Q. – In three days’ time you will host an important meeting on Syria. You said just now that you discussed this matter with your guests. At a time when the Syrian opposition is tearing itself apart – they haven’t yet managed to accept or turn down the invitation to attend the Geneva II conference – what can we expect from a conference in which the opposition may not participate?
THE MINISTER – Regarding Syria, the day before yesterday I received the invitation from Mr Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, to the Geneva conference on 22 January, which should take place as follows: on the first day, a meeting will take place in Montreux, where we will set out our positions. Then, on 24 January, there will be a meeting between the Syrian delegations, in the presence of Mr Brahimi.
Obviously, we support the holding of the Geneva II meeting, to the extent that we have always maintained from the outset that the solution is a political one. I would also like to say that if people had listened to France more carefully from the outset, then we probably wouldn’t be in the absolutely tragic situation that we’re in. I remember very clearly – it was one of the first times that I received many of my foreign colleagues, just after we took office – the major conference known as the Friends of Syria conference. At the time we said that the Syrian people’s future could not be Mr Bashar al-Assad, whom UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described as having committed “crimes against humanity”. So the vision of the future must be built around the moderate opposition. At the time, in July 2012, there was no Iranian or Hezbollah presence, and there were no terrorist movements. A certain movement would have been enough to ensure that developments proceeded as desired, but we weren’t heeded. The US elections took place, there was dissent between different groups, and now we find ourselves with an absolutely tragic situation. Thousands of people die every month; there are appalling atrocities. The number of deaths has now exceeded 130,000.
There are millions of displaced people, with tragic consequences not just for Syria, a tormented country, but also for Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
We need a political solution to address this. In order to find this political solution, we have to engage in discussions – hence Geneva. The letter that Mr Ban Ki-moon sent us, which is very well written, states that the goal of the Geneva meeting is to create a transitional government with full executive powers, through discussions between the parties. The goal of Geneva II is to meet, even if it’s not easy, in order to try and build a transitional government with full executive powers, not with Bashar al-Assad but with some elements of the regime and with the moderate opposition. It’s critical because if it doesn’t happen, Bashar al-Assad will say, “if you don’t want the terrorists, support me”, and the terrorists will say, “if you don’t want Bashar al-Assad, support the terrorists”. We don’t support Mr Bashar al-Assad, who is guilty of crimes against humanity, or the terrorists. We have to find a solution through dialogue. It’s true that the situation of our moderate opposition coalition friends isn’t easy. They have to fight on two fronts: on the one hand, there’s Mr Bashar al-Assad, supported by the Iranians and the Russians; and on the other hand, the terrorist movements. That’s why we’re going to have a meeting on Sunday involving the 11 countries that make up the so-called “Core Group” in the presence of Mr Al-Jarba, who has just been re-elected as president of the moderate opposition, and we will discuss this. The moderate opposition will meet again on 17 January, following our meeting in Paris.
This is where we are; we believe that Geneva II, provided that its mandate is fulfilled, is necessary. We call on all parties to make an effort to participate in the conference, but in accordance with the mandate. If Geneva II takes place – as we hope it will – there will be a second difficulty, namely the need to achieve concrete results. If we want a political solution, we have to talk to each other. At the same time – and this is a request I reiterate to the international community – we must put an end to the atrocities, to the terrible bombing that’s taking place, and address the humanitarian needs. The opposition is right to demand that, in parallel to Geneva II, humanitarian corridors be established and the bombing cease./.