THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being present here this afternoon at the Quai d’Orsay. In collaboration with President Hollande and the Prime Minister, I wanted to issue a statement on the situation on Syria. The situation in Syria has taken an even graver, more horrific turn. We have learned in particular that children are now serving as human shields for the regime; they are led in front of trucks and tanks, tortured, raped and murdered. Every day, dozens and dozens of Syrians are killed by the bloody regime of Mr Bashar al-Assad. Given the circumstances, France has decided to strengthen her stance to oppose this regime of blood and death.
This will come about through four sets of measures. First, we want to put more pressure on the Damascus regime by increasing sanctions. I am immediately contacting my European colleagues and Mrs Ashton to propose that as of the very next foreign ministers’ meeting, we adopt a new round of even tougher sanctions. This time, the sanctions must affect not only Mr Bashar al-Assad and his clique, but army officers and all those who provide support to Assad. A very clear message has therefore been conveyed to those who are participating in repressive operations. They must know that in addition to those mainly responsible for the crackdown, who are already being targeted – Assad and the various security chiefs – a list of people of secondary rank will also be prepared and that they will be held accountable before a court of law. In taking this position, I want to issue an appeal, here, to all Syrians who have doubts or who feel that this criminal policy can lead only to greater chaos. They must understand that the only future is one of resistance to oppression, that the time has come to choose, and that they must abandon this ship.
Secondly, we propose to make the provisions of Kofi Annan’s plan binding. This plan is running into obvious difficulties. We heard China expressing her deep concern today. The Security Council must move into higher gear and place the provisions of the Annan plan under Chapter VII – i.e. make them binding. I want to remind you that the Annan plan, among other things, calls for a halt to the violence, the army’s withdrawal from municipal areas, the provision of humanitarian aid – in short, everything which will enable the start of a political transition in Syria and therefore the departure of Bashar al-Assad. The provisions of this plan must now be made binding.
Thirdly, we must go further in our dialogue with the international powers that are able to exercise influence. That is the purpose of our dialogue with Russia and our contacts with our main partners in the Security Council and in the region. It is also the purpose of our efforts to ensure that the opposition, whether it be external or internal, can meet the challenges facing it by uniting and offering a credible alternative.
We in France support the Contact Group idea proposed by Kofi Annan. We favour all initiatives leading to the implementation of this plan. What matters is to end the massacre and begin the transition. Finally, the fourth provision: we have now invited more than 140 countries and groups to meet at the Conference of Friends of the Syrian People on 6 July and we shall be increasing our contacts with the opposition. We must show the opposition that it is not alone. At the beginning of the week, I spoke to the new president of the Syrian National Council, Mr Sayda, expressing France’s support. I am also and will remain in contact, in the hours to come, with opposition members inside Syria, with whom we have never lost touch, even though they know that they are risking their lives by maintaining such contacts.
Ladies and gentlemen, we must encourage the opposition to structure, coordinate and organize itself in such a way as to constitute a legitimate force capable of laying the foundations of the post-Assad era.
In short, through my words this afternoon, it is clear that France intends to be in the vanguard of actions against Bashar al-Assad and against the crimes for which he will be held accountable.
CIVIL WAR/RUSSIAN WEAPONS
Q. – What’s your analysis of what’s happening in Syria today? Should we be talking of civil war or not? The regime says no; the representative at the UN, M. Ladsous, says yes; what’s your position? Which part of Syria is occupied by the regime and which by the opposition? And on arms sales, are the Russians continuing to sell weapons, as Mrs Clinton says, and in particular helicopters, which could obviously constitute a new threat to the opposition and further aggravate the situation?
THE MINISTER – On the question of civil war, we shouldn’t argue over vocabulary. When, under pressure from the regime, groups belonging to the same people are torn apart and kill each other, the risk is clear: you call that “civil war”, unless you don’t understand what’s going on. What’s needed – precisely in order to prevent civil war and its further intensification – is to ensure that Mr Bashar al-Assad steps down and to find the means for the opposition, opposition groups, to provide a controlled alternative solution with communities in peace. But it’s clear today that, with its trail of brutality, we’re looking at a civil war. The second question you asked, about arms sales, is extremely difficult. You all understand that if you supply weapons to the belligerents – and in our case, of course, the rebels – you maintain and exacerbate the conflict; if you don’t, there’s a risk and even a certainty that there’ll be massive, well-equipped forces on the regime’s side and defenceless people on the opposition side. I’d say the issue is a little out of date, anyway, because there are weapons deliveries on both sides. Regarding Russia, we have a series of official statements, of course, but our information – direct and indirect – confirms that there are weapons deliveries.
Q. – You’ve announced measures that still fit within the UN framework; however, they’ve so far been hindered by opposition, particularly from Russia and China. Do you have any evidence to suggest that things could move at UN level this time, or will we have to do without that stage at some point?
