United Nations General Assembly/Kenya/Syria/Iran/Mali/CAR/climate – Press conference given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs New York, 23 September 2013
THE MINISTER – First of all I’d like to say a word about the Nairobi tragedy, which is on everyone’s minds. Of course I want to convey my heartfelt compassion and sympathy to the victims’ families and tell the Kenyan government and people that we’ll stand by them. I’ve just been on the phone to someone who today lost his wife and daughter in the tragedy. It was a terrifying ordeal. He himself was due to go to the shopping centre with his wife and daughter, and their plans changed at the last moment. I told him, personally and on behalf of the President and all our fellow citizens, how fully we support him. One can only imagine what such a tragedy is like and the really terrible circumstances.
UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Regarding the ministerial week at the United Nations General Assembly, this is a major diplomatic event and it explains my presence here in New York until the end of the week. Other ministers will be present throughout the week: M. Canfin, the Minister Delegate with me, who will be focusing on sustainable development and climate issues in particular, and Mme Benguigui, also Minister Delegate with me, who will be focusing on Francophony and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
All this is taking place in the framework of the United Nations Organization, the heart of multilateralism. We’re extremely committed to it. As you know, it’s a French tradition. We’re trying to do as much as possible to help United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the organization for which he’s responsible to fulfil their role.
And the visit by the French President tomorrow reflects this priority and our determination to ensure that the United Nations fully carries out its role as a pillar of global governance.
Specifically, what are we going to discuss this week? Three sets of subjects.
1) First of all, crises, and in particular Syria.
The Syria crisis is clearly on everyone’s minds. I’ll have the opportunity to discuss it during the many meetings I’ll be having with my counterparts (more than 20 of them, individual meetings). The subject will be central to the P5 ministers’ lunch we’ll be having with Mr Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday. We’re continuing to work for a binding resolution on chemical weapons. In order for it to be acceptable to France, the resolution will have to include three requirements. The first is that the text will have to specify that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a breach of international peace and security, which will mean the possibility of the Security Council taking up the issue at any time. The second is that the resolution will have to provide for measures under Chapter VII being taken in the event of Syria failing to comply with its commitments. This reflects the agreement reached in Geneva. The third requirement is for those who committed those acts to be held responsible in the courts. Those are the requirements that must be included in this resolution.
This week must also be a chance for us to move the political process forward; beyond the chemical issue alone, it must enable us to stop the massacres that are continuing in Syria. To this end, the international community must signal its support for the moderate opposition. That’s the purpose of the meeting we’re organizing on Thursday evening with representatives of the Syrian opposition, brought by the President of the Syrian National Coalition, Mr Ahmad al-Jarba. So that’s Syria, which will be central to many meetings and a lot of work we’ll have this week.
This week will also provide the opportunity for high-level contacts with the Iranian leaders. That’s something new. We’ve noted the positive statements by the new President Rouhani and his government: these meetings will provide the opportunity to gauge how genuine the words used are. During the meetings, we’ll discuss two issues in particular: the Syria crisis and the nuclear programme. One major event will be the meeting between the French President and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which will take place tomorrow. I’ll be accompanying the President at that meeting. I myself will later meet my Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif. A meeting of the E3+3 group will also be held on Thursday.
The French President will be arriving tomorrow, and in addition to President Rouhani he’ll meet the Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, Turkish President Gül, Japanese Prime Minister Abe and [Bolivian] President Morales. He’ll make a speech in the name of France.
We’ll also focus on other crises.
Closely linked as it is to the Syria crisis, the situation in Lebanon is a strong concern for us as close friends of Lebanon. In response to a suggestion by France, the UN Secretariat has proposed an international support group for Lebanon. Its launch meeting will be held on Wednesday. The group is structured around the P5, the EU and the Arab League, to galvanize our most concerned partners. We’re expecting commitments on the three subjects defined with the Lebanese authorities: assistance to the refugees and the host communities, support for the Lebanese armed forces, and economic and financial support for the Lebanese state. Let me remind you that 20% to 25% of Lebanon’s population is now of Syrian origin.
We’re also very concerned about the situation in Libya. It will be discussed at a ministerial meeting initiated by the United Kingdom and focusing on security issues. We’d like to increase our assistance, particularly in the field of training, border surveillance and supporting national dialogue with a view to including all sectors of the population in the political transition.
