THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. I’m very happy to welcome the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, who is in Paris for a few hours. Cher John Kerry, I want to pay tribute to your energy, your powers of persuasion and your sound judgement.
I talked to the American Secretary of State about different subjects – particularly, of course, Israel and Palestine and, of course, Syria. I’d like to begin with a few comments. Three things have been emerging very clearly in the past few days, in addition to a whole number of peripheral comments.
The first is that the chemical massacre in Damascus is proven and bears a signature: Bashar al-Assad is the only person to possess the weapons used in the massacre and be able to use them, and he has used them. And we must return to this constantly, because those are the facts. This also explains in particular why, when a false comparison is established with Iraq, it’s completely different. As you know, France didn’t take part in the engagement in Iraq. In Iraq, weapons of mass destruction didn’t exist, so it was a mistake to go there. Here, the weapons of mass destruction exist and the mistake would be not to punish.
Secondly, this massacre calls for a strong response to punish and deter, for one obvious reason that everyone will understand: the United Nations Secretary-General has told us “it’s a crime against humanity”, and to let a criminal do as he pleases is to encourage him to repeat his crime.
And there’s also a third aspect which is clear, even if it perhaps demands a moment’s consideration: punishment isn’t incompatible with a political solution, it’s the precondition for it. Bashar al-Assad won’t take part in any negotiation as long as he believes he’s invincible.
On that basis, we’re told that France and the United States would be isolated. It’s exactly the opposite, and I want to get back to what’s happened in the past 48 hours, the past 72 hours. Seven of the eight countries in the G8 now share our analysis of the need for a strong reaction; 12 of the 20 countries in the G20, now including Germany, share this same analysis, and this morning the 28 European Union countries provided their support for a few key ideas: the chemical massacre of 21 August is an appalling crime, a flagrant violation of international law, a war crime and a crime against humanity.
All the evidence indicates that Bashar al-Assad’s regime is responsible for it; in order to punish it and deter it from doing it again – and I quote – “a clear, strong response from the international community” is necessary. And this is also the message from the Arab League and, only this morning, from the Gulf Cooperation Council. So there’s broad and growing support for a clear, strong reaction. John Kerry and I are in complete agreement about the nature of this response: it must be short, targeted and of such a nature as to prevent Bashar al-Assad from engaging again in a massacre of this kind. That’s the precondition, the condition for a political solution, which we’re actively seeking, and it must of course follow the most effective timetable. That’s why President Hollande said yesterday that we’d wait for the commission of inquiry’s report.
We agree that the solution to the Syria crisis will be political. What we note is that it’s illusory to hope for a political solution without a determined response to this appalling crime. That’s what I wanted to say in a few words, and I’ll finish by highlighting what’s obvious: the United States and France stand side by side. Some people ask why. It’s enough to refer to history: whenever the cause is just and it’s what really matters, the United States and France stand side by side. (…)
Q. – You yourself are very concerned about Lebanon. Do you think this strike will have any repercussions on Lebanon?
THE MINISTER – There are links between the French and the Lebanese: they’re our cousins, our brothers, and we’ve stood alongside them for decades. Lebanese President Suleiman has marked out the right path by saying there must be an attempt to dissociate what’s happening in Syria from what’s happening in Lebanon, but Bashar al-Assad is clearly trying to do the opposite and to export the conflict to Lebanon. As regards your question, we are of course taking the necessary precautions, not only in that country but in all the neighbouring countries that might be concerned. But we repeat that the reaction we’re thinking of is a reaction that strictly concerns chemical weapons and clearly has no intention, no goal as regards the region as a whole. (…)
It’s true that the public, according to the polls, for the moment seems reluctant, even opposed, because Syria seems a long way away, because there’s what John called war fatigue the other day in his comments about the United States, because there’s been the sad case of Iraq and because people are asking themselves, “is it true this time or isn’t it true?” There’s all that! But we, who are here to explain and who, in our personal histories, have been opposed to unjust wars – you’re aware of John’s history; as far as I’m concerned, and it’s the same thing for President Hollande, from the outset we said “no, we mustn’t go to Iraq” – why are we turning towards the decisions being mentioned? Firstly, because we’re totally convinced that the person responsible is Bashar al-Assad; there isn’t the slightest doubt. You have to look at the images: of children laid out with shrouds; not a wound, not a drop of blood, and they’re there and they’re asleep forever. And you’ve also seen the photos, the videos with people foaming at the mouth, having spasms, and there’s a dictator who has done that and is ready to start again! We can’t say, “it’s a long way away”! It’s one plane flight away. And it may even be one delivery system away.
Bashar al-Assad has 1,000 tonnes of chemical gas and chemical weapons. Those delivery systems reach up to 500 kilometres; delivery systems can be found on the market that reach further. It concerns us too. You can’t say there’s globalization everywhere but no globalization when it comes to terrorism and chemical weapons! Yes, there is globalization! It’s no accident that they’ve been banned for 100 years! War is always a horrible thing, but when weapons are used that I’d say are ordinary weapons – even though they’re ever more sophisticated – then it’s accepted. But chemical weapons, never! There’s a reason for that, after all! And Bashar al-Assad says, “it’s all the same to me. I don’t give a damn. And I’ll even provoke you!” And if we let him have his way and don’t react, then as John rightly said, North Korea will be next! After all, you saw Bashar al-Assad’s message of congratulations yesterday to his colleague, the dictator of North Korea, congratulating him and asking for greater cooperation.
And then there’s the Iran issue. If we’re incapable of reacting when a fact is established for a country that isn’t the world’s largest anyway – Syria – and a terrible but second-level dictator, and if next year the negotiations are in difficulty, then nobody would think us capable of deterring Iran from halting the construction of a nuclear weapon. Yes, Iran has the right to use civil [nuclear] energy but not the right to use atomic weapons. And on that even the Russians, even the Chinese agree. (…)
UN INVESTIGATION/CHEMICAL WEAPONS/EVIDENCE
Q. – Everyone says that the UN experts are going to provide evidence, but we already know that it’s chemical gas; they haven’t, however, got a mandate to say who launched the attack. You’re saying you’ve got evidence but why aren’t you showing it? It’s what the public is waiting for!
THE MINISTER – Firstly, we believe that when independent experts have indisputably established that there was a massive chemical attack, since they’re independent it will be even more powerful than what we ourselves are saying – I’m going to come back to this – and once it’s shown in the most indisputable way that there was a chemical attack, the conclusions speak for themselves. A regime has stockpiles, it has launchers, it has already used chemical weapons, it fires from where it’s located and at the rebel areas… and it doesn’t say it’s going to stop or give up, it’s ready to start again.
And on the other side, regarding the opposition, they don’t have the means, they don’t have the missiles, they don’t have the stockpiles; it would be quite incredible for them to kill their own children, and they said – at any rate, the moderate opposition, perhaps you noted it – that as far as they’re concerned, they don’t want chemical weapons and that if they come to power, they will destroy them. This really is something everyone can learn lessons from. As for our evidence, as regards sarin gas, that’s what you’re referring to, separate – I repeat, separate – investigations by the American, French, British and German services have established that sarin gas was used./.