NATO/foreign ministers’ meeting
THE MINISTER – (…) It’s six months since the Chicago summit in May and this ministerial meeting was aimed at taking stock of a number of advances made in implementing the decisions taken back then. At lunchtime, we began, in the presence of Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, by talking about relations between NATO and Russia. The discussion was interesting, because Russia is an important partner in the Alliance in many areas – for example, Afghanistan, the fight against piracy and the fight against terrorism. France’s position is to try and develop this partnership with the Alliance. In 2013, i.e. next year, we also hope to be able to make headway on anti-missile defence cooperation on new foundations.
We then talked about the situation in the Balkans, in the presence of Mrs Ashton, who was recently in the region, and for my part I highlighted the importance of the cooperation between NATO and the European Union.
Then – this was also one of the main points of our meeting – we talked about what’s happening in Syria and, more particularly, two aspects which various people spoke about. Firstly, our Turkish colleagues’ request for Patriot missiles, and everyone agreed they could have them, following the consultations held in the framework of NATO’s Article 4, and it was clearly noted and emphasized that this was for purely defensive purposes. Not for anything else. And there was a discussion, too, which allowed everyone to stress that the potential use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s regime was completely unacceptable.
I think this meeting was useful. (…)
Q. – On the chemical weapons, have you got any new information about the threats? Why are people talking about this again now when it hasn’t been mentioned for several weeks, indeed several months?
THE MINISTER – There have been indications – which aren’t confirmed – of possible activities linked to the manufacture of chemical weapons. As you know, the sites are subject to detailed observation. And so the day before yesterday there was information from this observation suggesting movement of that sort. This information hasn’t been totally confirmed, but this has all the same prompted a number of – particularly American – officials to reaffirm what had already been affirmed: that the potential use of these weapons is totally unacceptable.
France is taking an extremely firm stance – and I had the opportunity of speaking at the NATO Council to reaffirm this extremely firm stance – which, incidentally, everyone shared. Perhaps this should be linked to the fact – which I think is pretty much undisputed – that the forces of Bashar al-Assad’s regime are losing ground and, at the same time, there may be a risk that the regime, sensing it’s in great difficulty, might think about this possibility, which wouldn’t be acceptable. (…)
NORTH AFRICA/ARAB SPRING
Q. – This evening you’re going to discuss the situation in North Africa and the Middle East. In Tunisia today, for example, militants thought to be members of an Islamist party attacked the union headquarters in Tunis; in Egypt a serious trial of strength is going on between the multiform – let’s say liberal – opposition and the President. What message do France and the EU have about these emerging Islamist regimes?
THE MINISTER – The situations in Tunisia and Egypt are different. (…) We believe that behind what’s called the Arab Spring was a demand for dignity, a demand for democracy coming from young people, and not only from young people but from the people; and from this viewpoint France, who is strongly committed to the development of democracy, can only look on this favourably.
At the same time, we’re extremely clear. We’d like and we’re asking for human rights, the rights of men and women, to be strictly respected: that’s the basis of democracy. There must be no decision that can’t be changed if the people decide this. So we both support these movements – we support them at economic and political level – and are extremely vigilant about respect for the law. I had the opportunity to say so in Libya, where I went recently. I was in fact the first politician to be invited to address the whole Libyan Congress, where I set out our attitude not only with respect to Libya but to the whole Arab Spring. I said that insofar as it’s a question of a demand for dignity, a demand for democracy, it’s obviously supported, but – and there is a but – we’re extremely vigilant about respect for rights. And that’s true in the different countries concerned. The situations aren’t the same, the countries aren’t the same when you’re talking about Tunisia or Egypt or another country, but each time, we French support democratic movements and are very insistent on respect for the law.
Q. – Regarding Syria, Mr Lavrov has told us that the threat of chemical weapons being used is no doubt overestimated; at the same time, some of your colleagues have told us Russia could agree to the idea of a red line being crossed if there were convincing evidence of possible use.
THE MINISTER – That’s not new. I’m in regular contact with Sergei Lavrov and I know he’s already made public statements to that effect. Likewise, during our discussions on the subject he told me – and I think he’d willingly confirm it – that Russia could only condemn the possible use of chemical weapons, whatever the scenario. Moreover, we discussed the subject again at our meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, and he confirmed that this was indeed his view. (…)./.