General Affairs Council/Foreign Affairs Council
Brussels, May 23, 2011
LIBYA/TRANSITIONAL NATIONAL COUNCIL
THE MINISTER – We had a very good morning and, I think, worked well.
On Libya, there’s genuinely solid agreement between us to continue strengthening the Transitional National Council. (…)
I explained that our strategy consisted in stepping up military pressure over the next few weeks and, at the same time, moving forward on the path towards a political solution, precisely by strengthening the Transitional National Council and also by not overlooking any possibility of contact with those in Tripoli who have clearly understood that Gaddafi no longer has a role to play in Libyan political life. (…)
Second important point: Syria. As you know, there was some hesitation in the preceding weeks and days about whether or not Bashar al-Assad should be included on the list of people who’ve had sanctions imposed on them by the European Union. Well, this point is now settled: his name has been added to the list of people subject to a visa ban and having assets frozen.
MIDDLE EAST/US/INTER-PALESTINIAN RECONCILIATION
Another important issue discussed was the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Here again is an example of all the partners having a solid, common position. First of all, we welcomed the fact that President Obama has, in a way, come round to the European Union’s way of thinking by recalling that the parameters of any negotiation include acceptance of the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. For my part, I said that the Americans wouldn’t settle the issue alone and that it was therefore absolutely essential for the European Union to make its voice heard loud and clear. (…)
Finally, I said – I think here we can say there is very much a consensus in the European Union on the idea that we’ve got to keep a close eye on inter-Palestinian reconciliation – that we can’t brush aside the agreement concluded in Cairo and that we have to get it clarified. What does that mean? Quite obviously, a clear statement that Mahmoud Abbas will be responsible not only for leading the negotiation but also doing everything to get Hamas to change. We continue to say that dialogue with Hamas is possible only if it has met the conditions set for it by the Quartet, which you know: renunciation of terrorism, recognition of Israel and recognition of the peace agreements already concluded. (…)
As you’ve seen with the first point, we decided to add to the sanctions against Iran, who is showing the same unwillingness, because there’s been no change on her part, despite the letter sent to Mrs Ashton since the failure of the Istanbul meeting. So we’re maintaining a very firm position on this.
EUROPEAN EXTERNAL ACTION SERVICE
Finally, over lunch, Mrs Ashton was keen for us to have as frank an explanation as possible on the running of the European External Action Service and on the way she herself is conducting the European Union’s foreign policy. She explained to us the constraints she has to manage, which are genuine. We all agreed that things were satisfactorily falling into place and that there were some initial results: the United Nations General Assembly’s recognition of the European Union’s [enhanced] status, Mrs Ashton’s visit to Bosnia a few days ago, which made it possible to avoid things deteriorating over there, encouragement for the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, the definition of a European Union strategy in the Sahel, the visit to Benghazi and opening of the European Union office at the Transitional National Council. In short, a series of initiatives has been taken which are moving in the right direction. (…)
Q. – On Libya, you said that the military pressure had to be increased. In concrete terms, is France really going to use attack helicopters in Libya? How have our partners and main allies responded to the question posed by France, since NATO has been in charge of the planning for several weeks now?
THE MINISTER – We’re squarely in the framework of the Security Council resolutions and NATO’s planning. What we want is to adapt our ground strike capabilities with resources allowing more precise strikes; this is the purpose of bringing the helicopters into use, which the press explained this morning.
Q. – And the allies?
THE MINISTER – There were no problems, but check with M. Longuet how it’s going. (…)
Q. – The British had, I believe, planned an embargo of the ports?
THE MINISTER – Yes, they were talking about it earlier – it’s a proposal we support.
Q. – On the Middle East, does accepting our responsibilities in September mean recognizing a Palestinian State if necessary? Don’t you think it might spark a kind of…
THE MINISTER – Accepting our responsibilities is an expression which, for the time being, has the advantage of being open. I think it’s very important; something must happen; that’s the message we want to send – to both sides, moreover, both the protagonists. A failure to resume the negotiations would, I repeat, lead us to re-examine the situation when the time comes. (…)
Q. – Apart from Cyprus, are there any other countries that have decided to recognize the Palestinian State?
THE MINISTER – Nobody’s made that declaration to date.
Q. – Have any countries said they won’t recognize it on principle, like Germany?
THE MINISTER – Not to date.
SYRIA/UN RESOLUTION/EU SANCTIONS
Q. – On Syria, are we going to leave it at that, and will these sanctions have any effect?
THE MINISTER – It’s true: you say “are we going to leave it at that?” and I know there’s always the question of double standards, of different criteria. We must look at the international context in which things are taking place. On Syria we’re as clear, as determined as on Libya. We’ve unequivocally condemned the use of force – it’s been getting constantly worse, moreover – against the civilian population. So there are no different criteria on this: it’s exactly the same position.
So why aren’t things making more progress? Well, firstly because there’s never been any question of a carbon copy in Syria of an intervention in Libya; the political, geographical and geostrategic situations are different. Even if several hundred people have died in Syria, the context isn’t the one we experienced at the time of the attack on Benghazi. And, above all, we’re currently in deadlock at the Security Council. On Libya we managed to overcome the deadlock because the Arab countries supported us; let me remind you that UNSCR 1973 was presented by Lebanon along with France. This time the Arab countries don’t support us. Secondly, we don’t currently have the nine-vote majority at the Security Council, even for a resolution that would be purely declaratory. Finally, the threat of a Russian veto is extremely high. That’s why we’re not making more progress on international condemnation and the imposition of sanctions. It’s not for lack of determination by France and other partners – the British in particular, because we’re working together on this draft resolution – it’s because the international context isn’t the same. Can it change? We can talk about it at the G8, of course; President Sarkozy will talk to President Medvedev about it. We’re continuing our efforts, and that’s where we are today.
