Foreign Minister Wraps Up Diplomatic Tour of Syria’s Neighbors
France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius completed a three-day trip last week through as many countries, each directly impacted by the ongoing crisis in Syria.
From August 15 through 17 the minister visited Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey—all three of which border Syria—while dividing his comments among issues unique to each nation, and broader ones connecting each country to the Syrian violence now in its second year.
The current Syrian government, headed by President Bashar al-Assad, has provoked a growing swell of international calls for his ouster since violence broke out in March 2011 as part of the larger Arab Spring pro-democracy movement sweeping the Middle East and North Africa at the time.
The current French foreign affairs chief, who assumed office on May 16, has used clear terms to voice France’s opposition to the Syrian president. In an interview with Le Monde newspaper two weeks after his current appointment, he called the Syrian president "the murderer of his own people" and demanded that he "must leave power—the sooner the better."
During an August 16 visit to a Jordanian border camp housing refugees from Syria, Mr. Fabius toured the site with his counterpart, Nasser Judeh. The two held a joint press conference in the camp, during which the French official underlined his country’s role in providing support to the refugees, including the construction of a hospital, the delivery of some 20,000 protective masks for the sandstorms that sometimes sweep through the camps, and future plans to build schools and other badly needed relief infrastructure.
The minister stressed that France’s financial engagement in Syrian refugee relief, through national and European Union-level initiatives, currently figures at close to 15 million euros ($18.7 million US).
Following his visit to Jordan, Mr. Fabius continued to Lebanon, where no less than four top officials received him for Syria-related meetings, including President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, and the country’s foreign affairs minister, Adnan Mansour. The French minister also met with members of the Syrian opposition present in Lebanon.
At his final stop in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, Mr. Fabius convened with the country’s foreign affairs head, Ahmet Davutoglu. He also visited a Syrian refugee camp run on the Turkish side of the two countries’ border.
France has engaged, in addition to its national and EU-based directives, a robust set of international measures through the United Nations (UN). France currently holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council, and its agenda has been broadly dominated by the Syrian situation.
Following up on his visit, the foreign minister received in Paris on August 20 the UN special representative Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat, to take up efforts among the UN, the Arab League and other international actors in the push to end the violence.
The newly appointed official takes the reins after the departure of Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the UN. President François Hollande also met with Mr. Brahimi.
The following day, President Hollande and Minister Fabius met with members of the Syrian National Council, the primary opposition group seeking President Assad’s ouster. The meeting follows a July 6 gathering in Paris titled Friends of the Syrian People.
The President reiterated France’s continued commitment, saying he would provide "essential humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people" and adding that he stood ready to offer "all necessary support" outside the humanitarian domain.
French efforts for Syrian peace are building toward a ministerial meeting at the UN Security Council on August 30, which Mr. Fabius will direct.