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7 August 2012 - Syria - Interview given by Mr Gérard Araud, President of the Security Council, to France 24

Q: Gérard Araud, the Permanent Representative of France, is the President of the Security Council for this month in New York. Obviously, we have to start with Syria which has been dominating the Security Council talks for a while now. Despite the fact the General Assembly adopted a resolution; you said that the Security Council is deadlocked. In the month of your presidency, do you see a way to move forward?

There is a deep political division with one side Russia and China and on the other side the majority of the Council. We faced three vetoes in one year which is quite extraordinary. I don’t think we have seen three vetoes in a row on the same issue since the cold war. So in political terms I don’t see how we could move forward at the Security Council on the Syrian issue.

So for us, it is quite a challenge because the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Laurent Fabius, would want to use our presidency to try to move toward a solution on the Syrian crisis. On the political front, it is difficult but on the humanitarian front maybe we could convince Russia and China to join us.

Q: What would that mean exactly?

Right now there is no humanitarian access in Syria. All humanitarian aid has to be channelled through the Syrian Red Crescent which is quite decent but which is totally overwhelmed by the challenge. Three millions of Syrians are lacking food, medicine, children food… So we could demand the Syrian government but also the opposition to give access to a humanitarian aid, especially in Aleppo where we could think of a cease-fire, maybe allowing women, children, old people to leave the city because they are trapped there.

So we are in contact with all the members of the Security Council and we see what is possible.

Q: Access to a humanitarian aid could mean anything from helping on the ground to humanitarian corridor; you say it is a way in which to gain access of the international community people would be willing to discuss

Humanitarian corridor means military force which is totally inacceptable by Russia and China.

Q: Would you mind that?

We wouldn’t mind but the problem is that we are blocked and we are not going to act without an endorsement of the Security Council which means the legality of the action. So we are trying to get from the Syrian government first and after that from the opposition access for a humanitarian aid.

Q: You said the Security Council is blocked because of the three vetoes of Moscow and Beijing but Kofi Annan’s resignation is also fingerpointing the fact that the Security Council is divided too much, people going outside the Council. In a way France and Western Countries are doing this as well, saying they support Kofi Annan’s plan and at the same time there is this Friends of Syrians Group, many of which are openly arming the opposition, money is flowing toward the Syrian opposition as well as training. Is this a problem for you?

Kofi Annan said that we need a political transition but that he can’t deliver it without an agreement of the Security Council. But the Security Council has been so divided that we were not able to support what Mr. Kofi Annan was doing. Kofi Annan was asking us to give him means of pressure on the regime but also on the opposition. Our resolution was trying to give him the teeth that he was needing. So I would consider it is China and Russia who didn’t support what Kofi Annan was doing.

As for the money, I don’t think we are giving any money to the opposition. Also you were referring to the weapons flowing to the opposition. If weapons were flowing to the opposition, it is surprising that the opposition has only had light weapons over the last 18 months. So they are not very effective. I think it is a sort of “common wisdom” that weapons have been flowing to Syria. First, in this part of the world, weapons are circulating: there is the border with Iraq, light weapons are everywhere. I guess they may have received light weapons from Iraq but they didn’t receive heavy weapons. The fighting is still very unequal. You should refer more to the weapons which have been sent by the Russians to Syria. That is the problem because the regime is using helicopters, planes against civilian neighbourhoods.

Q: What is France doing on the diplomatic front in terms of trying to contain and get this crisis into a solution?

Secondly, we are trying to work with the opposition, in order to have a united opposition.

Mr Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, will go to the region in the midst of August (15-17 August).

Q: The atmosphere inside the Security Council has been pretty nasty and in front of the camera too. Have you ever seen the Security Council so divided and also ideologically divided?

It is quite nasty. As an incredible anecdote, the Russian Ambassador has accused the French government to have appointed somebody who was working with Annan to another job to undermine Annan and he did it in front of the camera. It is quite outrageous.

As I already said, three vetoes mean it is a deep political crisis; there are two sides at the Security Council: Russia and China, and the majority. We would like to build bridge between them but I doubt we will be able to do it.

Q: Is this showing the impotence of the UN?

I often say, the United Nations are in fact the « desunited nations », deciding to work together. So there are some issues for which we are simply unable to work together.

Q: Considering the consensus over Cote d’Ivoire, Libya and suddenly it has come to an end.

For instance on the Palestinian issue, the UN are totally unable to act even when you try to condemn the Israeli settlement policy. We tried to condemn it by using the very word of president Obama and the US vetoed our resolution. There are some issues which are very sensitive and for which we don’t reach a consensus. It’s not new.

Q: For some issues the consensus can be reached, for instance on Mali. Is the authorisation for an international force going to come soon?

We have made ourselves available. The Security Council through resolution 2056 said it was available to consider a request of the African Union to send a force in Mali. First we need to have Mali authorisation. It is up to Mali authorities to request such a force. Secondly we have to receive the request form the Africans themselves. For the time being we have not received either of them. But this is what we are expecting and we are ready to consider them positively.

Q: Won’t it be too slow to tackle what is going on at the moment?

It will be a long crisis. Because, first, you have to go to Bamako. After that, for the reconquest of the North, you will have negotiations but also a military intervention. But you have to rebuild the army of Mali and this will take a lot of time. Unfortunately we have to consider this crisis in terms of a long crisis.

Q: Another long spanning crisis is the DRC. Will UN intervene against M23?

It is a hopeless situation. In the DRC and especially in eastern DRC, we’re going from one tragedy to the other. And this is only the civilians who are suffering. Women are raped, people are killed or displaced. And in this chaos the UN forces are doing their best. For the moment, the UN are determined to block the road towards Goma. Our forces are there. Helicopters have opened fire repeatedly at the rebels, the M23. But again, it is a limited force and it is not a fighting force, it’s a peacekeeping force, which is quite different. So we do hope that Rwanda and the DRC reach an agreement.

Q: The Security Council, despite the UN report accusing Rwanda to massively fund the rebels, has refuses to mention it?

The problem is that some members of the Security Council which are quite close to Rwanda and they are moving but they are still hesitant to accuse Rwanda of what is happening. We share this hope, all of us, to convince the two countries to go back to the compromise concluded in 2009 and which has been broken 2, 3 months ago. That’s the only way forward.

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