Q. – On Syria, do you envisage stepping up the [EU] sanctions further?
THE MINISTER – Yes, we’ve lengthened the list; you’ve seen it; we’re ready, if necessary, to go further with the sanctions. You say the sanctions aren’t effective; that’s rather like the argument I put forward myself to our German friends on Libya. Again, I didn’t say they weren’t effective: I said they were effective in the long run. A military intervention, a no-fly zone over Benghazi is effective immediately: we saw it clearly within the hour. Sanctions take weeks, sometimes months, but they’re effective, and that can change the different players’ behaviour, which is why we’re going to add to them and continue them.
Q. – On Libya, a month ago, on the sidelines of the NATO summit, there was that discussion about Moussa Koussa, who was, shall we say, “cleared”, and you said at the time we must distinguish between politics and morality; we have goals, namely for Gaddafi’s entourage to change sides. A month later, we don’t see anything happening .
THE MINISTER – That’s because you can’t see properly: there are defections every day, messages from Tripoli telling us that many people in Tripoli are ready to leave Gaddafi, and there are lots of them. That’s also one of our problems: there are so many of them that we’re trying to keep track of them, to see which ones are really credible, and things are moving forward from that point of view. (…)
Q. – On Syria, it’s said we haven’t got the nine votes; how many have we currently got? Is France’s strategy to obtain the nine votes and then, once we’ve got those nine votes, to tell the Chinese and Russians the balance of power has changed?
THE MINISTER – We’re currently talking to our partners about it, because there’s no absolute agreement at the moment. Must we get a resolution passed at all costs that can gain nine votes, even if it’s a bit toned down and open to a Russian veto? That’s one position. Or must we stick to a tougher resolution, leaving ourselves time to gather nine or indeed more votes and, if necessary, after these very G8 talks, reduce the risk of a Russian veto?
Q. – Those two votes are from inside the European Union, right?
THE MINISTER – Yes, yes, of course – at least, from inside the Security Council.
Q. – But the debate about getting it passed at all costs or…
THE MINISTER – OK, let’s be clear about it: the British are currently more active on presenting a draft resolution, whereas we’re more inclined to say “give us a few days before going ahead, because going ahead with nine votes… Is the risk of a veto productive or counterproductive?” It’s difficult. Now, it could be said that it rams the point home; it could also be said it may be interpreted as a kind of victory for Bashar al-Assad. So that’s where we’re going to make adjustments in the coming week in New York.
Q. – On Croatia and the timetable [for EU membership], are you in favour of the negotiations ending under the Hungarian presidency?
THE MINISTER – We think they can be completed; we’re not fixing any deadline; we must ensure all the criteria are properly met. (…)
EUROPEAN EXTERNAL ACTION SERVICE
Q. – On the [EU] diplomatic service, what’s the result of the discussion? In practical terms, have you agreed to discuss this regularly?
THE MINISTER – Yes, we’ll talk about it, of course, but the general tone was to say that we understand Mrs Ashton’s constraints, that we’re ready to help her, and we can help her first of all by providing a better framework for the operation of the service and of our respective ministries, in both directions. We doubtless have to make an effort to send more information, and the service has to make a reciprocal effort. (…)
For my part, I stressed the need for greater reactivity. I even gave Mrs Ashton some risky advice by saying: “don’t always wait for the 27 [EU Member States] to be in absolute agreement before speaking out about things”. It’s clear you must sometimes speak out without delay, for example to condemn massacres, because it is indeed a question of massacres in that Syrian city. That can be done straight away.
LIBYA/MILITARY STRATEGY/POLITICAL SOLUTION
Q. – Is France going to deploy attack helicopters in Libya? What’s the goal being pursued? Is this a change of strategy?
THE MINISTER – There’s no change of strategy: we’re still strictly applying the Security Council resolutions, which provide for using the necessary resources to protect the population. Protecting the population isn’t simply neutralizing Gaddafi’s armoured vehicles and planes, it’s also weakening his military capabilities, command posts and supply networks, and it’s in that spirit that we’ve put in place this mechanism that will enable us to carry out more targeted strikes, closer to the reality on the ground.
Q. – There are 450 men on board this ship [French amphibious landing ship “Tonnerre”]. Will there be French forces on the ground, in one way or another?
THE MINISTER – The answer is no: we’re very clear about that.
Q. – Are you supported by your European partners in this operation?
THE MINISTER – There was no problem here today; we’re going to discuss it shortly, I think, at the North Atlantic Council.
Q. – Does the intervention of these helicopters come in the framework of UNSCR 1973?
THE MINISTER – Absolutely, it’s what I’ve just told you: UNSCR 1973 provides for our using all means to protect the population, and to that end we must obviously break Gaddafi’s military forces and attack his troops’ command posts, infrastructures and supply networks.
Q. – But why? The planes are already there; isn’t that enough?
THE MINISTER – Because planes fly very high.
Q. – So?
THE MINISTER – Helicopters fly lower, so it’s a bit easier to strike the targets I’ve just mentioned, which, I must stress, are military targets.
Q. – Are you satisfied overall with how the situation on the ground is evolving?
THE MINISTER – The stranglehold on Misrata has been broken, the Transitional National Council is organizing itself, points have been scored on the ground and, above all, there’s progress on its political recognition. (…)
The political solution involves first of all a ceasefire – that is, one that respects the conditions set by the United Nations: Gaddafi’s troops returning to barracks, monitoring of the ceasefire by the forces, international supervision and then political dialogue. (…)./.