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French Statements and Interviews on the Syria Crisis

Publié le June 4, 2013
Foreign Minister, Spokesman Address Chemical Weapons, Qusayr, Geneva II

Statements made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
Paris, June 14, 2013

Are you sure there are chemical weapons in Syria? To what extent is France supporting the Syrian rebels?

Not only are we sure that chemical weapons have been used –specifically, sarin nerve gas, used by the Syrian regime against the opposition – we were the first nation to announce it publicly last week, via the foreign minister.

We also noted that all of our information was made available to our closest partners and to the UN commission led by Mr. Sellström, established by the UN secretary-general in conjunction with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW].

What’s new are yesterday’s statements by U.S. officials. The Americans concur with us on three points:

- They are confirming the information that Laurent Fabius provided last week on the Syrian regime’s use of sarin. Both of our countries have scientifically proven that sarin was used repeatedly and on a small scale. The Americans say they conveyed this information to those conducting the OPCW probe, as we did.

- Early this week, the Americans announced that they, like us, will step up their non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, particularly to its military command.

- Third, they believe we must formulate a coordinated response based on this new evidence.

The question now is what are the new deadlines with respect to our support for the Syrian National Coalition:

- In the next few hours, we will be having several high-level discussions on this topic with the Americans. The foreign minister will speak with John Kerry this afternoon. Conversations will also take place between the heads of state and government on the sidelines of the G8 early next week.

- Our ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, is in Turkey today for meetings with Salim Idriss, the head of the Syrian National Coalition’s military structure. The purpose of these discussions, which bring together several nations who support the Syrian opposition, is to determine the needs of the Syrian rebels and what kind of response we can provide. We hope this response will be both collective and coordinated.

- Third, in the very near future, we will be providing a large amount of medical equipment and medicine to the Syrian National Coalition. And not for the first time. We have very close contacts with certain Syrian doctors’ organizations and especially with the Syrian National Coalition unit tasked with coordinating humanitarian aid.

Also – since you’re going to ask me about it anyway – attention is currently focused on the question of possible arms shipments. Let me remind you that for the time being, at least, the Americans are talking about non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. It is indeed a legitimate question that, for the moment, has not yet been resolved as far as we’re concerned. But there are other forms of aid that are equally important and that could be provided to the Syrian opposition – notably in terms of intelligence, training and help with operational planning. These are some of the subjects being discussed in Turkey.

The foreign minister is saying that France is bound by the European agreement to refrain from providing arms until August 1. He also said the balance of power needs to be reestablished on the ground. Isn’t there a contradiction there?

The European package of sanctions/the embargo legally lapsed on May 31. We renewed the sanctions against the regime and lifted the embargo on weapons to Syria. It was a legal decision to lift the embargo, not to deliver weapons. It was accompanied by a political agreement between all the EU ministers, who pledged not to supply weapons before August 1. The foreign ministers have decided to reassess the operational modalities for implementing the decision to lift the embargo by that date.

Reestablishing the balance of power – isn’t that a contradiction?

The fall of Qusayr actually introduces a whole new element, for two reasons: the strategic importance of that city, which has fallen into the hands of the regime; and the clarification of the role played by Iran, a true co-belligerent in this war, and Hezbollah, which seems to be providing support for the Syrian forces. This is radically new, not only with regard to events on the ground in Syria itself, but also because of its consequences for the region, and Lebanon first and foremost.

What the French have always said is that we must take into account the situation on the ground. The international community’s ultimate objective is to find a political solution to this crisis. That objective cannot be met if one of the parties is permanently and deeply weakened. In that case, there can’t be effective negotiations. This is all the more true in that following Qusayr, offensives are imminent in Aleppo and Homs. A city like Aleppo has more than two million inhabitants. If the same thing happens there that happened in Qusayr, we will see a massive flow of refugees to the Turkish border.

The idea that we must reestablish a balance of power is thus very directly linked to the viability of a political solution. How can we reestablish this balance? That is the question being raised today and which we must begin answering. There are three tracks we could act on:

- the humanitarian track, trying to ease the suffering of the Syrian people. That is why France is providing aid to doctors’ networks. It also explains our work with refugees in the countries neighboring Syria.

