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Syria/diplomacy

Published on May 23, 2013
Press briefing given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman (excerpts)

Paris, May 17, 2013

(…)

Q. – On the P3 meeting today and yesterday, did you get any feedback?

THE SPOKESMAN – The [Foreign Ministry’s] political director, Jacques Audibert, was taking part in it with his counterparts, in this P3 format. Pending more specific feedback, I can tell you the meeting was useful and constructive. It enabled us to examine a number of subjects that must be dealt with in advance, to prepare for the conference on Syria announced for June.

The French position is well known:

- The basis of the negotiation – and it’s non-negotiable – is the principles decided on in Geneva in June 2012. You know this document. There are essential things, which form the basis of a political solution, particularly the principle of mutual consent between the two sides and the principle that the body emerging from these negotiations by mutual consent must have full executive powers, including, therefore, over the army and security forces. That’s the general framework agreed by all those who were in Geneva in June 2012. It’s the only text about the Syria crisis ever agreed by everyone.

- Second point: who is the interlocutor? For us, it’s the Syrian National Coalition. Along with about 100 countries, we’ve recognized it as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. So the Coalition remains at the heart of the negotiation. However, there’s no question of our being intrusive and selecting who will represent it. It must make its own choices. Rules have already been established by the Coalition itself, moreover, through the voice of Moaz al-Khatib. A number of limits have also been publicly set for the other side: the Coalition has specified that it will talk only to Syrian government representatives who don’t have “blood on their hands”.

- What’s the format of the conference? That remains to be discussed. One option is to use the same format as the Geneva meeting of June 2012. It remains to be seen whether it’s acceptable to everyone. For us, in any case, this format doesn’t include Iran. The stability of the whole region is at stake. It’s hard to imagine a country that represents a threat to this stability taking part in the conference. If Iran wants to help improve regional stability, there are first a number of answers to give and international obligations to fulfil.

- Last big subject: Bashar al-Assad. The French President repeated yesterday that he can in no way be part of the solution.

We must now see what happens in the coming days. In particular, there’s an important meeting in Amman of the Friends of Syria core group, and a meeting of the Coalition the following day. A meeting is envisaged in Paris very soon afterwards, but no date has been set for the time being.

Q. – Sergei Lavrov is insisting that Iran should take part…

THE SPOKESMAN – I saw his statements. Currently everyone is expressing their position. We’ll try to bring them together to enable this conference to take place – with the right people, in the right format and to ensure it’s really effective.

Q. – Amman is confirmed. And the meeting in Paris?

THE SPOKESMAN – The date confirmed today for certain, for next week, is 22 [May] for the Amman conference in the core group format. Since this conference was announced, we’ve had the idea of holding a meeting in Paris in a format and on a date to be determined. Let’s see for the time being what emerges from the Amman meeting.

Q. – Have positions changed on the plan to lift the embargo against arming the Syrian opposition?

THE SPOKESMAN – The discussions among the 27 are continuing. The French and British are also continuing the job of explaining and of persuading their European partners. The difficulty is that we’re in an area where decisions are taken unanimously. The French position hasn’t changed. Nor has the very strong preference we have for a unanimous decision: it would be a very strong message sent to the Syrian opposition, and also a very strong message of EU cohesion on a crucial subject.

There are two limits to the spectrum of decisions that can be taken: on the one hand a unanimous decision to lift the embargo, and on the other a lack of agreement and the package failing. But between the two, there’s a range of options that can be adopted by all the 27, and that doesn’t come down to a choice of all or nothing. That, moreover, is what happened during the previous re-examination in February.

Q. – The prospect of a Geneva II conference deprives you of a big argument: how can the embargo be lifted when there’s a peace conference in sight?

THE SPOKESMAN – It’s exactly the opposite. The argument can be turned around:

- lifting the embargo isn’t an end in itself, and we don’t imagine this decision alone could end the Syria crisis. Our position on the crisis can’t be reduced to a military approach;

- secondly, we’ve always said, and we maintain, that the priority is to achieve a political solution. Today, the impasse is such that this decision to lift the embargo may enable us to get movement on the policies. It’s about making the Bashar al-Assad regime understand that it can’t win militarily. It’s also about sending a message to the whole international community, and particularly to certain countries that are supplying weapons to the regime. And also, going back a little, it was at the same time – in February, during a visit to Moscow by the French President – that the idea was mentioned for the first time of direct discussions between the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian regime, and of arriving at an initial easing of the embargo mechanism in Brussels, following a British proposal supported by the French. This reasoning, which links the proposal on lifting the embargo and the political solution – a means and an end – is still valid today.

Q. – One of the ideas is for a lifting of the embargo to be decided on without being used…

THE SPOKESMAN – It’s the rule of law, in fact. The decision would be to lift the embargo. It’s the end of a ban, but it’s not a decision to supply this or that kind of weapon. Lifting and supplying are two distinct decisions, the latter dependent on the former./.

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