Q. – Peace negotiations for Syria will be starting on Friday under the aegis of the UN. What are you expecting from them?
THE MINISTER – We hope they’ll get under way. I’ve worked a lot on this subject, even while being in India; yesterday I was on the phone several times to John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, and as we speak – it’s Tuesday morning – at some point today I’ll be on the phone to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian [Foreign] Minister, the head of the moderate opposition, Mr Hijab, and Staffan de Mistura, who is tasked with handling the issue on the UN’s behalf.
We’re calling for the negotiations to begin, because the real solution to the Syria tragedy – 260,000 dead, half the Syrian population displaced or abroad, an appalling tragedy – is political. So there must be negotiations. But there are very difficult issues to resolve: how will the delegations be composed?
Q. – Which opposition should be presented?
THE MINISTER – Just as it’s not for the opposition to say who will be in the government delegation, so it’s not for the Syrian government to say who will be in the opposition delegation.
Q. – And isn’t that resolved yet?
THE MINISTER – It’s under way. What’s called the “Riyadh group” – I won’t go into the details –, led by Mr Hijab himself, who is a former prime minister of Bashar [al-Assad] and therefore knows Syria very well but didn’t agree to the direction Bashar was taking, is certainly a representative group.
There’s another very important issue, namely that it’s very difficult to have negotiations when the Russians and Bashar’s Syrians are bombing towns and innocent civilians. There’s another problem, which is: what’s the content of those negotiations? Everything must be discussed, particularly what’s called the transitional government, because in Geneva a few years ago and in Vienna recently we agreed there should be a transition, a new constitution and elections within 18 months. We, the French, say that Bashar al-Assad can’t be Syria’s future, because he’s responsible for so many deaths, and that if we want Syrian unity he’s not the one who can ensure it. (…)
Q. – The Russian Foreign Minister said he’d refuse to accept the Kurds not being present, which the Turks clearly refuse.
THE MINISTER – There’s a simple rule, namely that it’s not for one party to dictate the composition of another’s delegation. (…)
Q. – The same Russian minister said that Mr Putin hadn’t demanded Mr Assad’s departure.
THE MINISTER – I’m not part of those conversations. What I see is the Russians supporting Bashar al-Assad – that’s certain – and the fact that they told us they were going to carry out a lot of strikes against Daesh [so-called ISIL]. Every time they strike Daesh terrorists, it’s a good thing, but they should be carrying out more strikes against Daesh, and stop striking the moderate opposition.
Q. – He also said they’ve turned the situation around today .
THE MINISTER – There’s no doubt they’ve assisted Bashar al-Assad, of course, but does that mean they’ve really helped weaken Daesh’s terrorists? That’s quite another matter.
Q. – And are the Russians continuing to bomb civilians today?
THE MINISTER – Sadly, yes; as you know, various cities are under siege – Madaya has been talked about a great deal –, often by pro-regime Syrians, but very frequently with Russian support. The Russians have a role to play in bringing peace, but we’d like them to use their forces to fight Daesh terrorism.
Q. – Madaya’s humanitarian corridor still isn’t in place; is it a martyred city?
THE MINISTER – I’m afraid so. And one of France’s major demands when it comes to these negotiations is that, before they even get under way, there should be an end to the sieges of these cities. It isn’t just a bargaining chip, it’s an international legal obligation. (…)./.