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Syria/Mali/Israel/Palestinian territories/US

Published on March 28, 2013
Hearing of M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the National Assembly (excerpts)

Paris, March 13, 2013

I do travel a lot – I’ve reached my ninth world tour. But despite my frequent trips, I consider it essential to be available to the committees of [the French] Parliament and European Parliament, and to take part in debates on matters of shared interest. (…)

FRANCE/US/MIDDLE EAST

I can indicate to you what has emerged from my conversations with Mr John Kerry, tell you how I assess the positions of Israel and the Palestinians and specify what France wants to do.

The visit to Paris by the new American Secretary of State went ahead in a very warm atmosphere and was very fruitful. Mr John Kerry is an experienced politician who has an excellent knowledge of European and French issues and whose broad vision of international affairs isn’t very different from ours. He confirmed that President Obama will go to the Middle East without there being any new American proposals before that visit. The American administration wants to engage in the search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is based on the coexistence of two states. Mr John Kerry and I discussed what the respective roles of the United States and the European Union could be in this framework. We have the same diagnosis: there’s a window of opportunity for a solution, but not for long, because the situation is marked by the chaotic development of the Arab Spring, the weakening of Fatah in relation to Hamas, the weak mobilization of Israeli public opinion on the issue during the election campaign, and finally the regional situation, with the repercussions of Syria’s instability.

On the Israeli side, according to what Mr Shimon Peres told me, the government would like to tackle the issues frankly. I haven’t had any contacts with Mr Netanyahu over recent weeks, but our ambassador to Israel, who was in Paris during the Israeli President’s visit, believes the Israeli government does want to discuss these issues. We’ll support it insofar as the negotiations go the way we traditionally wish: respect for the principle of the coexistence of two states, giving up the fait accompli policy vis-à-vis settlement activity, and genuine dialogue with the Palestinians.

We have contacts with Fatah, an organization we can absolutely talk to and have good relations with. We’ve envisaged organizing, when the time comes, international meetings in Paris, and we’ve suggested this.

So we’re in contact with all the key players, who very frequently include the King of Jordan. That country, very severely affected by the consequences of the conflict in Syria – 20% of its population is now made up of Syrians – plays a major role in the region and can provide useful elements for solving the conflict. In the coming weeks, France will try to move the situation forward by following her traditional line, aimed as ensuring the coexistence of the two states, guaranteeing Israel’s security and opposing settlement activity. (…)

On the political prisoners, you know our traditional position; I’m due to have a meeting with Mrs Barghouti, and we’ll do everything to encourage a solution. (…)

MALI

I’ve already had the opportunity to say that when you focus on Mali, you have to take three aspects into account: the security aspect, the democratic aspect and the development aspect.

On development, an initial date has been set in Lyon for 19 March, when a conference will be organized jointly by the Rhône-Alpes region, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cités Unies France. This conference will enable the representatives of those regional authorities carrying out cooperation activities in Mali to meet their Malian partners and discuss with them the resumption of French aid for that country’s development. I’ll speak there, as will my Malian counterpart, Mr Tiéman Coulibaly and many other figures. Then, in May, an international conference of donor countries will be organized in Brussels, co-chaired by the French President and Mr Barroso.

As for the security aspect, the President, the Defence Minister and I are working in pefect harmony. (…)

The forces of Afisma [African-led International Support Mission to Mali] are due to take over from our troops, and that hasn’t gone far enough yet. General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin, for us, and Nigeria’s General Shehu Abdulkadir, for Afisma, are doing an excellent job to this end, and a timetable has been set – I remember being the first to set one, for which I was criticized at the time. The withdrawal of French troops could begin in April. That clearly doesn’t mean all our soldiers will leave the country overnight, but I stress that French troops are not set to remain in Mali. We’ll continue to be present, to take part in the future peacekeeping operation, but we won’t be stationed in Mali forever. (…)

Finally, we’re going to move from the current legal framework – United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085 and the appeal issued by the Malian President in the framework of Article 51 of the UN Charter – to a new diplomatic mechanism accepted by all the Security Council members: a peacekeeping operation. The vote will probably take place in April, to be implemented two months later. In this new framework, the mechanism is overseen and financed by the UN, which isn’t without consequences for us. The vote will allow a stabilization force to be created – not a buffer force, as is sometimes wrongly said – comprising the Afisma troops and which may be broadened to other troops.

