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Published on September 13, 2013
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to RTL (excerpts)

Paris, September 12, 2013


Q. – Is Vladimir Putin making fools of you – i.e. the American and French leaders and all those who think the 21 August chemical attack in Damascus bears Bashar al-Assad’s signature? In an article published in the New York Times this morning, Vladimir Putin writes: “There is every reason to believe toxic gas was used not by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.” Is he making fools of you?

THE MINISTER – I have no idea, but that isn’t what happened at all, it’s not how we see things at all: it’s a version the Russians have been putting forward for a very long time. I was in St Petersburg last week and it’s the version my colleague, Mr Lavrov, was putting forward, without any credibility.

Q. – “There is every reason to believe,” says Vladimir Putin – in other words, he leaves no room for any questioning; that’s where one gets the impression he’s making fools of you.

THE MINISTER – You’ve undeniably got a red microphone in front of you. Someone may come along and tell you it’s green, but it is indeed red.

Q. – So Vladimir Putin’s sincerity on this is in question.

THE MINISTER – That’s not the question we must ask. I think he’s being himself, but the reality is absolutely clear: there was a chemical massacre and it was Bashar al-Assad’s regime that possessed the weapons and gave the order for it. That’s absolutely clear.

Q. – And therefore, what Vladimir Putin is saying undoubtedly hinders the negotiations that are beginning on control of the chemical weapons…

THE MINISTER – That’s another thing. The Russians made a proposal just a few days ago; why did they do it? Because the Americans, we ourselves and a few others showed great firmness. I think it’s clear that if that firmness hadn’t existed, there would have been no proposal.


Now that the proposal is there, there are four phases. (…) First phase: we presented a resolution two days ago that sets it all out…

Q. – Rejected by the Russians.

THE MINISTER – For the moment we haven’t been able to get Russia to adhere to it. The draft resolution specifies that chemical weapons are banned, that there was a chemical massacre, and the control that is necessary, the timeframe, the verifications…

The second phase is what’s going to happen from this evening and tomorrow morning onwards; John Kerry called me yesterday so we could talk a little bit about how it’s going to happen; the Russians and Americans are going to discuss the programme.

Third phase, probably on Monday: the UN’s publication of the inspectors’ report. I haven’t read it, but it’s going to say there was a chemical massacre.

Q. – But do you think the report will attribute the massacre to anyone – either of the two sides?

THE MINISTER – That’s not meant to be part of its mission, but there will undoubtedly be indications. When the regime alone had stockpiles, the regime alone had the delivery systems, the regime alone had an interest in doing it, you can draw the conclusion.

Fourth phase: we’ll return to the French draft resolution, because all this must be handled by the Security Council, which alone can provide the legal basis.

Q. – In other words, you’re saying, with regard to the timetable, that next week we’ll know if the initiative proposed by the Russians may enable the strikes to be avoided, or if that initiative has failed?

THE MINISTER – I think we’ll have an idea of whether – whatever the initial intentions – they [the chemical weapons] can be controlled or not. We’re clear: Syria’s commitments must be swift, credible and verifiable. Swift – i.e. not postponed indefinitely; credible – i.e. it must mean an actual ban on chemical weapons; and verifiable – i.e. there must be elements enabling us to verify whether or not it’s true.

Q. – The Syrian regime is said to possess some 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons…

THE MINISTER – Yes, it’s a huge amount.

Q. – Can something so huge be controlled? Is it credible?


Q. – Is it technically credible?

THE MINISTER – We’re talking about two different things. On the one hand, Syria has pledged to join what’s called the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. If it joins it, as it has pledged, it must give a list of what it possesses. One can’t imagine Bashar al-Assad doesn’t have a list of what he possesses.

Second point: how to control and destroy it all? You’re absolutely right: it takes a huge amount of time. Let me give you an idea of the scale: in Iraq, there were 25 tonnes of chemical weapons and we’re still dismantling them. In Syria, there are more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, so it’s a huge job.

The reality is that all this must be embedded in a resolution and a legal framework. It was firmness that opened up the path to diplomatic negotiations, and weakness would stop them. So we must be firm and, at the same time, grasp an opportunity if there is one.


Q. – And the chemical attack took place; everyone agrees about that. Does this whole process mean that the perpetrator of those chemical attacks, the person who gave the order for them, the people who carried them out, may go unpunished?

THE MINISTER – In our resolution we say there must obviously be punishment. Mr Ban Ki-moon said this was a crime against humanity. When there’s a crime, there’s a criminal and he must be prosecuted.

You were asking earlier about Mr Putin. Let me remind you that a few months, a few weeks, perhaps even a few days ago, the Russians and especially the Syrians were not saying there was an arsenal of chemical weapons – they were even saying the opposite – and they were not saying there had been a chemical massacre. They’ve taken two steps forward [by saying]: firstly, there’s a chemical arsenal and secondly, there was a chemical massacre. The third has yet to be taken. (…)


Q. – Wouldn’t the possible departure of Bashar al-Assad one day, following an intervention which – why not? – might change the balance of power in Syria, complicate the situation of women, particularly because the Islamists are among the rebels? In other words, aren’t we going to be involved in giving power to people who won’t improve the situation of women or (…) the situation of Christians?

THE MINISTER – I understand. What you have to bear in mind is that there aren’t two groups in Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s regime on one side and al-Qaeda terrorists on the other. In simplified terms, there are three groups.

On the one hand, there’s Bashar al-Assad, who has been responsible for more than 100,000 deaths. So there’s no question of him remaining in power in the long run.

On the other hand, at the extreme, there is al-Qaeda, and we’ve had that movement registered at the UN as a terrorist organization.

And then in the middle, so to speak, you’ve got an opposition which, itself, is moderate and quite obviously recognizes women’s rights and Christians’ rights.

Q. – When you arm one lot of people, when you help one lot of people, how can you be sure that you’re not helping others?

THE MINISTER – Because a very important job was done working in liaison with the region’s countries to unite those resistance fighters whom I’d call moderate and supply them with a whole set of equipment. If we want to find a way out of the current chaos, we’ve got to work on encouraging a dialogue between the regime – its envoys – and this moderate opposition. Obviously the dialogue must be conditional on Christians, minorities, Kurds, Alawites, the whole lot, being respected, and women too.

We have to be careful: these aren’t two opposing parties. We want neither a dictatorship nor terrorists. We want to ensure that Syria can recover its rights. (…)./.

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