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Syria/Iran

Published on September 10, 2013
Press conference by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Paris, September 10, 2013

SYRIA/CHEMICAL WEAPONS/UN DRAFT RESOLUTION

THE MINISTER – Since the Damascus chemical massacre on 21 August, we’ve constantly pursued two objectives: punishment of those responsible and deterrence, so that they can’t do it again. Our considered, firm approach has allowed us to get support from a growing number of states and influence certain positions. Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Minister took a step in this direction, calling for – I quote – “the Syrian authorities not only to agree to put their chemical weapons stockpile under international control and then have it destroyed, but also to become a full member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons”.

This position has today been supported, among others, by China.

We welcome this new position with interest, but also with caution. We don’t want it to be used as a diversionary tactic. This is why, after discussing it with the President, we have decided to take the initiative.

So France will present a resolution to this effect to the United Nations Security Council, and the procedure will be begun this very day. The text will be examined and, if need be, amended by our partners and by the Security Council.

Very specifically, France will today propose to its Security Council partners a draft resolution under Chapter VII aimed at making its ideas an immediate reality. What ideas?

Firstly, condemning the 21 August massacre committed by the Syrian regime;

Secondly, demanding that the regime immediately shed full light on its chemical weapons programme, place it under international control and allow it to be dismantled;

Thirdly, putting in place a full mechanism for the inspection and monitoring of its obligations, under the aegis of the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons;

Fourthly, providing for extremely serious consequences in the event of Syria violating its obligations;

Fifthly, finally, punishing the perpetrators of the 21 August chemical massacre in the international criminal justice system.

It’s on the acceptance of these specific conditions that we’ll judge the credibility of the intentions expressed yesterday. The Syrian people have suffered too much; we won’t let ourselves be dragged into delaying tactics, so we must have rapid results. France wants to act in good faith to ensure that a firm, specific and verifiable response to the Syrian chemical threat can finally be found, with the two objectives we’ve had from the outset – punishment and deterrence – and still the same method: well-considered firmness.

Q. – How do you gauge, today, the goodwill for President Bashar al-Assad’s short-term future?

THE MINISTER – As far as he’s concerned, I won’t venture to talk of goodwill. What I take into consideration is the new position expressed by my Russian colleague yesterday and shared today by the Chinese, which can be explained, as everyone has understood, by the firmness we’ve shown. I understood that the Syrian regime had taken note, but it goes without saying that we must be extremely vigilant.

Q. – Does this resolution delay or even cancel the strikes?

THE MINISTER – We’ve had the same approach from the outset. Our objective is the elimination of the chemical threat and the protection of the Syrian people. We saw it with the Russian proposals yesterday. It was our determination to act – including, moreover, by military means – which enabled a new path to emerge yesterday to achieve that. We want to explore this new path in good faith, but we don’t want this to contribute to delaying tactics. All options are still currently on the table.

Q. – Have you coordinated with the Americans on this resolution?

THE MINISTER – We’re in permanent contact with all our partners including, of course, the Americans. The contact is permanent, as are the discussions. I’ll be speaking to my colleague, John Kerry, on the telephone late this morning; I’ll be speaking to Mrs Ashton and Mr William Hague too. During the day, I’ll also be speaking to the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Lavrov and my Chinese colleague.

RUSSIAN/CHINESE ROLES

Q. – Have you spoken to the Russians about this draft resolution France wants to present? Was this Russian initiative discussed at the G20 summit? Finally, does it annoy you to see the Russians proposing a political exit after two years of crisis and 100,000 deaths, when that initiative could already have been proposed by the Russians a very long time ago?

THE MINISTER – Along with my colleague Lavrov and other counterparts, I’ve obviously examined this issue of the chemical weapons ban several times. But until now, there’s been no prospect in that regard. It so happens that things changed yesterday, and so much the better. In all honesty, I think one of the important factors explaining this change is the firmness we’ve shown. And perhaps also – although I don’t want to enter into interpretations – the approach of the inspectors’ report, which will definitely show, sadly, that the chemical massacre is clear. What’s more, evidence that the regime is responsible for it is accumulating by the day.

In answer to your second question, I think we must seize the opportunity provided, whatever the interpretations. We must seize the opportunity provided but not fall into a trap; that’s why the resolution France is going to propose this very day will enable us to put everyone on the spot.

