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28 September 2012 – Mali/ Syria – Interview given by Mr. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to France 24, Radio France Internationale and Europe 1

Q: When you arrived at the General Assembly, there were a certain number of expectations with respect to the situation in Mali. You’re talking about a future meeting of the Security Council: Is there a date? Has any progress really been made on this matter?

I think that’s really the point at which we perhaps started to make some progress, but I say “perhaps” because I’ve learned to be cautious. There was a meeting on the Sahel which went very well, firstly because the Malians themselves came to describe the situation; several countries took the floor to say that Mali’s integrity must be restored, that terrorism must be defeated. President Hollande delivered a strong speech and a certain number of leaders delivered speeches. I’m not saying that all the problems have been resolved – far from it – but I detected among my colleagues, particularly among my colleagues from the 5 permanent member countries of the Security Council, the conviction that we needed to make progress, because terrorism is a challenge faced by everyone, not just Mali, but by its neighboring countries and the whole of Africa.

Q: In concrete terms, who is causing the deadlock and why?

There are problems, of course. First, in a country that has been split apart like Mali today, power isn’t very well established and there may be internal problems. In addition, Mali belongs to a group that’s known as ECOWAS and there are sometimes agreements, as well disagreements within ECOWAS. And then you have the sub-region of Africa, so there may be agreements between individual members.

But there is nevertheless a very strong feeling that we can’t allow the terrorists to prevail.

Q: In your view, is it a matter of weeks, months?

The first step is a Security Council meeting and a resolution by this Council. Our permanent representative, together with his colleagues, is currently working on this. I hope that, with respect to the resolution itself, it will be a matter of days. But I want to say to you, I remain cautious, because we’ve been slightly burned in the past.

Q: Regarding Mali, do you feel that what happened in Benghazi changed things for the Americans?

It’s understandable; it’s obviously on their minds. I said to Hillary Clinton, and I don’t think she needed to be convinced, that terrorism can’t be dealt with on a piecemeal basis. We have to combat terrorism everywhere and what’s happening in Mali poses a threat not just to this country but to the whole of West Africa, to the whole of Africa, and in general to all our democracies. I think that the Americans, like others, are well aware of the very significant risks that terrorism poses for all our societies.

Q: Regarding the hostages, their families are becoming concerned and are afraid that a decision has been made to sacrifice them.

No. We discussed this topic, together with François Hollande and the families of the hostages when we received them a few weeks ago. These are incredible families; I admire their courage and that of the hostages. They asked us this. Basically, we must do everything in our power to get our hostages back and that’s what we’re doing.

At the same time, there’s a general policy - which isn’t just France’s policy – that is pursued by a whole range of countries: we cannot allow terrorism to prevail. The risk is that there may be other hostages and other crimes. We therefore have to balance all these aspects.

Q: Doesn’t the notion of their security prevent you from taking action?

Of course their security is a priority. The security of the hostages is very much on our minds every day.

Q: Through which channels are you in contact with them?

You will understand that with respect to this topic it’s better to remain discreet.

Q: Regarding Syria, could the liberated areas make a difference and change our approach to lending support to the opposition?

Yes, this is an initiative that France has taken. During the meeting we had on Syria – with the Friends of Syria group – I was struck by the fact that many countries asked us exactly what our experience was and asked to be involved. We explained to them what we did in these liberated areas: we provided practical help on how to feed people, how to care for them and how to establish, together with the local elected representatives, a new police force. This is essentially the Syria of the future.

But that won’t be enough to resolve the situation, because the problem is also military and diplomatic. As long as the Security Council is deadlocked, with the Chinese and Russians sticking to their positions, Bashar al-Assad will stay there. The first thing that struck me was the usefulness of free zones. The second thing was the very strong demand for opposition unity. If we want Bashar al-Assad to “get the hell out,” to use an expression that has often been heard, and to do so quickly, given the crimes he’s committing each day, then the opposition must be united. The opposition is asking us for things, which is natural, and we are asking the opposition to unite.

Q: Do you believe the opposition has the ability to get united?

I’m not wondering about its ability, I’m saying it’s an absolute necessity. It’s obvious that in order to get rid of Mr. al-Assad – who is a criminal – quickly, an alternative regime must be put in place. That requires both a project and an opposition.

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