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Syria – Tunisia – Sahel/French hostages

Publié le February 19, 2013
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Al Arabiya (excerpts)
Paris, February 14, 2013

(...)

SYRIA

THE MINISTER – (...) Sadly, things aren’t making much progress on the ground. So we’ve got to step up the diplomatic pressure. There have been a few encouraging gestures. For example, you’ve seen the President of the [Syrian National] Coalition – who is a very brave man – saying that although there’s no question of talking to Bashar al-Assad, discussions are possible with a number of regime members (...).

Q. – (inaudible)

THE MINISTER – (...) You’ve also seen that the Russians agree on having a discussion with the Syrian National Coalition. So there are small steps forward, but this isn’t enough. We French – who want peace, who love Syria, who want that country again to become a truly free, independent country which respects its communities – we support the Syrian National Coalition. (...)

Q. – You’ve mentioned the extremists’ growing influence in Syria. Some analysts venture to say that France is fighting terrorism... but accepts the presence of some jihadists in the Syrian opposition. What’s your reaction to that analysis?

THE MINISTER – I think it’s wrong. In both cases, we’d like peace. We think that Muslims promote peace, but whenever we see terrorist groups or extremist groups, we can’t agree with them. In Syria, I’ve just told you that the right solution is to be found within the Syrian National Coalition. What happened in Mali? Most Malian people are Muslim, and narco-terrorist groups established themselves in the north. It was thought that these terrorist groups were going to be isolated. In the end, as you’ve seen, they formed alliances with each other and decided to march on Bamako.

Q. – Three months ago, you were talking about the possibility of providing weapons – defensive ones in particular – to the Syrian opposition; how far have things got with this possibility today?

THE MINISTER – As you know, these are decisions taken at European level. Europe decided – a few months ago now – on an arms embargo. A number of non-lethal weapons are being authorized, but that’s all. Obviously this very difficult issue is going to have to be looked at again. On the one hand, given that Mr Bashar al-Assad has planes and very powerful weaponry, he can obviously destroy resistance coming from the other side; the fight is one-sided. On the other hand, when you supply weapons – especially very large-calibre weapons – you’ve got to be very careful about whose hands they fall into. In Libya, for example, we saw how weapons had been supplied, but unfortunately in the end they can fall into the wrong hands, in Mali and elsewhere. The 27 EU countries are going to look into the matter again soon and will take a decision, which I don’t know as yet.

Q. – Are you worried about the weakening democratic and secular trends in Syria?

THE MINISTER – Admittedly, the longer the crisis lasts, the more violent are the clashes and the more the extremists risk gaining in importance. But the picture of tomorrow’s Syria we want isn’t that one. It’s one of a Syria which has rallied together, is peaceful and respects everyone’s rights. You’re going to tell me that’s fantasy! OK, but I think, I hope that today’s fantasies are tomorrow’s realities. (...)

FRENCH HOSTAGES/SAHEL

Q. – Are you in contact with the kidnappers of the French hostages in the Sahel?

THE MINISTER – No, we’ve no contact. We said there was no negotiation. We’ll obviously take any information we’re given. But we’re not entering into negotiations. (...)

TUNISIA

Q. – How do you view the political crisis in Tunisia? You’ve talked about obscurantism in that country. Could you...

THE MINISTER – I’ve always been very careful what I say. A foreign minister must always be diplomatic and the situation is complicated. There are Arab revolutions in various countries. I’ve always thought the revolutions would take time – you see this in the case of the French Revolution, which began in 1789 but took a long time to end. Moreover, revolutions are never linear. There are ups and downs, but I thought that in Tunisia – a country which isn’t too big, which has a high level of education, whose economy is quite solid and which has a tradition of women’s rights – things would perhaps happen more easily than elsewhere. I still hope so. Admittedly, at the time of your asking me these questions, there are tensions.

In relation to this, as Foreign Minister I’d say that it obviously isn’t for France to interfere in Tunisian politics in any way. It’s up to the Tunisians to decide what they want to do. At the same time, there can be no solution through violence; it’s dialogue, political dialogue which can bring about a solution. Of course, we’re lending economic support to all these countries, particularly Tunisia. It isn’t for us to interfere, but we would like rights to be respected: women’s rights, minority rights, the right to elect a new government. I won’t say any more. I’d like peaceful solutions to be found. Let’s not forget that the Arab Spring was originally a demand for dignity, fighting corruption, improving the economic situation, social justice – especially for young people. This is the demand the people are still making. It isn’t easy to satisfy, but it’s what has to be moved towards, without violence. (...)./.