Q. – At the G20 we were told that the Syria issue still hadn’t even been discussed at the bilateral meeting between President Putin and President Xi Jinping. But President Hollande also had a meeting with the Chinese President. There’s been talk in France for a while about China and Russia blocking the UN. Do you think today that removing the blocks is no longer mission impossible, if it’s not a trap?

THE MINISTER – I hope so. When President Hollande met his counterparts in St Petersburg, he discussed this subject, of course. As regards our Chinese colleagues, we know their position. But I think the echo they gave to the Russian proposal, the echo that’s been reported to us this morning, is positive. I’m hoping to speak to my Chinese colleague shortly, and I’m considering a visit to China at the weekend, and to Russia a little later.

Q. – UN experts have been in Iran for years in relation to the nuclear issue, to try and find out the state of the nuclear programme in Iran. Aren’t you afraid of falling into a similar situation in Syria for chemical weapons?

THE MINISTER – No, the situation isn’t the same. Firstly because, regarding Syria, the use of chemical weapons has been confirmed and unfortunately the chemical massacre has been confirmed. So we know there’s a considerable chemical arsenal; the talk is of more than 1,000 tonnes. The objective is to organize the control and then the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons. On this point, the Russian proposal is extremely specific and we can repeat it word for word: control, dismantling and membership of the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. When you join that organization, which we’re clearly determined Syria should do, an inventory is immediately done, weapon by weapon, site by site. In Syria’s case, this will demand time and will be particularly complicated because of the current conflict. But, as our Russian and Chinese colleagues told us and as we’d already been saying for a very long time, the only way to prevent Bashar from doing it again is to ensure there’s firstly control and then destruction of those chemical weapons, which have been banned for a very long time.

IRAN/NUCLEAR PROGRAMME

As regards the Iranian nuclear programme, that’s yet another thing. The Iranians don’t yet have a nuclear weapon. What the international resolutions say – and we want the Iranians to comply with the international resolutions – is that they shouldn’t move towards [obtaining] a nuclear weapon. Just as they have the perfect right to use civilian nuclear energy, so Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon would be a great danger for the whole region.

You know our position, which isn’t just France’s position but that of the four other permanent members of the Security Council (the United States, Britain, Russia and China), which is to say: let’s negotiate. If the negotiation succeeds, then there won’t be any nuclear weapons and we’ll be able to lift the sanctions. It’s just that, to date, the negotiations haven’t succeeded, and incidentally they’re due to resume in a few weeks. Mrs Ashton, who is negotiating for us, is due to see her counterpart during the United Nations General Assembly and I’ll be meeting my Iranian colleague in New York.

But it must be clearly understood that we’re in no way at the same stage. In the case of Iran, what worries us – and that’s putting it mildly – is that the negotiations haven’t for the moment moved forward and, at the same time, Iran has a great deal more equipment, since the Iranians have more than 18,000 centrifuges, including second-generation centrifuges which make it possible to go from low enrichment to high enrichment far more quickly. They also have the prospect of a so-called plutonium production reactor in Arak, which produces plutonium and is therefore extremely dangerous and poses a proliferation risk.

We’re very vigilant, committed, as regards recognition being given to the use of civilian nuclear energy by the Iranians, but absolutely not to the march towards an atomic bomb.

SYRIA/VERIFICATION PROCESS

Q. – In your view, how long would an acceptable verification process take, because when a civil war is going on it’s actually very complicated? The experts are saying it takes a considerable amount of time even in peacetime. So what timeframe, what verification process would be acceptable?

THE MINISTER – It’s admittedly very difficult. This aspect mustn’t be concealed, and it’s why Syria’s first commitments must be made virtually straightaway. The first is obviously to join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which compels states joining to provide an inventory of all their materiel, sites and weapons. Secondly, there must be controls, and you saw that the United Nations Secretary-General took the same line. The Russians, who, a number of years ago, were behind Syria’s chemical programme, must have a number of indications about this. The control must be international of course, and, once again, it isn’t about agreeing to delaying tactics.

So yes, you’re right, it’s something that’s very difficult but essential at any rate, because we’ve got to take weapons away from the hands of a criminal.

Thank you very much./.

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