Africa will of course be a major focus of this General Assembly. We’re going to continue playing an active role and galvanizing the international community with a view to the stabilization of Mali. At the same time last year, France drew attention to the question of Mali, and in the wake of that attention, international resolutions were taken, followed by the French intervention, whose circumstances you know. And today, eight months later, we can see how extraordinarily positive the intervention and the international community’s action have been.
Regarding the Sahel and Mali, a private dinner will be held on Wednesday evening with the new Malian President, Mr Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, (we were in Bamako last Thursday for his investiture). On the UN Secretary-General’s initiative, a high-level meeting on the Sahel will be held on Thursday, with regional organizations and the World Bank taking part. We’d like to spur states, international organizations and financial organizations into action on three priorities: security, development and good governance. On Mali in particular, you know we’ve decided to make our aid exemplary, putting the emphasis on transparency and accountability.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Finally, a crisis which requires absolutely urgent and priority action: the Central African Republic. Along with the two people responsible for humanitarian issues from the European Union and the United Nations, I’ll be having a meeting to mobilize our partners on the humanitarian issues. This will show that progress must be made on the actual UN resolutions, because we must face up to an extremely serious humanitarian and security situation in the Central African Republic. We don’t want to let an already very serious situation degenerate, with a state that becomes a state in name only, leading to an extremely difficult situation in the whole region. Let me remind you that the CAR has borders with many countries that must be protected. We’d like to send the message that it’s imperative to strengthen MISCA, the African-led international mission.
You can see from this first set of observations made to you that France will be having a lot to deal with in terms of crises during the General Assembly week.
2) Secondly, the multilateral framework of the General Assembly must also be a chance to make progress on a number of global challenges.
As you remember, when the new government took office last year, we made the universal abolition of the death penalty a priority for our action. As last year, I’ll be chairing a ministerial meeting with a view to keeping up the international pressure on the issue. This year the meeting will be more particularly devoted to the role of regional organizations.
Moreover – and it’s another subject altogether, about which you’re going to hear more and more – France is now beginning to mobilize for the preparation of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. A conference is held every year. This year it will be in Warsaw, next year in Peru and in 2015 in Paris. Even though the conference is held every year – the so-called COP – the main decisions will be taken in Paris in 2015. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is publishing its report, which will show that unfortunately the deterioration in the climate is even greater than had been thought, that action must be even stronger, and that the upper target of two degrees that we set ourselves risks being not only exceeded but smashed. This means that the whole international community must be spurred into action to combat climate change. It so happens that the decisions will have to be taken in Paris in 2015. The Foreign Ministry, in liaison with Pascal Canfin and Philippe Martin, responsible for the environment, will be in charge of organizing the event, which will bring together more than 20,000 people. So it’s an extremely important and weighty conference to organize. But all this will have to be prepared, and before the 2015 Paris Climate Conference there will be two intermediate conferences, the first in Warsaw in November 2013 and then in Peru. We’re currently preparing this, and of course the United Nations General Assembly is the opportunity to make a whole series of contacts to enable the two intermediate conferences and Paris 2015 to be as successful as possible.
- Likewise, we’ll be having discussions on several issues linked to security. On the United States’ initiative, a meeting of the Global Counter-terrorism Forum will be held on Friday. I’ll also be taking part in a session of the Security Council on small and small-calibre weapons. A resolution will then be adopted supporting the fight against their spread worldwide – they cause between 300,000 and 500,000 deaths every year.
Finally, I’ll be having a meeting with Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the new Executive Director of UN Women. France plays an active role in defending women’s rights, particularly in crisis situations, and we’ll be reviewing all the priorities.
3) And, like last year, there will also be several events devoted to France’s influence in the United States.
This morning I visited a nursery and primary school in Brooklyn which has established a bilingual section that is proving extraordinarily successful. The school and the seal of approval we give these little schools worldwide – there are 30 – are emblematic of our policy of influence. We’re working with local establishments – this school is a public school in New York City – to develop French-speaking networks. So it’s an important aspect of our cultural policy.
On Friday, still in the cultural field, I’ll have the opportunity to lay the foundation stone of the French bookshop to be created in the French cultural centre in New York. New York didn’t have such a bookshop, and so we took the initiative, with the help of our American partners, of creating one. On the occasion I’ll be awarding the insignia of Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur to the famour writer Philip Roth.
In terms of economic diplomacy, which is my priority, on Friday and Saturday I’ll be inaugurating the “Taste of France” fair, a drive to promote French excellence in every field. Ambassador Delattre and I had the idea of it last year. Since then, thanks to him, things have flourished. We should be having 100,000 people in Bryant Park this year, which will make this the largest fair of its kind organized outside France to date. I’ll also be meeting the foreign trade advisors in the United States, who do an excellent job.
