Q. – France’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Gérard Araud, has accused the Security Council of being “morally responsible for the Syrian people’s suffering”. I remind you that the crackdown has claimed more than 5,000 lives. (…)
First question: France is on the Security Council; who were you thinking of when you made that statement?
M. ARAUD – Hello. We – France and the United Kingdom – have already been trying since March to get a resolution passed at the Security Council condemning the Syrian regime and imposing sanctions. We’ve come up against vetoes by Russia and China. So I was talking about those two countries, which are continuing to oppose the Security Council’s intervention, but I’ve also talked about the indifference of a number of countries who – although they are democracies – abstain or remain extremely discreet, like Brazil, South Africa and India.
Q. – Are you explicitly putting pressure on those countries to change their minds?
M. ARAUD – Putting pressure is perhaps a bit strong. We’re simply asking them to change their minds: yesterday we had the report from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who came to the Council at France’s request, and she described to us the really terrible situation of what’s happening in Syria. There really is systematic torture, rape; hundreds of children have been killed; Syrian snipers have received instructions to shoot to kill innocent demonstrators. It’s not simply a humanitarian crisis. In addition to the Syrians’ suffering, there’s the risk of civil war, the risk of the country plunging into civil war and the whole region flaring up. We must have a political solution and we must put pressure on the Assad regime.
Q. – If the political solution doesn’t work, must we help the Free Syrian Army? Must we, for example – without it being too visible, but effectively nevertheless – give weapons to this army so it can overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime?
M. ARAUD – No, we must do everything to avoid the country flaring up. We know that as a result of the religious divisions – which the regime has also deliberately exploited – there’s a potential for violence that is very dangerous. We must find a political solution, and so we must support the Arab League’s efforts. As you know, the Arab League has asked the regime to accept observers and withdraw the army from the towns. That’s our main effort.
Q. – You, like us, heard Bashar al-Assad’s interview, given to the American media. Do you believe him when he says he’s not directly responsible for the orders given to fire on the population?
M. ARAUD – No, I don’t believe him. Syria is a dictatorship; it’s clear that the orders come from the top. Furthermore, the High Commissioner for Human Rights clearly said how the human rights violations are systematic, the torture, the rape are systematic; all this proves that the orders come from the top.
Q. – When the diplomatic solution doesn’t work, aren’t certain powers who uphold democracy duty-bound to act on their own initiative – outside the UN framework, in other words – and therefore directly help a population who are trying to free themselves from a dictatorship?
M. ARAUD – You know, we’ve already started doing so: the European Union has imposed sanctions against Syria, extremely tough sanctions. For example, in the EU we no longer buy Syrian oil, and that’s having very severe consequences on the Syrian economy. Likewise, we’ve imposed sanctions on a number of the regime’s leaders. With our colleagues, our EU friends, we’ve already started doing it.
Q. – But to go further, are neither you nor the Americans thinking about more unilateral action?
M. ARAUD – For the time being, the issue is the action of the Arab League. The Arab League is really taking a very vigorous line by imposing sanctions too, by making practical proposals, and I think that’s what we must do: support the Arab League. You know, each country’s situation is specific. There was Libya – because I know you’re thinking about Libya; Syria is entirely different. No one’s thinking about a military solution; the dangers of it would be huge for the entire region.
Q. – So no military solution; but are you envisaging economic sanctions against Syria?
M. ARAUD – They’re already in place, as I’ve just said: the European Union has already imposed unilateral sanctions against Syria, the Arab League has done the same, and if the Arab League asks us to, I think we should return to the Security Council to make those sanctions, in a way, universal. But the Arab League must still ask us to, and we must still succeed in persuading our other Security Council partners to overcome their inaction./.