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Publié le March 18, 2013
Press conference given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at the European Council (excerpts)
Brussels, March 15, 2013


Q. – On Syria, two questions. In your speech, as in that of the Foreign Minister, there’s a certain sense of urgency. Do you want to get your European partners to lift the embargo before the 31 May expiry date? Do you have any indications about an acceleration of arms supplies to Bashar al-Assad and the origin of those supplies?

THE PRESIDENT – On the first point, yes, if it’s possible to persuade our European partners before the end of May, that will be preferable. If not, we’ll wait till the end of May. But people’s minds are already changing. On the weapons supplies being made to Bashar al-Assad, we have enough evidence to believe there is indeed one-sidedness. On the one hand, a regime is receiving weapons despite a number of sanctions having been imposed; on the other, an opposition – which we regard as legitimate – is subject to the rules of the embargo.

Those choices were understandable at a time when we were all seeking the political transition and a solution to this bloody conflict through negotiation. As you know, I’ve discussed it with President Putin. He isn’t unreceptive to a political solution – far from it – but that’s challenged by Bashar al-Assad. The day after my visit to Moscow, Bashar al-Assad said he was ready to organize a presidential election in 2014 and stand in it. Well, that’s no way out of the crisis! Not even a way out for Bashar al-Assad!

So for the moment, despite all the pressure, we must consider the political solutions to have failed – which is regrettable. But with military pressure, those solutions may regain some substance. We’re therefore not ruling out a political solution, while calling and campaigning for the embargo to be lifted. We may even make it even more credible. We can’t tolerate an opposition – which we regard as legitimate, which is now organized and structured and which is ensuring the most fundamentalist tendencies can be sidelined – being left without any support.

We’ve provided support to the opposition, political support for a long time – I’ve recalled that France was the first country to recognize this opposition as Syria’s legitimate representative. We’ve even opened an embassy for its representative. Likewise, we’ve provided material assistance – I’ve spoken particularly about “non-lethal” assistance; we’ve provided humanitarian assistance – from last summer onwards, in Jordan; we’ve ensured we also support the opposition financially – we’ve organized a donors’ conference.

But now, at a time when the opposition has gained a number of positions and liberated fragments of territory, we have the responsibility to take a decision. I hope – and I’ve been asked about this – that it will be European. I haven’t given up trying to persuade our partners – far from it! We can do so before May – that was your question: at the end of May at the latest. But we’re preparing to grant the [Syrian National] Coalition the resources it’s asking for. (…)

Q. – If France and the UK didn’t manage to persuade the European partners to lift the embargo before the end of May or indeed afterwards, would those two countries shoulder their responsibility to possibly supply weapons directly?

THE PRESIDENT – I think our goal, that of the UK and France, is to persuade our partners at the end of May and, if possible, earlier. So we’re going to use our sense of diplomacy and our arguments to highlight the reality of the tragic Syria situation in order to move all our European partners towards that solution. If by any chance there were any obstacles, let’s imagine from one or two countries – I’m aware of a number of reservations – then France – and I can’t commit myself on behalf of countries other than France – would shoulder her responsibilities. (…)

Q. – (...) At the end of the day, all the conditions you were talking about earlier – the chemical weapons, the one-sidedness, the fact that the Syrian regime is receiving weapons – have already existed for weeks, even months, years. I still haven’t understood what’s brought about the shift in France’s position; no country has made a political issue out of this. Why has the timetable been speeded up? What’s the urgency?

THE PRESIDENT – First of all, just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. We’ve taken another decision clearly because we believe that progress hasn’t been made today on the political positions we’ve pursued, and because I got every guarantee from the National Coalition about the deliveries of materiel and it being sent to the right places. Finally, because I think there comes a point when we can’t dither any longer. It has of course lasted for months. The number of victims is rising week by week. The Syrian regime is now using increasingly terrible weapons. So we’ve got to persuade our partners to lift the embargo; the date is 31 May. We can go faster if we manage to get a consensus. I think there’s been a development. But there comes a point when, once the guarantees have been obtained and the political solutions haven’t been grasped, responsibility has to be taken. It’s a serious decision; we’re not alone in taking it. The United Kingdom has the same policy as us, but I think we’re duty-bound. Thank you./.