- the political track, in order to bolster the legitimacy of the Syrian National Coalition. There are a certain number of decisions it should take next week.

- the security-related or military track. We are already doing a certain number of things in this area. We will continue doing them, notably in terms of providing non-lethal equipment, encryption equipment and protective equipment – and also technical assistance, training Syrian fighters to use the very sophisticated equipment we are providing.

The White House noted the use of sarin and said that arms would be provided, without specifying that they would be non-lethal…

R – I invite you to address that question to U.S. officials and refer you to the terms of the official White House statement. […]

That said, the question of arms shipments – which is being raised in France and in Europe – is also being raised in the U.S. We Europeans are now capable of providing arms, unlike a few weeks ago. The question is whether this can be done effectively.

More generally, on this subject and on the topic of how to best help the Syrian National Coalition and its military component, the heads of state and government will discuss this topic in three days during meetings scheduled on the sidelines of the G8.

Has the idea of a no-fly zone become a possible option?

It is a recurring subject. Sometimes there’s a certain amount of confusion: talk of an air exclusion zone, a buffer zone, etc. These kinds of measures can be implemented only if they’re internationally authorized. A Security Council decision has to be adopted under chapter 7 of the UN Charter, because it’s a coercive measure.

But given the positions expressed by the permanent members with veto power, it seems highly unlikely that such a measure would be approved by the Security Council. Without a legal basis, the probability of such an option, at least in the short term, is very low. That could change. But at least two of the Security Council’s permanent members would have to change their positions.

You mentioned technical assistance. Has France already begun training Syrian fighters?

This is indeed a new element, introduced last February by the Foreign Affairs Council, which has made technical assistance possible, notably with respect to anything relating to the protection of the civilian population in Syria. We are therefore working on training programs that could be implemented in very different areas. When you deliver highly sophisticated medical or encryption devices, that delivery must be accompanied by training programs to ensure that the equipment can be used effectively. We are going to step up our programs once Mr. Idriss has spelled out what he needs in concrete terms.

[…]

[…] The OPCW itself has not taken samples on the ground. As long as it hasn’t done so, how can there be international certainty [about the use of chemical weapons].

That’s why it’s essential for that mission to finally travel [to Syria]. The evidence provided by the French and Americans obviously makes that need stronger. Up to now, we were in the situation of having to plead for the mission to do its work. We’ve now moved beyond that; we have evidence and we are asking them to confirm it. That’s fundamentally different. As Ban Ki-moon said, the mission must proceed “without delay, without conditions and without exceptions.” It must simply be allowed to do its job.

If you’re so sure of yourselves, has the “red line” been crossed?

The French have never used that term. But beyond the expression itself, what’s important is the international community’s response to what’s going on in Syria.

What consequences do you see?

There can only be one: stepping up aid to the Syrian resistance. That’s the very logical conclusion we arrived at a week ago and which the Americans are arriving at today. […]

We haven’t talked about Geneva 2. Don’t you think these latest developments might compromise that conference?

The whole world is focusing on Geneva 2. What’s important in Geneva 2, what we want to accomplish there, is a political process – the implementation of a political transition.
We’ve always said the only lasting solution to the Syrian crisis can be a political solution. No one here thinks that the fighting can be resolved simply through military means. The only possible solution is this political process.

It must be carried out under certain conditions, notably on the basis of the gains made at Geneva 1, so that we don’t begin again on a completely new or false footing. This political process must have a format that makes it possible to come to decisions at the end of the conference, not a format that we know from the start would prevent any decisions. It must respond to the legitimate expectations of the Syrian people. We sometimes tend to forget that what has changed between Geneva I and 2 is the presence of the parties at the table. If the parties aren’t there, the exercise has no meaning. A certain number of conditions must be met to enable each party to have a seat at the table. Finally, the situation on the ground must be conducive to negotiations, and not prevent them due to an imbalance of power.

But if you’re supplying arms to the opposition, it could further jeopardize Geneva 2…

One could say the exact opposite. It could help restore a balance of power that has become dangerously unbalanced, thereby fostering such negotiations

[…]

Has France ever tried to verify allegations of the use of chemical weapons by rebels?

