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Seventieth United Nations General Assembly/Security Council meeting/terrorism/Iraq/Syria

Published on October 2, 2015
Press conference given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development (excerpts)¹

New York, September 30, 2015

THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming. I would like to share a short message with you, as what is happening right now is important.
I think we need to make things clear and speak briefly, perhaps even more briefly than what I’ve just said to the Security Council which is, by necessity, more structured.

The United Nations Security Council has just met at the request of Russia, which is presiding it this month, to discuss the fight against Daesh [ISIL]. The debates mainly focused on the Syria crisis, a crisis on which the Security Council has unfortunately, for the last three years, been – yes, this is the right word – powerless.

Mr Sergei Lavrov, the Russian minister, presented the parameters of a Security Council resolution that would create a sort of grand coalition against Daesh.
I am going to explain France’s position to you.

Of course, we need to fight to the utmost, and together, against Daesh. As far as we are concerned, we have already been doing so in Iraq for a year, along with more than 60 countries. And more recently in Syria, since, as you know, French aircraft carried out strikes on a Daesh training camp on Sunday.

All those who wish to join us in this action against the Daesh terrorist group are welcome – I wish to make that clear – but on three conditions, which are vital for effectiveness.

Firstly, strikes have to be directed against Daesh and [other] terrorist groups alone, excluding civilians and moderate opponents, who for their part are courageously defending a vision for Syria which we share: namely, a democratic, united Syria where all communities are respected. We need to check whether or not the Russian strikes today fulfil that first condition.

Secondly, bombings of civilian populations, which are absolutely terrible, have to stop. In these bombings, barrels of explosives and chlorine are dropped from helicopters. This violence is ordered by Bashar al-Assad and is the main cause of extremism and floods of refugees. So the second condition is that these bombings with barrels of explosives and chlorine have to stop.

Lastly, the third condition, if we want to be effective, is that we need to treat the root cause of the crisis: a political transition is needed, where it is made clear to the Syrian people that their executioner, Mr Bashar al-Assad, is not their future. That is what we are calling the transition out, and we know its parameters: they were laid out in the famous Geneva Communiqué of June 2012. We also know who the players are. So we want a broad negotiation to be initiated, under the auspices of the United Nations Special Envoy, Mr de Mistura. This negotiation could probably be placed under the control of a contact group, which could be built around the P5 group – i.e. the five permanent members of the Security Council – expanded to key regional partners.

Those are the three conditions. The first is that Daesh and [other] terrorist groups should be attacked, and not others. The second is that barrel bombings of civilian populations must be stopped; that is the responsibility of Bashar al-Assad. The third is that a political transition be initiated quickly, under the conditions I’ve just mentioned.

Those are the conditions needed to guarantee the effectiveness of essential collective action against Daesh.

I am at your disposal to answer three questions.

Q. – (on Russian bombardments in Syria)

THE MINISTER – Listen, verifications will take place today. The first indications have been given – the military authorities will, of course, have to be asked – and show – but perhaps we will receive further information – that the zones hit were not controlled by Daesh. But that needs to be verified and checked. (…)

Q. – (on the political transition in Syria)

THE MINISTER – That is a question that has been asked many times. The terms of diplomatic negotiations can be discussed, but it’s unacceptable for it to be said from the outset and at the end that Mr Bashar al-Assad will continue to lead Syria. That is because of both moral reasons – there is no need to emphasize this, as he has committed crimes against humanity and is responsible for 80% of these 250,000 deaths – and for reasons of effectiveness.

If we are to unite the Syrian people – that is our goal – and if we want to move towards a united, democratic Syria where the various communities are respected, then we cannot push part of the Syrian people towards terrorist groups. That is what would happen if it were accepted from the outset that Mr Bashar al-Assad would remain in power. It is not simply a question of morality, but also one of effectiveness – and we are seeking effectiveness.

Q. – Yesterday, Minister, you criticized Russia and said that some did a lot of talking but took no action. Do you welcome the Russian initiative now?

THE MINISTER – I sensed, madam – grant me this at least – that the Russians were going to act. We had simply observed that criticisms were being levelled against many – including against the Americans, the French and a few others – because we were not judged to be effective against Daesh. But we are taking action and have taken action. I said – I can’t remember my exact words – that we need to act against Daesh. I uphold all that.

Today, actions are being taken. It remains to be seen who they are taken against. If they are really taken against Daesh and [other] terrorist groups, then that is great, so long as no other groups are targeted. You have of course understood my message.
These actions need to come with actions to prevent the bombing of civilians. They also need to come with the search for a political solution, which I’ve just defined.
France’s position has not changed. I do not know if you were able to listen – things were all at the same time – to what I said to the Security Council. From the very outset, we have had a number of principles. We remain faithful to those principles. If others want to combat Daesh then they are welcome – I want to make that very clear – but only so long as the conditions for effectiveness that we have set are fulfilled.

Q. – Did Russia notify France in advance that they were going to attack?


Q. – Is there any way to avoid a clash between those who fly over Syria?

THE MINISTER – Obviously a clash must be avoided and there is an effort to what we call disconnect. It is an absolute necessity.

Q. – Minister, Mr Vladimir Putin and Mr Sergey Lavrov said at the Security Council that the Russian strikes were aimed solely at the Islamic State group.

THE MINISTER – That remains to be checked.

Q. – Vladimir Putin called upon Bashar to compromise this morning. Do you sense an adjustment in the Russian position?

THE MINISTER – I will look into all that because, if you like, I am a player who is not always in a position to interpret the many statements that are made. As regards the strikes themselves, we need to check that it is truly Daesh and [other] terrorist groups that are being targeted and not opponents of the Syrian regime or the civilian population. There is no judgment to be made on intent. This needs to be checked.

If it is true, if they were aimed at Daesh and al-Nusra, then the strikes are welcome. If they are being used in reality to strike against the opponents of Mr Bashar al-Assad and the civilian population, then that is another matter.

Q. – Mr Lavrov has called for a coordination of efforts. Are you prepared to participate?

THE MINISTER – I have said – I hope I was clear – that all genuine actions against Daesh and other terrorist groups are welcome, so long as they fulfil the three conditions for effectiveness set out by France./.

¹ M. Fabius spoke in French and English.

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