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Mali/Turkey/Syria

Published on June 6, 2013
Press briefing given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman (excerpts)

Paris, June 4, 2013

(…)

Mali

Q. – Mr Coulibaly made statements yesterday condemning ethnic cleansing in Kidal and asked for France’s support to ensure the Malian army can’t be deployed there. I’d like your reaction.

THE SPOKESMAN – We reacted yesterday:

- firstly, to condemn the violence and arbitrary arrests in Kidal and call for the release of the people arrested. Some decisions were made to release people. So we must continue doing this for all those people being held without justification;

- the priority is also the political process, particularly the organization of the elections, the first round of which is due on 28 July. As we’ve constantly been saying, these elections must be organized throughout the country, without exception – and therefore in Kidal – in order to enable the largest number of Malians to take part. This broad participation throughout the country will give full legitimacy to those elected. There can’t be two Malis, two armies or two flags in Mali.

- a process of dialogue and reconciliation is under way. Legitimate authorities that emerge from elections are now needed to carry it through. This process has begun and made progress with the bodies present in Kidal, particularly thanks to mediation conducted by Mr Dramé, which France supports. Through this dialogue we’ll achieve the restoration of Mali’s integrity. National reconciliation means not only the MNLA [National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad] – the Tuaregs – but also other communities, some of which have been targeted by the violence I was mentioning.

Q. – There are communities, as you say, that have been particularly targeted…

THE SPOKESMAN – If you re-read the statement we made yesterday, we condemned this violence and these arrests based on the colour of people’s skin. It’s intolerable behaviour and is contrary to the process begun several weeks ago with the appointment of the members of the national dialogue and reconciliation commission and the start of the mediation conducted by Mr Dramé.

Q. – Can the election be held without the Malian army returning to Kidal?

THE SPOKESMAN – Our position is that this election must be held throughout the country. Beyond the election, Malian territory can’t be imagined without the state’s authority being restored everywhere.

What’s necessary today is to discuss the practicalities of organizing the ballot everywhere, including in Kidal. It’s up to the Malians to define them. That’s the whole purpose of this mediation between the different parties, begun under Mr Dramé’s authority.

A number of solutions are envisaged today to bring the MNLA into this national reconciliation process. It will obviously take time, because years of confrontation have to be overcome.

Turkey

Q. – What’s your view on what is currently happening in Turkey? Do you think this is an opposition-government phenomenon or a consequence of Turkey’s position on Syria?

THE SPOKESMAN – Those are two different issues, there’s no causal relation between them.

On the demonstrations, we’re of course following these events very closely. As the Foreign Minister said on Sunday, we’re worried about what’s going on. Laurent Fabius asked the Turkish authorities to show restraint, in order to help things return to calm.

I reiterate France’s commitment to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful demonstration. Regarding the excesses seen during these demonstrations, we call on the Turkish police to refrain from any disproportionate use of force.

It is up to the Turkish authorities, and Mr Erdogan’s government in particular, to take all necessary steps to ensure these demonstrations proceed peacefully, so that calm can be restored as swiftly as possible.

On the other issue, i.e. Turkey’s position on the Syria crisis, there’s a very strong closeness between us, between France and Turkey, which allows us to work closely on preparing for the main meetings on Syria, and the Geneva 2 conference in particular. These joint efforts are being conducted in the general framework of our very close relations with Turkey: making these relations even more substantive is one of the goals of French foreign policy.

Q. – What advice have you given French people in Turkey? How many French nationals are there in Turkey?

THE SPOKESMAN – There are 7,367 French nationals registered with our consulate – 5,714 in Istanbul and 1,653 in Ankara. For advice, I refer you to the [French Foreign Ministry’s] travel advice web page, which is permanently updated. We’ve actually put a message on it about being careful in the cities affected by the demonstrations. People are advised to stay away from the demonstrations and gatherings.

Syria

Q. – It’s often said we’re on the same wavelength as the Russians on the use of chemical weapons. So if the use of chemical weapons were confirmed, would we be in agreement with the Russians about creating a no-fly zone, a possibility mentioned by John Kerry this morning?

