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Syria

Published on September 18, 2013
Statements by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at his joint press conference with his Russian counterpart

Moscow, September 17, 2013

(…)

THE MINISTER – On Syria, we obviously talked about the Russian-American agreement. I’d had the opportunity to say it was an important step forward but, at the same time, not the end of the story. This step forward must now be translated into both deeds and texts – whether it concerns the organization responsible for chemical weapons or the United Nations Security Council with the help of mechanisms – and embedded into the UN’s decisions.

We discussed this important issue, of course, and I emphasized, like Sergei Lavrov, the need to move quickly and have a complete action plan, because chemical weapons pose an extraordinary danger; that’s precisely why they’re banned. Now that Syria has agreed to join the convention banning chemical weapons, all this will have to be implemented on the ground; it won’t be easy, but it’s crucial.

We quickly got onto the report issued yesterday by the UN mission on the events of the 21 August chemical massacre. The report is there; the United Nations Secretary-General has said – I quote – that it’s an overwhelming report. On the other hand, and it’s the point where our analyses are no doubt are a bit different, we believe – and this is also what we’d said on the basis of our services’ intelligence – that the report shows the Syrian regime’s responsibility for the 21 August chemical massacre.

We talked a great deal – it was even the bulk of our discussion – about the political solution that is essential in Syria. We’re convinced that there’s no military solution, that it’s through political discussion that a solution must be found: that’s what is called Geneva 2. Sergei Lavrov and I were present at Geneva 1 and we had an extremely detailed discussion. We agreed on a common text. Unfortunately, there were different interpretations of that text, but we remember very well – the Russian minister quoted it – that Geneva 1 means – I’m quoting from memory – building a transitional government by mutual consent that has full executive authority; that’s the definition that was agreed. What couldn’t be implemented for Geneva 1 must now be implemented for Geneva 2. This clearly means – and the sooner the better – that the parties should meet: the regime on the one hand and the opposition on the other. The United Nations’ Special Representative, Mr Brahimi, is working to this end and the sooner the better, because only if there’s a political solution will it be possible to stop the Syrian tragedy.

We must clearly bear in mind – this is a point I stressed with my Russian colleague – that in a few days’ time, unfortunately, we’re going to find ourselves back in a situation that will, in the public’s eyes, seem very hard to understand: on the one hand, we’re making progress on the chemical weapons ban – that’s very good – but on the other, the fighting mustn’t continue on the ground. As we speak, dozens, hundreds of people are undoubtedly dying in Syria. Even though what’s been done on chemical weapons of course requires confirmation and implementation and is very important, it’s also important that we manage to end the Syria tragedy, and this makes the Geneva 2 meeting necessary. In the coming days, we’re all going to put even more energy into trying to do this.

There are differences of approach on Syria but Sergei Lavrov was right to say that on the goal, which is to find a peaceful solution, we’re perfectly in agreement. On that basis, it’s about not only agreeing on the goal but finding ways of moving towards that political solution as soon as possible.

Q. – Mr Lavrov, you spoke to the French Foreign Minister about yesterday’s report. In your opinion, is that report credible?

M. Fabius, the United States seems to have softened its position in recent days, but France is continuing its hardline approach to the Syria crisis. Can we talk about disagreement between the Western countries?

THE MINISTER – On the previous question, about the UN experts’ report, it seems to me that the report is overwhelming, as Mr Ban Ki-moon said, and when you look at the amount of sarin gas used, the delivery systems used, the techniques this requires and other aspects too, there’s no doubt that the regime is behind the 21 August massacre.

Now, on the question that’s just been asked, France is a peaceful power. I want to remind you that the French intelligence services, who told us from the outset that the 21 August massacres were chemical massacres and that the regime was behind them, those same French services said at the time of the Iraq war – and they were right then too – that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It was on the basis of their information that President Chirac and we in the opposition said we mustn’t go to Iraq.

Likewise, I want to recall that one of President Hollande’s first decisions was to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. No further demonstration is needed that we’re very committed to peace and that France is a peaceful power. At the same time, if we want to achieve peace, we must show a certain kind of firmness on the Syria issue following the 21 August chemical massacre, which the United Nations report says is unprecedented since 1988. We and others have said it’s absolutely necessary to proceed through deterrence if we don’t want the regime to re-use those chemical weapons – which are banned – against its people and perhaps even its neighbours. We believe this firmness has been useful. There’s also been the Russian initiative, which I want to welcome, because on the basis of this firmness and the Russian initiative, the Syrian regime has agreed to eliminate chemical weapons. That’s a major change.

On 2 September, Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Le Figaro: “we’ve never said we possess chemical weapons”. And on 7 September, his Foreign Minister said: “we’re prepared to say where the chemical weapons are and halt their production”. So you see that in the space of five days, things have changed, which shows clearly that firmness on the one hand and the Russian initiative on the other have been extremely useful.

That’s where we are. Syria has pledged to adhere to the convention banning chemical weapons. Measures will be taken by the relevant organizations. There’s going to be the Security Council resolution, and then all this will have to be implemented. We’re remaining very vigilant – not warmongering but vigilant – because it’s firmness and the Russian initiative that have enabled Syria to change its position and will in future enable the commitments made to be honoured./.

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