on weapons, on policing equipment and Syrian oil exports, and the measures targeting the banking and financial sectors, notably the freeze on assets held by the Central Bank of Syria, have dried up oil revenues and, more broadly, deprived the Syrian state of precious resources monopolized by the ruling clan and used to support the crackdown.
We know that the Syrian authorities, whose financial reserves have, according to our information, been halved, are continuing actively to seek alternative routes to get around these sanctions. Certain countries are unambiguously signalling their support for the Syrian regime; others are more or less directly offering alternative deals.
We must respond to these manoeuvres. It is by pooling our efforts and exchanging information on the implementation of sanctions that together we will succeed in effectively contributing to the weakening of a regime that bases its legitimacy on fear, propaganda and manipulation.
I hope that the work of this group will be fruitful and constructive, and I’d like to thank Morocco and the EEAS for kindly co-chairing this inaugural meeting.
I hope that in the course of future meetings, an increasingly large number of countries will join this group and contribute to this collective effort in support of the aspirations of the Syrian people. I hope that we will be able to meet again soon, this time to contribute to the economic development of a democratic Syria.
Finally, on the occasion of the Syrian national holiday, I would like to send all Syrians, the representatives of the Syrian National Council present here – who for more than a year have been giving the world a lesson in courage – a message of friendship, solidarity and hope. Rest assured that the international community will continue to stand by your side to bring about a free and democratic Syria.
I’d like to thank you all again for coming and listening, and to apologize for being unable to be present in person for the rest of your work. The director of the North Africa and Middle East department, M. Patrice Paoli, is representing France here, and I’d like to thank the Moroccan and European co-chairs once again for being here. I wish you fruitful work.
Thank you, everyone./.