Q. – On Syria, this weekend you’re bringing together the countries which support the moderate opposition. Hasn’t the moderate opposition in Syria, precisely, lost the day to the Islamists?
THE MINISTER – I really hope not. One remark: if France had been listened to from the start, we certainly wouldn’t be where we are.
Q. – Meaning if there had been a military intervention?
THE MINISTER – No. We said from the start – and it was one of the first decisions the French President and I took in the summer of 2012: “we support the moderate opposition”. Why? Because Mr Bashar al-Assad is, in Mr Ban Ki-moon’s words, a mass murderer, someone who’s committed a crime against humanity. He can’t represent the country’s future.
Back then no Iranians were there, or Hezbollah, or terrorists. It wouldn’t have taken too much for change to happen. Unfortunately, it was the American election campaign and the Arab countries were divided.
Today we still support the moderate opposition. We want neither someone who has committed a crime against humanity, nor terrorism. So we support this opposition, but it’s very difficult, and we’re pressing the case for the so-called Geneva II conference, which is due to meet on the 22nd. Only it’s complicated, because the opposition is saying: “I want to go there, but only if the goal isn’t to keep Bashar al-Assad on”.
And if Bashar al-Assad is prepared to send envoys, I’m not at all sure he’s prepared to talk about his own departure.
Yesterday on France’s behalf I received Mr Ban Ki-moon’s letter of invitation. It’s extremely clear and precise: the goal of Geneva II is to form a transitional government, with full executive powers. I hope we’re going to manage it…
Q. – Meaning with the moderate opposition…
THE MINISTER – Yes.
Q. – And with Bashar al-Assad’s supporters.
THE MINISTER – And with regime elements…
Q. – But without Bashar al-Assad.
THE MINISTER – And without Bashar al-Assad, that’s right.
Q. – And do you think he’s going to agree?
THE MINISTER – He isn’t spontaneously inclined to do so, but the aim of this conference, in the presence of all the world’s major countries, is to press him to. On Sunday I’m convening in Paris what’s called the Core Group, i.e. the 11 countries which support the moderate opposition. Here too, France can’t take decisions alone, but I think the position we’ve adopted is a fair one, but it won’t be easy.
Q. – I come back to my question: haven’t the Islamists won back a lot of ground?
THE MINISTER – The Islamists – at least, the extremists – and Bashar al-Assad are giving each other a leg up. This may seem paradoxical, but that’s how it is. Bashar al-Assad says: “if you don’t want terrorists, you must side with me”, and the terrorists retort: “if you don’t want Bashar al-Assad, you must side with us”. The only solution is the moderate opposition. But admittedly they have gained ground since June 2012, when France adopted its position. It would have been good if people had listened to us./.