I’ll take the opportunity of being here to explain to the American public what France’s voice is (soon with NBC), and this afternoon I’ll be meeting the editorial board of the New York Times. Like last year, I’ll be Charlie Rose’s guest on PBS, and the day after tomorrow I’ll be delivering a lecture at Columbia University on the French vision of Europe’s future, which will be particularly interesting in the context of Mrs Merkel’s spectacular re-election in Germany.
Apart from all that – to fill in the gaps, which, as you can imagine, will be extremely long – there will be bilateral meetings that will enable me to meet or see again a number of my counterparts, particularly from the emerging countries. And on the basis of all that, I hope this week will be useful in trying to make progress on the world’s emergencies and major challenges. Over to you.
SYRIA Q. – You’re quite clear about your perception of a resolution on Syria: that there are three non-negotiable conditions. In view of the Russian position, which is “we don’t want Chapter VII”, is a resolution really possible?
THE MINISTER – I think so. The draft I proposed is an exact repetition of the agreement reached in Geneva between the Russians and the Americans, who expressly mention Chapter VII in the conditions I mentioned on the little paper I read out to you. So I think – of course all this must be discussed – that on the basis of the discussions that have already taken place we should be able to arrive at a positive solution. Moreover, since you’re talking about the Russians, it would be very hard to understand – given that they themselves proposed the chemical weapons ban – if they didn’t agree with the conditions enabling what they proposed to be implemented. So I think that on this basis, which is a reasonable basis, we must be able to agree.
MALI Q. – You talked about the stabilization of Mali. It would seem that jihadists are returning to the towns of southern Mali. They seem to be very intelligent: they’re shaving their beards, dressing in costume, blending in with the crowds and preparing retaliation inside those sleepy towns. What do you think about that?
THE MINISTER – That’s not the information we have. But you’re right, it’s necessary to be very vigilant. Let me emphasize the threat terrorist represents. It’s necessary to be vigilant in Mali, too, and that’s why, in addition to Minusma, which has a large number of forces, in addition to the Malian army, which has just received European training, we’ve decided, for our part, to leave a large number of forces on the ground. The President has specified the numbers. Today we have around 3,200 people; we’re going to downsize to 2,000 people until the second round of the elections takes place, which is due on 15 December. We should then be able to reduce our presence to 1,000 extremely well-trained soldiers who have the necessary resources to combat any possible resurgence. We also have other units in the subregion, obviously to combat any possible resumption of terrorism.
To sum up, we must remain vigilant. The work has been done and extremely well done, but we must be watchful.
Q. – On Iran, you say the meeting with the new President will provide the opportunity to gauge how genuine the words used are; what does this mean in practice? Does France have any demands?
THE MINISTER – In practice, the Iranian President was elected to express the people’s desire for some change – within the limitations of the Iranian system, of course, because only those whose candidatures had been approved could be candidates. But within the range of candidatures, I think all the experts believe President Rouhani’s election was perceived as [expressing] the people’s desire for some change.
President Rouhani, in his first measures or first speeches, then showed a certain willingness for change. You’ve no doubt noticed that it’s not the same tone as his predecessor and he’s made a few gestures. For example, in the nuclear field, which interests us, [at] the Foreign Ministry, which is itself in charge of talks, for example there was a choice between a number of officials who are more technicians or technocrats than officials known to have taken a very hard line.
All this, quite clearly, must be checked against reality. And so there was an exchange of letters between President Rouhani and President Hollande. I myself then had a meeting at the Foreign Ministry with the Iranian Ambassador. My Iranian colleague called me to discuss a number of problems and to show this development and [I wanted] also to try and judge how genuine it is. At the Iranians’ request, the French President agreed to have a meeting with his counterpart, which hadn’t been done for a very long time. So the two leaders are going to discuss a number of problems. I myself am going to do so with my counterpart, and on that basis we’ll see what we can do in practice.
Q. – Do you urge President Obama to do the same?
THE MINISTER – I have no advice to give President Obama.
Q. – Is there a partnership between France and the United States on this subject? Because if one believes this morning’s American press, the American side considers a meeting between the American and Iranian Presidents to be premature, precisely because, beyond the words, there haven’t been enough concrete deeds.
