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France/Germany

Published on September 4, 2013
Statements by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at his joint press briefing with Mr Joachim Gauck, President of Germany (excerpts)

Paris, September 3, 2013

THE PRESIDENT – (…) We talked about the international situation. I talked about the tragedies of the past. There are also the tragedies of the present. When a chemical massacre occurs, when the world is informed about it, when the proof is delivered, when the culprits are known, there has to be a response. This response is expected of the international community. And we – the German President, the French President – both agree in expressing the same outrage, the same condemnation and, at the same time, the same hope that Syria can find a political solution. We’ll have the opportunity to discuss it again at other times, in other bodies. Europe must also meet on this matter. It will. Everyone shouldering their responsibility. France will shoulder its own. (…)

Q. – In the event of the American Congress voting for an intervention in Syria, are you ready to accept, or request, or propose a vote by the French Parliament?

THE PRESIDENT – We’re not at that stage yet. Parliament is meeting tomorrow to debate the information it was given yesterday by the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Defence Ministers. Everything we had available was passed on.

What’s the upshot of this? First of all, the chemical massacre of 21 August has been established. The proof is there and nobody can dispute it. Chemical weapons were indeed used.

What do we know? That Bashar al-Assad’s regime is alone in Syria in possessing those weapons and controlling stockpiles of them. Alone in being able to use the technique that was used. We also know that the district that was struck is under the opposition’s control and is a strategic communication hub. One uncertainty that remains is the nature of the lethal gas that was used, although – I say it here – we have evidence in our possession indicating that it was sarin.

What must we conclude from this? That a crucial international protocol was violated: the one established 90 years ago, which bans the use of chemical weapons. And so such use, gassing a population – this crime can’t remain unpunished, otherwise there’s a risk of the crime being repeated, the threat of it spreading, and at stake is the security not simply of the Syrians, not simply of the region, but of the world.

So a broad coalition must be formed internationally with the United States, which is soon to take the decision, and with Europe, and there will be meetings in the coming days at European level and with the Arab countries, which have already given their view. Concurrently, everything must be done stubbornly to seek a political solution with all the parties involved, and I mean all the parties involved. We’ll have the opportunity, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St Petersburg, to have these discussions.

I’ll be addressing the French people when I have all the elements on which I can base my decision, and I’ll exercise my responsibility, with one interest in mind: that of France, our security but also the values which our country – and not only our country – upholds. That’s the response I want to provide you with.

Q. – On the Syria issue, do you feel isolated in Europe? And in that respect, what are you expecting of the German government?

THE PRESIDENT – You heard President Gauck. I’ve also had conversations with Chancellor Angela Merkel. I’m in touch with the main European heads of government. There will be a meeting of the Europeans in St Petersburg. There will be a meeting of the foreign ministers very soon. We all share the same outrage. We condemn what’s happened, a chemical massacre. Nobody doubts the origin of those weapons and who used them. Following on from that, while the political responsibilities may be the same, there are different responsibilities, there are different capabilities. Each of the governments, states, must shoulder its own responsibility.

France’s is important, special in Europe. So, as far as we’re concerned, we’ll not only have to show full solidarity with the Europeans – I don’t see France’s action as being separate – but at the same time, we’ll have to shoulder an extra responsibility, given what France is.

Q. – As regards this intervention in Syria, Bashar al-Assad is promising negative repercussions on French interests. Are you willing to expose France to these negative repercussions? You’ll also be at the G20 on Thursday and Friday; will you be having a bilateral meeting with President Putin and do you believe a political solution can be found at this summit?

THE PRESIDENT – First, I read the interview with Bashar al-Assad in a French newspaper.

The difference between a dictatorship and a democracy is that in a democracy, a dictator can voice his opinions in a newspaper, including to insult those in charge of it – I’m talking about those in charge of the country, not the newspaper – and tell lies, particularly about chemical [weapons] and making out that he didn’t have any stockpile and, finally, to actually threaten, threaten the French people.

After reading this I was even more determined, and those people who had doubts about Bashar al-Assad’s intentions can’t have them any longer now. He talks about liquidating all those who don’t agree with him. Liquidating; he could have said gassing. Do we have to take every [possible] security measure?

Yes. We’ve already taken them. Because these threats have existed for a long time and because we’re extremely vigilant. But the most serious threat would be to let him do as he pleases. It would mean allowing him to go on using chemical weapons. It would mean letting him slaughter a segment of his population and threaten the whole region.

Yes, we’re taking every step to confront this threat. It exists. It has existed for a long time, and it won’t go away as long as Bashar al-Assad’s regime is in place.

Q. – The G20?

THE PRESIDENT – We’ll have as many discussions as necessary. You know that the agenda is about economic issues: the fight against tax fraud, growth, day-to-day issues. But there’s also politics, and France and the Europeans will encourage everything which can be done to find, in good faith, a political solution. As I’ve told you, the Europeans will meet on the sidelines of the G20, and in the same way we’ll be able to talk either in a G20 framework or bilaterally with President Putin, who is hosting us. (…)

Q. – Much of the follow-up to the events in Syria will be played out on 9 September in the American Congress. Are you confident about the outcome of that vote? And if Congress refused to give Barack Obama the green light, what would you do?

THE PRESIDENT – (…) President Obama chose to ask Congress for approval. He wasn’t obliged to do so. He regarded it as a way of reinforcing the decision he’d have to take. So I’m waiting for the response, because it will have consequences on the coalition we’ll have to form. I’ve already said that France can’t act alone, that it can set its action only in the framework of a broad coalition – as broad as possible. It’s true that it would be even better to have a Security Council resolution. I’m very committed to international law, but when the Security Council has been deadlocked on this issue for two years, everyone knows we won’t be able to go down that road, because that would mean doing nothing. Depending on Congress’s decision, it will be possible to form a coalition. If Congress’s decision were not positive, then France wouldn’t act alone but would shoulder its responsibilities by supporting the democratic opposition in Syria, so that a response is provided.

Thank you./.

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