THE MINISTER – It’s true: until now Russia and China have blocked any action that could be decisive in the United Nations framework. What’s being envisaged by Kofi Annan, other partners and ourselves is having recourse to Chapter VII to make the provisions of the Annan plan binding, insofar as it makes it possible – which is crucial – to halt the fighting and move towards a political transition. We’re maintaining contacts to this end with our colleagues on the Security Council and particularly with Russia, who, as everyone knows, plays an important role in this matter. We think, we hope that as the Syrian tragedy unfortunately deteriorates, as Mr Bashar al-Assad shows he is only a prebendary leading a group of murderers, the Russians will be able to support our effort to use Chapter VII with a view to implementing the Annan plan. We’re working in this direction, and we hope this measure will come quickly.
Q. – You’ve mentioned Mr Annan’s initiative, but apparently you’ve ignored that of Russia, that of your counterpart, Mr Lavrov, who is in Tehran today. Do you still maintain the same position, refusing Iran’s participation in this international conference [on Syria, proposed by Russia], and if that’s the case, would France boycott such a meeting?
THE MINISTER – I’m not unaware of the initiatives of my colleague Sergei Lavrov, whom I met when the French President had a meeting [in Paris] with President Putin and who is a man with an admirable knowledge of the region and international problems. I, my colleague Hillary Clinton and others told him we were in favour of a Contact Group that would enable us to move forward and find solutions ahead of the Security Council stage, but we didn’t think Iran’s presence could help resolve this conflict. Not that Iran has no influence over Syria; unfortunately she does, of all kinds. But in other negotiations, between the P5+1 group and Iran, Iran is asking us to talk about the Syria issue rather than the Iranian nuclear issue. Instead of clarifying the situation, we’d be heading for a total mess, and we’d make no progress on either Syria or the nuclear weapons issue. Hillary Clinton, I, my British colleague and others are not in favour of this solution. On the other hand, we are in favour of the initiative taken by Kofi Annan, on which discussions are already under way with the Russians with a view to there being a Contact Group that could, if need be, convene at the end of the month at a very high level, which would enable progress on this point among Security Council powers and perhaps a few others.
Q. – Your American colleague, Hillary Clinton, said recently that Russia’s imminent delivery of attack helicopters to Syria would, I quote, “escalate the conflict quite dramatically” in Syria. Do you subcribe to this view? Why do you seem to be handling Russia with kid gloves with regard to these weapons deliveries to Syria? Your British colleague, William Hague, also replied to a parliamentary question that he was going to proceed with a revision of the agreements reached between British companies and Rosoboronexport. Do you intend to proceed with a similar revision of the agreements reached between French companies and Rosoboronexport, the Assad regime’s main supplier? THE MINISTER – No. We’re not handling anyone with kid gloves – neither the Russians nor anyone else: that expression can’t be used. If there are weapons deliveries that could fuel the tragedy taking place in Syria, we can clearly only be opposed to them. This position is also shared by most of the Security Council partners. As for us French, we’re always careful to ensure the weapons we sell can’t be used – directly or indirectly – in conflicts of this kind. If we became aware those weapons could be used, we’d react immediately.
Q. – On this possible United Nations resolution, do you think a no-fly zone is conceivable? And, secondly, today we’ve seen the Russians say the United States is arming the rebels; yesterday the United States was accusing the Russians of selling helicopters. It shows that diplomacy is breaking down somewhat between the West and Russia. How do you see this situation developing?
THE MINISTER – On the second point, i.e. the mutual accusations of arms sales, I expressed a point of view earlier: arms are being sold, directly or indirectly. France isn’t involved in these arms sales to Syria, either directly or indirectly. But we clearly understand – this is why we’ve got to move towards another solution – that neither alternative can lead to a diminution of the conflict. Even though arms are being delivered to the insurgent forces by a number of countries, they don’t match the might of the regime. The insurgent forces are getting killed on the spot, and the conflict is being fuelled. On that side of things, if there has to be a change, it can be decided at the Security Council, because the Security Council can decide on an arms embargo, from the provisions applicable under Chapter VII; this is one of the options available. As for your interpretation of diplomacy, I haven’t been a diplomat for long enough to express a view on this plan, but mutual accusations and the search for solutions are a certain kind of diplomacy...
PROPOSED NO-FLY ZONE
Q. – Even on the no-fly zone? THE MINISTER – That’s one of the options. We must take all useful steps to stop the massacres and, to finish, I come back to what I said at the start. This regime commits massacres but, horrifically, it’s now gone a step further – so to speak – by using children, sometimes eight or nine years old – you can imagine what that means – placed on both sides of lorries and buses, allowing Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers to enter towns to massacre the inhabitants. When a regime places children at windows to prevent shots being fired – because if you want to shoot the soldiers, you have to kill the children first –, when it places children in front of these buses, when it massacres them, when it tortures them, when these children are raped, then this regime doesn’t deserve to survive. Thank you./.