THE SPOKESMAN – To my knowledge, the subject has never been discussed to the extent of identifying the consequences which should be drawn from the confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Russians’ position, as I understand it, is as follows: irrefutable proof of the use of chemical weapons would change their interpretation of the Syria crisis and of its possible remedies. Neither France nor the United States, in our statements, has ever gone so far as to mention the specific consequences which should be drawn: however, we’ve always said it couldn’t fail to have consequences. (…)

Q. – In your opinion, is the Russian position at the Security Council – which prevented the adoption of a declaration on the situation in Al-Qusayr – compatible with Russian efforts to ensure a conference is held in Geneva? Do you regret the Russian position?

THE SPOKESMAN – Regret that the declaration wasn’t adopted? Yes. It had our support. But on that basis, to say that this alone calls the Geneva conference into question, no. There are also differences of opinion between us and the Russians relating to a number of clearly-identified subjects.

Q. – The Syrian Revolution General Commission yesterday announced its withdrawal from the [Syrian National] Coalition. What’s your reaction?

THE SPOKESMAN – I’m going to be cautious, because this announcement hasn’t been confirmed and because I have scruples about interfering in the Syrian National Coalition’s internal debates. The primary responsibility, in fact, belongs to the Syrians and the leaders of the opposition in its different components. We can help and support them, but it’s up to them to take the decisions that concern them.

We welcomed the results of the Istanbul meeting. The decisions taken there are a step in the right direction, the direction wished for by the whole international community. We welcomed the opening-up of the Coalition’s governing bodies to 51 new members. Why is this so important? Because in Geneva, the Syrian National Coalition will have to present a delegation that is as united and representative of all the communities and political tendencies as possible.

The main challenges the Syrian opposition must now tackle are the following: to incorporate the 14 new members of the domestic opposition and the 15 new members of Salim Idriss’s joint military command; to specify the Coalition’s internal organization; and to choose the format of its participation in the Geneva 2 conference.

Q. – The Foreign Minister has said Geneva 2 won’t take place in June but in July. Is this the result of the contacts he’s had?

THE SPOKESMAN – This point was indeed mentioned, particularly with Mr Kerry. The meeting must take place and lead to decisions. So it’s better to take the necessary time to prepare it.

Q. – Tomorrow there’s a meeting in Geneva with the United Nations. Why haven’t the Europeans been invited to that meeting?

THE SPOKESMAN – The holding of the meeting was discussed by Messrs Fabius, Kerry and Lavrov in the telephone conversation they had last Wednesday evening. These kinds of meetings are part of the preparation for the Geneva conference. They’re technical meetings. We’re all trying to find solutions to ensure the conference is held.

Q. – Can you tell us about the stumbling blocks in slightly more detail?

THE SPOKESMAN – We’re in favour of this so-called Geneva 2 conference, but in order for it to be held and to be effective, there are in fact a number of difficulties to resolve:

- they concern, firstly, the format of the meeting. Several scenarios are on the table, but none has been decided on. An initial solution would consist in revisiting the Geneva 1 format, while adding – and this will be the big difference – the presence of both parties at the table. There are other possible scenarios. In any case, in our opinion this has the advantage that Iran wouldn’t be there, but also the disadvantage that Saudi Arabia wouldn’t be there either;

- there are also discussions on the composition of the delegations from the regime and the opposition. An initial list was suggested by the regime. For the opposition, the composition must be determined by the Syrian National Coalition;

- the fate of Bashar al-Assad is another matter to resolve. The French position is based on one of the main passages of the Geneva 1 text, which provides for the transfer of full executive powers to a mutually-agreed provisional government. We’d like all these terms, endorsed at Geneva 1, to be revisited by Geneva 2. The question then arises of how to define the practicalities of this transfer.

Q. – Does this mean there will be no Geneva 2 unless a compromise has been reached on the different issues you’ve just mentioned?

THE SPOKESMAN – The idea isn’t to have resolved all the problems before the conference. However, we must be certain the conference will be effective – i.e. that it doesn’t risk coming up against insoluble difficulties from the outset. All this preparatory work has to be done.

Q. – So is the date of 10 June far from being fixed?

THE SPOKESMAN – It’s never been presented as official and definitive. (…)./.

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