Official speeches and statements - October 6, 2016
2. Syria - Russia - Interview given by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to TV5Monde (Paris - October 3, 2016)
The Defence and National Security Council, convened by the President, was informed of the evolving terrorist threat in France and the action implemented. It examined the provisions necessary for adapting vigilance measures and the use of the security forces both to the risks identified and to the necessity of protecting our fellow citizens and our interests.
The Council looked at the consequences of the action by the Syrian regime’s forces, backed by the Russian air force, which are carrying out indiscriminate strikes on the Aleppo pocket, with an intolerable impact on civilians and hospital infrastructure.
The President emphasized the gravity of the situation. He gave instructions for support to be lent to the European initiative designed to provide civilians trapped in Aleppo with humanitarian assistance as soon as possible. He asked for the diplomatic initiatives, particularly at the United Nations Security Council, to be continued so that those responsible for the attacks on civilians are held to account and the return to a political negotiation based on credible foundations is hastened.
ALEPPO/RUSSIAN AIR STRIKES
Q - For several weeks now, the world has been looking on helplessly at what’s been happening in Aleppo in Syria, with bombardments by the Russian air force, which is supporting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. In the space of four days, several hospitals have been bombed; we heard a few minutes ago that the largest hospital in the eastern part of the city is no longer operational. You’ve talked about this issue a lot, you’ve spoken in very strong terms, but beyond the words and the outrage, what can France do?
The Minister - France is engaged - I’d almost say at the forefront - to secure from the United Nations Security Council a resolution to create the conditions for the ceasefire in Syria, and firstly in Aleppo. There’s a humanitarian emergency in Aleppo, and I don’t even need to describe the situation to you - you’ve just said it in a few words - but the terrible pictures we’re seeing on television speak for themselves. What are we seeing? We’re seeing civilian victims, and when I hear - only this afternoon - an official communiqué from Russia welcoming the effectiveness of the Russian strikes on Aleppo, suggesting that the people being targeted by those strikes are basically terrorists... The pictures we’re seeing are of civilians: they’re men, women, children, elderly people who are being killed, who are being maimed.
Q - But what must be done at the practical level?
The Minister - We must really appeal to the consciences of all the Security Council members: both the permanent members and the 10 other members. We’re currently negotiating a resolution, and I hope we’ll be able to obtain a result this week.
Q - But what does that resolution say? A truce?
The Minister - A ceasefire...
Q - We’ve already had those...
The Minister - Yes, but a ceasefire firstly for Aleppo, with access for humanitarian aid too - that’s the precondition for everything - and then the resumption of political negotiations. The result depends on our partners, and in particular Russia, and I call on the latter to shoulder its responsibilities. Today - the UN Secretary-General himself has said this - the hospital bombardments are war crimes. Will Russia agree to bear responsibility for such acts, which are intolerable from the point of view of human conscience? That’s really the urgent thing.
Now, regarding humanitarian aid, the European Union is also playing its role. I had a meeting this afternoon with the High Representative, Ms Federica Mogherini, and the EU is going to release an additional euro25 million and wants to help organize convoys so that they can, as quickly as possible, cross the Turkish border and go to Aleppo.
It’s a matter of urgency; for months there’s been no more aid, at a time when people are dying of hunger. There are some tremendous people in Syria who aren’t talked about enough, and in particular in Aleppo: they’re non-governmental organizations, all those humanitarian professionals, and you’ve talked about the hospitals, the doctors, the nurses and also the White Helmets. Those White Helmets are extraordinary people. Well, they’ve been described as terrorists by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and by the Russians... It’s a scandal.
I think people must stop being cynical; cynicism can no longer be tolerated, and those who close their eyes or those who are indulgent towards Bashar al-Assad’s regime and what it’s currently doing, with the support of Russia and Iran, will bear a responsibility for the future. And France wants to be at the forefront in securing this ceasefire as quickly as possible.
Q - Russia will no doubt use its veto...
