Q. – Last night, at the President’s request, you uttered a conditional “yes” to the Russian-Syrian move. Does France remain sceptical or does it trust in the people who made this proposal?
THE MINISTER – We’re responding to the proposal with both interest and caution. Interest because it’s the first time there has been this opening-up, and it may perhaps enable us to find the path to a solution; caution firstly because it is after all an abrupt turnaround and secondly because, in practical terms, it is after all very difficult to organize, to implement.
Q. – Why do you say a Russian turnaround?
THE MINISTER – Until now, there’s been a succession of stances. At the outset, the Russians denied there were chemical weapons, a chemical stockpile in Syria. Then they denied there had been a chemical massacre. So they’ve shifted their stance. Very good! But what we must understand is the reason why the Russians have shifted their stance.
I think there are two big reasons. Firstly, I think our firmness is paying off. Secondly, they’re realizing that the proof of the chemical massacre is ever more overwhelming. So they want – and it’s entirely legitimate – to be able to gradually release themselves from Syria’s grip.
Q. – But aren’t you afraid it might be a last-minute, last-ditch manoeuvre?
THE MINISTER – That’s why I say “interest and caution”… (…)
We know that Syria has more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons – which is huge. Those weapons are very difficult to both locate and destroy; it takes a long time.
In reality, there’s a civil war going on, so you can imagine the difficulties. And we can’t just trust in the Syrians and Russians: in other words, there must be international control. Moreover, you saw that Mr Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, took the same line as us. (…)
Q. – Do you think you were right to mark out your position through firmness?
THE MINISTER – Why do you think the Russians have shifted their stance? It’s because there have been the beginnings of a coalition, in which France is playing its full role. We say we want both punishment and deterrence: punishment of the crime against humanity and deterrence so that Bashar al-Assad’s licence to kill is taken away. On the basis of our shared firmness, the Russians are shifting their stance – so much the better –, but at the same time we must remain cautious. (…)
Q. – Regarding Bashar al-Assad, was the aim to force him to negotiate a political solution?
THE MINISTER – Yes. (…)
Q. – Isn’t Vladimir Putin offering a way out for Barack Obama, who was undecided and who may be relieved this morning?
THE MINISTER – I think Mr Putin may be offering himself a way out, because it’s a great burden to remain attached, as if to a rock, to Bashar al-Assad, who, as everyone now recognizes, has terrifying chemical weapons and is responsible for a chemical massacre. (…)./.