Q. – Can you say a few words to us about the situation in Mali?
THE MINISTER – Regarding the election in Mali, we don’t yet have any official results as I speak. It will be up to the Malian authorities to make them public. However, we do have some information. Firstly, the election went ahead peacefully. Secondly, the election turnout was probably the highest since Mali’s independence. So for the Malians themselves it’s a considerable success, as it is for the international community, which supported them.
What’s important is that this will give the president who is elected very powerful democratic legitimacy, and it will give Mali – whom the terrorists almost had in a stranglehold a few months ago – an ability to move still further towards democracy, regain a sound economic footing and remain a secure state. When I see the situation Mali was in just a few months ago, I tell myself a good job has been done. I’m extremely happy about that for the Malians’ sake.
Q. – Can you say a word or two about Egypt?
THE MINISTER – In a moment I’ll be speaking on the phone to Mrs Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative, who managed to see President Mursi last night. The situation in Egypt is really critical. France calls for violence to be rejected and political prisoners to be released, including former President Mursi. Nothing will be achieved by confrontation if the army’s on one side and the Muslim Brotherhood is on the other. Even if it’s very difficult, people must return to a democratic pathway and reject violence.
Q. – In Syria, we can see Bashar al-Assad is regaining ground thanks to Hezbollah and his other supporters. Do you think he might win – because the opposition is desperately appealing for help, including [from] France; it needs weapons. Are we losing interest? Are we powerless and have we become mere observers?
THE MINISTER – In Syria the humanitarian situation is tragic. It’s the most serious humanitarian situation we’ve seen since what we saw in Rwanda. You have not only more than 100,000 deaths in Syria but millions – and I mean millions – of people who have been uprooted: refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and all the neighbouring countries. So first of all we must have powerful humanitarian action, stronger than what there’s been hitherto. France is not only setting an example, she’s also intervening at international level to increase this humanitarian support. That’s the first aspect.
The second aspect is that a political solution must be found – a satisfactory solution won’t be found through both sides fighting –, namely the so-called Geneva 2 conference. The Americans and the Russians are working on it; so are we. It’s very complicated, of course, but we want to do the maximum to ensure this Geneva 2 conference is held, and its aim will be to create a transitional government that takes over the executive powers of the current government.
Thirdly, there’s the question you raise. If we don’t want Bashar al-Assad to win the day – 100,000 deaths – and if we don’t want there to be extremist terrorists on the other side, either, we must support the moderate [Syrian National] Coalition, which we’re supporting. Its president was here last week. The Coalition recently met the members of the Security Council and things went well. The Coalition must be capable of being fleshed out and strengthened.
As for the issue of weapons, the embargo has been lifted, but our position is certainly to help the National Coalition, but without delivering weapons that could later be turned against us.
That’s where we are:
Powerful humanitarian action;
The search for a political solution;
Helping the moderate National Coalition.
Q. – When we see what’s happening in Tunisia and particularly Egypt, should France look again at her position on the Arab Spring, because ultimately the revolutions have brought nothing?
THE MINISTER – I think the situations are different.
In Tunisia, there have recently been two assassinations of political leaders, which of course we condemn. The assassins not only wanted to assassinate people, they also wanted to assassinate the hope of the Tunisian revolution. I think the solution should be sought in the rejection of violence, in respect for what the Tunisian people want: national unity, a constitution and elections. So there must be movement – as orderly as possible – towards the adoption of a constitution and elections. So that’s the situation with Tunisia, and we support the Tunisian people.
Regarding Egypt, President Mursi was elected under regular conditions, but the feeling many within the population had was that he wanted to take the fast track towards Islamism. The economic situation was also disastrous. So he was deposed. But the regime which has been installed must return as quickly as possible to a democratic approach where violence is rejected and political prisoners are released.
Q. – Regarding the situation of the journalists abducted in Syria, what’s the latest information you have?
THE MINISTER – On the issue of the hostages, as you know, we’ve adopted a position which is always the same: we want to be as effective as possible while remaining very discreet, because anything we say could be turned against the hostages, including against your colleagues. You’ll excuse my discretion./.