THE MINISTER – We’re not going to compare those factors. In addition, as you know, France is an independent nation. We’re very well aware of our American friends problems and choices. They’re aware of ours, and we’re working together in the 5+1 group. As you know, it’s extremely important to maintain this position. We have the five permanent members of the Security Council plus the Germans, and we have the Iranians opposite. It’s a group that’s been meeting for a long time; M. Audibert, who is there, is our representative. Meeting means the opportunity to talk but doesn’t mean we change position.
Q. – The Iranians have always wanted to link the Syria issue with the nuclear issue in the 5+1 talks, when they talk to you. And now you’re saying that you’re going to talk about the Syria issue and the nuclear issue with the Iranians…
THE MINISTER – While adding that neither of those two issues can be linked with the other.
Q. – Are you still afraid of blackmail by the Iranians on this nuclear issue?
THE MINISTER – We’ve said from the outset that there’s no question of it, that they’re two issues which absolutely can’t be linked.
Q. – There’s been great deal of pressure in Washington since yesterday evening regarding how the international community will respond to the situation in Kenya and to al-Shabaab. Are you aware of a possible American military intervention, or at any rate have you spoken to the Americans about a military intervention to combat al-Shabaab? And, as France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, what in your view would be the appropriate response to these terrorist acts?
THE MINISTER – As yet I haven’t spoken to my colleague John Kerry. We are due to meet this evening to discuss this issue, since I haven’t seen him since last week and we have a lot of issues to address together. And we will certainly also talk about what’s happening in Somalia and Kenya. For a number of years now, the international community has had a shared approach toward Somalia, as you know. And there have already been some extremely violent events and actions in, and targeted against, Kenya. How should we respond? We haven’t talked about it yet and we’ll go over this together. For now, it’s a matter of trying to ensure that this terrible attack is ended, an assessment is made of it and lessons are then learned. But at the moment I cannot go any further.
SYRIA/IRAN/RUSSIA/UN Q. – If peace negotiations on Syria take place – which is very hypothetical – will France still be opposed to Iran’s participation? And if not, why has this position changed?
THE MINISTER – We’re not at that stage yet. What we’ve always said is that in order to take part in these negotiations and discussions, the participants must agree on the purpose of the negotiations. That’s the first requirement. From that perspective, Geneva 2 has an extremely specific objective that was set out in Geneva 1. I’m very aware of this, since I helped to draft Geneva 1. So the goal of Geneva 2 is to establish, by mutual consent of both parties, a transitional government with full executive powers. That’s the goal of Geneva 2. It’s not a meeting where there’s just empty rhetoric about the Syrian situation. It’s the two parties, i.e. the representatives of the regime and the representatives of the opposition, the Syrian National Coalition, that will talk about this transitional government with full executive powers.
There may be a range of partners in this discussion, but the essential precondition is that those who want to be involved in the discussion must recognize its purpose. Until now, Iran – since that’s what you’re asking about – has not explicitly recognized this objective. There’s been a series of statements about it, but if Iran clearly states, through its highest authorities, “we confirm that we agree with the objective of Geneva 2” then that would be an interesting development. The second obvious point – and I’ve already responded to one of your colleagues to this effect – is that of course there’s absolutely no question, not even the slightest, of linking a discussion on Syria with a discussion about the civilian or military nuclear issue. These are two separate issues and there’s no question of linking the two. I repeat, this is what we’ve always said. If there’s now any development in the position of specific partners, then obviously we have to try to respond.
Q. – Do you think that the Syrian crisis has triggered Iran’s openness? Is there a link? If so, what is it?
THE MINISTER – What you’re calling Iran’s openness began with the election of President Rouhani, regarding a whole range of issues. I believe I’m not mistaken when I say that the sanctions that have been adopted are having a strong impact on the Iranian economy and that the Iranian people, and probably the government, would like to see a change. On the other hand, the government must realize that it’s in a situation of deadlock and that the negotiations that were initiated a very long time ago now are not achieving anything. And I also imagine that feeling completely isolated from the international community is something that takes a heavy toll. Against this background, there’s also the Syrian crisis. I’m not sure that it alone accounts for a particular development, but it also plays a role; it’s a combination of things. In any event, we believe – and this is why President Hollande has accepted the proposal for a meeting – that in this context discussions are warranted, but that discussions do not in any way rule out firmness.
Q. – The Russians have taken this diplomatic initiative – and Lavrov has repeatedly said so –, precisely because, at international level, the Russians are obsessed with preventing the use of force, in Syria and more generally. So why, if they’ve taken this diplomatic initiative, would they give way on the use of force?
