Q. – What are the main consequences of developments on the ground on preparations for Geneva? Are they likely to hinder Geneva, encourage Geneva, make the regime less conciliatory or make the opposition less favourable towards Geneva 2?
THE SPOKESMAN – Those are the questions we’re currently asking ourselves, as are our partners, but we don’t yet have all the answers.
We all agree that the fall of Al-Qusayr is a tragic development, accompanied by acts of brutality that add to the deaths already recorded.
It’s also a new situation because Al-Qusayr was of strategic importance and because it’s also become clear that Hezbollah and Iran are directly involved in the fighting.
That’s all the more worrying because the next target of the regime and its allies is Aleppo, an even more important city. We’re at a turning point. Everyone shares the diagnosis that this is a pivotal moment in the conflict in Syria.
First question: what influence on Geneva 2? In the light of the statements made by the leaders of the Syrian National Coalition, the lasting and profound weakening of one of the parties isn’t conducive to the conference being held. We’ve always recalled that there’s a link between developments on the ground and the conference being held. In order for the parties to be able to negotiate, one mustn’t be in too great a position of weakness and the other in too great a position of strength.
Second question: what can we do to strengthen the Syrian opposition, particularly the armed opposition? It’s a discussion we’re having with all our partners, particularly the Americans, who are engaged in a process of reassessing their stance on Syria. It’s a discussion we’re having with the Saudis, the Turks and many others. The opposition can’t be left in the situation it’s in.
Bilaterally, we’ll be having contacts on Saturday with Salim Idriss, who leads the Syrian opposition’s joint military structure. We’re also going to deliver a large amount of medicine and medical equipment.
OPPOSITION/LIFTING OF EU ARMS EMBARGO
Q. – When Geneva takes place, the opposition will no longer have anything to negotiate… Is it time to quicken the pace, speed things up, especially as regards arms?
THE SPOKESMAN – There are lessons to be learnt from what’s happened in Al-Qusayr and what’s looming over the horizon in Aleppo. The first lesson is that France must strengthen her already very close ties with the Coalition and its military structure – hence the meetings that will take place on Saturday. The second lesson – in line with the announcements made by the Foreign Minister on the use of chemical weapons – is that our deliveries of medicine and medical equipment must be stepped up as a matter of urgency.
What’s being asked of us is to go one step further and deliver arms.
Let me remind you that it was on the initiative of the French and British that the European arms embargo was lifted.
This lifting is accompanied by conditions of several kinds. At national level it’s about applying the texts governing arms exports, and at European level it’s about the Code of Conduct (Common Position 2008/944/CFSP). A third condition is being set: it’s been agreed among the 27 [EU member states] that the member states will discuss the practicalities of the operational implementation of their decision to lift the embargo before 1 August.
Q. – But the situation has changed since. We’re not in the same situation as in November!
THE SPOKESMAN – That’s why we’ve been asking ourselves this question repeatedly for the past year. We’ve heard the demands addressed to us. The 27 of us have moved in three phases: shortening the duration of the embargo, easing its conditions and, finally, lifting it.
On what’s happened in Al-Qusayr and its consequences, this is indeed a profoundly new element. It’s the whole focus of the discussions being held today with those who, in one way or another, are involved in finding solutions to this new situation.
Q. – Could this mean France delivering weapons before 1 August?
THE SPOKESMAN – Two factors must be taken into account:
on the one hand, the declaration accompanying the decision to lift the embargo isn’t a legally binding text. It’s a political agreement reached between the foreign ministers which consists in postponing any possible deliveries until 1 August, the date when the ministers have agreed to talk again;
on the other hand, there’s no longer an embargo today. So at national level, everyone has the ability to move from the decision to lift the embargo to the decision to deliver weapons. We can take that decision. We haven’t taken it. That’s the focus of discussion following what’s happened recently in Al-Qusayr.
Q. – Putting aside the arms delivery, what other options would allow the opposition’s position, which is weakened, to be strengthened?
THE SPOKESMAN – There are three major categories of measures which can be taken:
there’s everything to do with the humanitarian field. It’s essential, given the tragic situation in which the Syrian people, and the refugees in particular, find themselves. Bilaterally, France has taken a number of decisions effective immediately;
in the political field, we have a dialogue with the Syrian National Coalition. It needs to be strengthened before Geneva 2. There’s still a great deal of work to be done. The Coalition must deal with issues which couldn’t be dealt with at its Istanbul meeting and remain open to this day. There are three: the integration of 29 of the Coalition’s 51 new members, the appointment of its governing bodies and the appointment of its delegation for Geneva. Everything the Friends of Syria can do to help in this must be done. This has to include meetings with the Coalition leaders and also between partners;
in the security field, lifting the embargo has been mentioned. Other possibilities have been talked about on various occasions, with restrictions linked to the legal basis necessary for them to be put into action, entailing a Security Council resolution, which isn’t very likely in view of the current balance.
NO-FLY ZONE/BUFFER ZONES
Q. – As regards the no-fly zone and the creation of buffer zones, how do you see this geographically?
THE SPOKESMAN – The idea of a no-fly zone and buffer zones is one we’ve been talking about since the outbreak of violence in Syria. But there’s a preliminary issue to be settled. This is actually meaningless without a Security Council resolution. It looks today as if two of the Security Council members are unwilling to accept such a resolution under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
Q. – For nearly two years, there’s been a debate about ways of bypassing the Security Council by going directly through the General Assembly. There was one case; does it set a precedent?
THE SPOKESMAN – No. The precedent you’re referring to, the Acheson resolution of 1950, is very specific and doesn’t seem to be transposable in its present form.
The goal must be not to bypass the Security Council but to enable it to function. Three resolutions have come up against Russian and Chinese vetoes.
The aim is now to prepare Geneva 2 and ensure the meeting is held. To this end, a number of difficulties must be resolved. You’re aware of France’s stance on these issues. The impact of developments on the ground on one of the parties must also be taken into account. The big difference between Geneva 2 and Geneva 1 is actually enabling the parties to be at the table. Otherwise it’s pointless. (…)./.