The Minister - I hope not... We’re negotiating, only this weekend we made proposals for a text, which will be discussed this evening at the Security Council - with the time difference -, and we’ll see. In any case, I’m warning Russia not to take on the responsibility for not giving the ceasefire a fresh chance - i.e. basically an action which is above all humanitarian and which is essential, because our consciences have been deeply scarred. Nobody who believes in human rights, nobody who believes in peace, nobody who believes in fraternity can bear such terrible images.
Q - We know this is a globalized conflict; the Russians describe as terrorists those whom many here call rebel groups, moderate or jihadist; must we consider extricating those groups, which are still in the eastern part of Aleppo, in order to save civilian lives? Is there anything to negotiate on this?
The Minister - Let’s be clear: we’re fighting Daesh [so-called ISIL]; we don’t need lessons from anyone when it comes to fighting terrorism. France is affected by terrorism, affected to the core, like many countries, and France is fighting; it’s fighting in the coalition framework and it’s fighting against Daesh. At the same time, let’s be clear: there’s Daesh but there are also groups like al-Nusra, which belongs to the al-Qaeda family and which we’re also fighting. There’s no ambiguity.
But just because we must combat al-Nusra, which is on the ground in certain regions of Syria, doesn’t mean we must lump it together with all the rest of the moderate opposition, which has nothing to do with those groups. Now, I’m well aware that it’s complicated on the ground, because the more the bombs strike people and cities like Aleppo, the more the temptation will be to regroup in order to survive. And this is the whole tragedy that is currently unfolding, which encourages radicalization. Moderate groups may be tempted to ally themselves with extremist groups, and I think this is the tragedy that is currently unfolding in Syria. Ultimately, radicalization, violence and the increasing bombardments encourage the terrorists. So there’s a consistency between securing a ceasefire, providing humanitarian aid, embarking on peace negotiations and the fight against terrorism.
Q - You’ve just mentioned that France is part of the coalition that is carrying out bombardments against the organization Islamic State. When he came to power in Canada, Justin Trudeau decided to leave the coalition. Do you think these raids are the right strategy against that organization, given that France has suffered several attacks, even after the start of the campaign?
The Minister - The reason for the attacks in France isn’t because we’re combating Daesh, whose strongholds are in Mosul and Raqqa, i.e. in Iraq and Syria, and which is also flourishing in Libya. We’re being hit by attacks because we’re France, because we uphold a certain system of society, of values. The terrorists want to ensure French people are divided, and we won’t give in to terrorism. We must fight the battle at military level - but not only military level -, as we’re doing in the coalition framework against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. And at the moment, especially in Iraq, we’re preparing to capture Mosul with our allies...
Q - What does “we’re preparing” mean? Will France have troops supporting the Iraqi army, as is the case with the Americans?
The Minister - It was clearly announced - the President said this a few weeks ago - that we’ve got an artillery battery over there which is reinforcing the coalition’s military action to recapture Mosul from Daesh jihadists. And, at the same time, you’ve also got our carrier battle group, with the arrival of the Charles-de-Gaulle [aircraft carrier], and this is allowing us to use not just our Mirage planes but also the Rafales, so we’ve got many more capabilities which can intervene. We’ve stepped up our military presence in the coalition to recapture Mosul from Daesh, and this battle is being prepared. It isn’t happening immediately; the operation is going to resume in a few weeks. It’s being conducted, of course, with the Iraqis, and [then there’s] the matter concerning the situation after the recapture.
Q - On that point, civilians risk paying a heavy price and being accused of collaborating with Daesh. Have you got any guarantees that the Iraqi army, supported by local Shia fighters, is respecting human rights?
The Minister - It’s essential, it’s part of preparing for the future. First, there’s the problem of refugees and we’re preparing to help them materially and through support for the NGOs and United Nations organizations. Moreover, we’re working - and France is going to take an initiative in the next few days - to bring together the coalition members to talk about the situation following the recapture, what governance there will be, and ensure that all Iraq’s parties are included and that we don’t go ahead amid divisions between the Iraqis, because then there would be further clashes. What we want are countries which, after the battle has been waged against Daesh, can also build a country which is inclusive and promotes reconciliation...
Q - Avoiding what’s happened in Libya...
The Minister - Of course. (...)