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Syria/Middle Eastern Christians/chemical disarmament/Geneva 2

Published on October 2, 2013
Press briefing by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman (excerpts)

Paris, October 1, 2013

(…)

SYRIA/CHRISTIANS

Q. – Do you hear the cry of alarm from the Middle Eastern Christians?

THE SPOKESMAN – It is indeed a concern that is growing.

Firstly, it’s not necessary to put pressure on French diplomacy to be concerned and worried about the fate of those communities. We’re being particularly vigilant on this. It stems from France’s history and special role in those regions and towards those communities – wherever they’re established, by the way.

Secondly and more particularly on Syria, whenever the opportunity has arisen we’ve repeated that the solution we so wish to see to the Syria crisis must be one that respects and protects the rights of all minorities. This obviously includes the Middle Eastern Christians. We’ve also taken the greatest care to ensure the Syrian National Coalition makes commitments to this effect. President Al-Jarba himself committed himself publicly to this only last week, at the meeting organized on France’s initiative on the sidelines of the UNGA.

OPPOSITION/JIHADISTS

Q. – During that conference, it was emphasized that the danger didn’t come from the Syrian opposition – i.e. from the Free Syrian Army – but from Islamist groupings that have already perpetrated horrible acts of torture in several regions of Syria. So it’s a question not of intervening with the opposition, they say, but frankly of taking actions to prevent those violent Islamist movements from continuing their work.

THE SPOKESMAN – I absolutely agree with you. The opposition we support is the Syrian National Coalition, and we support it precisely because it upholds our principles and values. We’re talking here about the protection of minorities, about democracy, about the fact that the Coalition has very clearly distanced itself from all forms of terrorism or al-Qaeda affiliation and has also distanced itself on chemical [weapons]. That’s the opposition we support.

In no way do we support movements of a jihadist or terrorist nature. On this point, let me remind you that the Al-Nusra Front was included on the United Nations’ terrorist lists at the initiative of France, among others. It won’t have escaped you, either, that in Ma’loula, for example, where acts of violence were committed by certain terrorist movements, it was the moderate opposition that allowed the town to be liberated.

The best way of reducing the terrorist movements’ growing weight or influence and ending the acts of violence they’re guilty of is to support the Syrian National Coalition.

Finally, let me remind those who’ve forgotten that the Syrian National Coalition, having been successively opened up, includes some Christians.

TALKS/DIPLOMACY

Q. – The Minister spoke yesterday about mid-November for Geneva 2. Are we talking about a date agreed with the other partners? How will the meeting be prepared?

THE SPOKESMAN – Mid-November is indeed a period mentioned by the Foreign Minister and also by Mr Ban Ki-moon. That’s the time that seems to us necessary to convene the conference and guarantee the conditions for its success. France has constantly said only a political solution will be found to the Syria crisis. We must work on this fast, because the fighting and violence are continuing and the number of deaths is increasing.

However, we mustn’t underestimate the difficulties still to be resolved. The goal is to put both sides in the conflict at the table, to enable the principles decided on in Geneva 1 to be implemented – particularly the creation, through mutual consent, of a provisional government with full executive powers, including over security services in the broad sense.

The preparation of this conference will be done in different formats, particularly with the five permanent members of the Security Council, at Laurent Fabius’s request. There are also other players we must work with to prepare the conference, particularly those in the London Eleven.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS/INSPECTIONS

Q. – Regarding the chemical inspections, is a team going to visit the north today, as part of the Sellström mission? And secondly, there are the OPCW inspectors. All those people are trailing around and doing very different things…

THE SPOKESMAN – The Sellström mission was decided on a while back, with a clear mandate. The OPCW’s mission was decided on later, with a different, broader mission.

The Sellström mission is investigating a number of sites. Its mandate is to confirm whether or not chemical weapons were used on those sites and, if so, to say what type of chemical weapons. Its mandate isn’t to attribute or say who from the opposition or the regime is responsible. As far as we French are concerned, just as we have evidence of the regime’s use of those weapons (we’ve made it public), so we believe the opposition has neither the capability not the wish to use such weapons.

The French have been among those who have been most insistently calling for the deployment of the Sellström mission, which was prevented by the regime from working. We’ve repeatedly called for it to be deployed without delay, conditions or restrictions. Our position hasn’t changed: it should do its work – we’ll support it – and deliver its conclusions. On that basis, we’ll see what lessons to learn from it.

The OPCW’s mandate is different. It emerged from the decision adopted in The Hague at the end of the week, which must also be read in the context of Resolution 2118, adopted by the Security Council immediately afterwards.

Regarding the OPCW mission, here are a few elements in the timetable:

- Syria produced an initial list of its chemical weapons on 19 September;

- it must complete that list before 4 October;

- it also has 30 days from the adoption of the decision – i.e. before 27 October – to transmit the initial declaration required under the convention. Its initial declaration will have to include a general plan for the destruction of its arsenal;

- the following date is 1 November. The equipment for producing and mixing certain chemical weapons will have to have been destroyed by that date;

- then, by 15 November, a detailed destruction plan will have to be adopted by the OPCW’s Executive Council;

- all the equipment and material linked to chemical weapons will have to be eliminated before the end of June 2014.

So the OPCW inspectors’ mandate is very clearly defined: one phase of checking the declaration, one of inspecting the sites and one of destroying the weapons. There are a series of events at short intervals and a series of reports that must be produced, some by the OPCW Director-General and the UN Secretary-General on a monthly basis, on 27 of each month. All this is subject to very strict verification.

The first team of OPCW inspectors left The Hague for Syria yesterday. Its mission should last between a week and a month and it will be reinforced with a UN team. The practicalities of the UN’s support for the OPCW will be specified through recommendations by the UN Secretary-General in less than 10 days’ time – i.e. before 8 October.

Q. – Are the inspectors authorized to search chemical sites other than those declared by the regime? Do they have the right to go where they want?

THE SPOKESMAN – The mission of the inspectors on the ground is to check the sincerity and exhaustiveness of the list produced by the Syrian regime. All the sites will ultimately have to have been identified and declared. It can’t be envisaged that a site would escape the joint work of the OPCW and the UN. Yes, all the sites will be inspected.

Q. – Is that being done in cooperation with the regime?

THE SPOKESMAN – Resolution 2118 – to be read in parallel with the decision by the OPCW’s Executive Council – provides firstly, explicitly, for unfettered access to all the sites, secondly for an obligation on the regime to cooperate, and thirdly for punishment in the event of its breaching its commitments.

Q. – The inspection of the sites is going ahead in regions where there is unrest. Has this security aspect been thought about?

THE SPOKESMAN – Yes, we’ve thought about it. The dismantling of a chemical arsenal is a complicated thing – all the more complicated when the arsenal is the size of Syria’s, and even more so in a war zone, as is the case of Syria today.

It’s either/or: any possible difficulties could come only from the opposition or the regime. As regards the opposition, it’s already made statements specifying that it pledges to do everything to allow access to the sites under its control. As regards the regime, Resolution 2118 is obligatory and enforceable. There’s an obligation to cooperate. The regime doesn’t have a choice between allowing and prohibiting.

Q. – We already have the list of sites drawn up by the Syrian regime. Are there any sites that are in the regions controlled by the opposition?

THE SPOKESMAN – I don’t think the list has been made public. It won’t be, for obvious security reasons. (…)./.

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