THE MINISTER – I often meet my colleague, Mr Lavrov. On Syria, the main reason they give for the position they generally take is, “we don’t want chaos”. This is a statement that’s often repeated, and I often reply to my colleague Lavrov, “but, my dear Sergei, there’s chaos today, not tomorrow. And so we have to put an end to it.” If we want to avoid it, let’s take our reasoning further: on the one hand there’s Mr Bashar al-Assad who, as a result of his behaviour, actions and decisions, has caused a terrible tragedy, and on the other hand – and this is extremely troubling – there are the jihadist terrorists, with the growth of the al-Nusra Front, etc. If we want a political solution that prevents this chaos, since you have Mr Bashar al-Assad on the one hand and the terrorists on the other – that’s the definition of chaos – we must support the moderate opposition. That’s what we’re doing, that’s the reasoning behind the position that France adopted a long time ago, that’s why we’re allowing a meeting – Geneva II – to take place between the representatives of the regime and the moderate opposition, so that a transitional government can be established. That’s the explanation for what we’re doing.
That, especially, is the Russian obsession – no chaos. In that case, we say, we must find a mechanism that facilitates a transition. As for the question of force, I want to remind you of a few things, because time goes by so quickly that sometimes we forget. On 21 August, there was a massacre involving the use of chemical weapons. Chemical weapons have been banned for decades, but there was Bashar al-Assad’s government, using chemical weapons. So we French said – and the Americans and others were saying the same thing – that this is unacceptable, that we can’t allow it to happen again, we can’t allow Bashar to do it again or see others follow his example. And so we said that because these things did take place, we must prepare to respond and eliminate these chemical weapons. And that’s when the Russians made this proposal, which was obviously accepted by the Syrians. What I want to say, and this is my answer to your question, is that there wouldn’t have been this proposal, and thus no prospect of eliminating the chemical weapons, if France and others hadn’t stood very firm. I think that no one of good faith can deny this. If there was a shift, first by the Russians and then by the Syrians, it’s because of that firm stance.
Right now we’re at a somewhat different stage, since the Syrians have said they would agree to sign the agreement that up to now they hadn’t signed – and agreed to say they had chemical weapons stockpiles, which the previous week they had denied. So even though all options remain on the table, we are opting to pursue a negotiated solution, a legal solution. But without that firm stance, nothing would have been possible.
Q. – Will a resolution be signed this week, or is that impossible?
THE MINISTER – I think it will be possible. As far as France is concerned, based on the discussions that have already taken place, we think there are three requirements that must be met. First, it must be clear that the UN Security Council can take up this matter at any time. I don’t think this will pose a lot of problems, or at least I hope not. Second, it must stipulate, as the Geneva agreement between the Americans and the Russians already stipulates, that measures can be invoked under Chapter VII should Syria fail to abide by its commitments. And third, that those who committed those acts may be held criminally responsible. These are requirements that ultimately make sense, and I am hopeful that my colleagues will accept them.
Q. – Measures under Chapter VII. That’s not the whole resolution?
THE MINISTER – No, measures under Chapter VII. I believe we must reiterate exactly what was stipulated in Geneva.
Q. – Automatic or not?
THE MINISTER – If there’s a violation, those decisions will be taken at the Security Council, but under Chapter VII.
Q. – What measures, in particular?
THE MINISTER – Any enforceable measure.
Q. – Does “criminally responsible” mean crimes against humanity?
THE MINISTER – The terminology must be provided by those who are studying the case, but when crimes against humanity are involved, it’s the International Criminal Court [that has jurisdiction].
Q. – Will that be mentioned in the resolution?
THE MINISTER – What I hope will be mentioned at the very least is that those who committed those acts will be held criminally responsible.
Q. – Getting back to Kenya, have you been in touch with the families of the French victims in Nairobi?
THE MINISTER – Yes, I spoke to the husband, and I offered him my condolences and expressed my horror on behalf of all French people. Imagine the situation of that family. They arrive in the parking lot and the mum and her daughter are savagely killed. He himself, he told me, was supposed to accompany them, and then at the last minute he ended up doing something else. He said to me, “those people are inhuman”, and that’s the same feeling I have. It was a horrific act. Those are people with only one aim, to kill.
Q. – With regard to Iran, what do you expect from this meeting with the new President?
THE MINISTER – We’re going to talk. The Iranians are saying that their position is evolving and that they’re more open. So we’ll see if their words correspond to their actions, both on Syria, of course, and on a completely different and very serious issue: the military nuclear programme. Our position is very clear. The Iranians are welcome to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes, but getting the atomic bomb – no./.