That brings me to the political aspect. We’ve reminded the Malian authorities that, in parallel with the security commitment we’re making, a democratic transition must be carried through. The Malian Assembly has adopted a road map to this end, which must now be implemented. On the one hand, it’s about creating a dialogue and reconciliation commission, which was created by decree on 6 March. The commission, made up of representatives of different ethnic groups, will have a difficult but crucial task, because the clear, long-standing antagonisms must be reduced; it’s for the Malian authorities to do this.

The road map is part of a second element which – while not interfering – we want to emphasize: the elections. The Malian political foreces must be convinced that voting must go ahead without delay, for both the presidential and the general election. The road map set the elections for July at the latest, before the rainy season. If that deadline is missed, a problem of legitimacy would arise, because Mali hasn’t had any elections for a long time, and there would be no progress. I’ve sent a mission there, which drew up a report for me on the subject. On the technical level, holding elections is possible, but the Malian political parties are having trouble getting the campaign under way. Different figures in the transition government won’t be able to stand in the elections; the fact remains that candidates will have to present themselves to voters. Everyone must therefore be persuaded that people will vote in July, throughout the country – in the north of the country too. The elections may not go ahead exactly like in Swizerland, but they’ll be no less democratic and monitored. It’s essential that the timescale planned should be honoured, and each political party must be asked to prepare itself for that. (…)

SYRIA

Two years after the start of the uprising, the situation in Syria is still terrible. (…) All this echoes the conclusion of a report I was reading recently, whose author wrote that “Syria is looking more and more like a mass grave”.

Faced with this frightening failure, what’s the position of France, whose instruments may be evolving but whose line remains the same and who has always wanted to be among the first countries to take initiatives? (…) The right solution would clearly be a political solution, and that’s why we were the first to encourage the creation of the Syrian National Coalition, whose leader is Mr Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib. When we recognized the Coalition, we came up against strong scepticism from our partners, particularly the Europeans; today, despite its difficulties, the Coalition has taken on a breadth that makes it the pillar of the opposition. An alternative political force to Bashar al-Assad’s regime is needed, and France would like to see a government that arises from that opposition. It’s a complex matter due to the internal divisions, and this means resources in addition to the international recognition: a government is possible only if it has finance – a government that can do nothing for the people won’t last – and weapons to protect itself from Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Who will provide them with that assistance and those weapons? Discussions are under way on the subject.

France’s line is as previously defined: support for the Syrian National Coalition. We were the first to recognize it; in July, we had a meeting with its representatives; we accredited its ambassador, to whom we’re going to provide premises in the coming weeks. We were also the first to send assistance directly to the liberated areas. It’s no coincidence that the Syrian figures who defect come to France, and we’re in contact with a large number of people in Syria herself.

Moreover, we’re discussing the Syria situation with the Russians, whose support is necessary to achieve a political solution. This was the case in particular during the President’s visit to Russia: we discussed with our hosts a list of Syrian leaders whom Mr Al-Khatib regarded as acceptable interlocutors. In fact he made it known very boldly that there was no question, for him, of dealing with Bashar al-Assad; he would do so with other people in the existing regime, to find a solution to the crisis. We discussed this issue with the Russians, as well as the Americans. Discussions are continuing with a view to finding a political solution in line with the Geneva agreement, which, although signed, couldn’t be implemented for lack of a unanimous interpretation of what it meant for Bashar al-Assad. (…)

At legal level, the position to take with regard to the embargo is defined at European level. The embargo decided on previously is nearing its expiry date; the United Kingdom and France have expressed support for it being eased. Everyone understands the theoretical explanation behind the embargo – preventing the conflict from escalating – but a problem arises if the resistance fighters are bombed by regime forces who are supplied with weapons when they themselves are not. As our proposal met with opposition from our colleagues, we agreed on the following compromise: we’ll revisit the issue within three months at most, and in the meantime the EU will allow more substantial “non-lethal support” to the insurgents and will exclude from the embargo “technical assistance” aimed at protecting civilians. I won’t be telling you anything new by saying France would like further movement on lifting the embargo on weapons for the insurgents. Does this contradict our desire for a political solution? We don’t think so: to make Bashar al-Assad move, we must make him understand that he won’t be able to prevail through weapons. European consensus is therefore necessary, as I’ve said. (…)./.

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