Of course.

Without success?

We have no evidence that would allow us to draw the conclusions we’ve drawn about the regime with respect to the opposition. The same holds true for U.S. officials. Not only is there nothing to indicate that the opposition might have used such weapons, everything leads us to think that that isn’t the case.

So let’s allow the commission of inquiry to do its work in Syria to verify, on the ground, the accusations made by the regime against the opposition. And we will then see how true the regime’s accusations are. What we can say today, officially, affirmatively, and proven scientifically, is that the regime has used them against the opposition. To be even more specific, they have sprayed sarin by helicopter.


 

Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to France 2 (excerpts)
Paris, June 12, 2013

(…)

SYRIA/ARMING REBELS

Q. – So you were just talking about Syria. The rebels are losing ground; do they have to be armed? The Americans seem ready to do so.

THE MINISTER – Balance must be restored. Over the past few days, weeks, Bashar al-Assad’s troops, and above all, those of Hezbollah and the Iranians, with the Russian weapons, have recaptured a considerable amount of ground. We must be able to halt this progression before Aleppo – Hezbollah and the Iranians’ next target. It must be stopped because there won’t be any peace conference in Geneva without balance being restored on the ground; the opposition won’t agree to take part in it. And yet there must be a political solution.

So we must be able to halt Bashar al-Assad’s troops and move, if possible in July, towards a political conference; this is what we’re pushing for. The resistance soldiers must have weapons to be able to defend themselves. Bashar al-Assad has planes – over 500 – and powerful guns and has used chemical weapons in a shocking way. It’s not a question of arming the opposition for the sake of it, but balance must be restored.

Q. – So who is going to arm them? Europe, the United States, France?

THE MINISTER – Arms are being supplied by Arab countries. As you know, we’re complying with the European regulation that says powerful weapons can be delivered from 1 August onwards. For the moment we haven’t decided.

The Americans, in fact – I spoke to my colleague, Mr Kerry, yesterday – are currently examining their own position. I think there are different positions in the American administration. The Americans would have liked to keep out of all this, but the conflict is no longer local: it’s a regional and even international conflict. Jordan is affected, Turkey is affected, Lebanon is affected and Iraq is affected; in Syria it’s a disaster. It may have repercussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So nobody can say the Syria conflict doesn’t concern them.

WESTERN MILITARY INTERVENTION

Q. – Is a Western military intervention needed?

THE MINISTER – No, nobody is asking for troops to be put on the ground in Syria: that would be a disaster. But the resistance fighters must have the means to defend themselves. Moreover, let me add that this conflict is becoming a religious conflict between Shias and Sunnis. It’s a dreadful mess, with real threats to the whole region. Behind the Syrian regime, there’s clearly the Iran issue: will Iran be able to acquire a nuclear weapon next year, yes or no? France’s position is this: if we’re not capable of preventing Iran from taking control of Syria, what credibility will we have in demanding she doesn’t acquire a nuclear weapon? So it’s all linked. (…)./.

 

Statements made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
Paris, June 6, 2013

Syria - Qusayr

France utterly condemns the abuses committed by the regime, with Hezbollah’s support, during the attack against the city of Qusayr. Atrocities were committed. The perpetrators must be held accountable before the International Criminal Court.

In view of the tragedy that the Syrian people are experiencing in Qusayr, the Syrian regime must provide immediate access to the independent and impartial humanitarian organizations, in particular those of the UN, in order to provide relief to the populations, in accordance with the international conventions on human rights and humanitarian law.

Syria – Chemical weapons

With respect to the use of chemical weapons, an American official wanted further information from France. Have you provided the Americans with your information?

Mr. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, called his American counterpart, John Kerry, on Monday. He informed him that all the information we had would be sent to Washington.

The information has since been provided by the relevant departments as well as through diplomatic channels. We remain in constant and close contact with our American partners on this issue, as well as on all aspects of the Syrian crisis.

 

Reply by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to a question in the National Assembly
Paris, 5 June 2013

I announced yesterday that our country was now certain that sarin gas had been used in Syria. Given these crimes, we indeed had a duty to reveal the truth. The tests carried out by the Defence Ministry-approved laboratory are conclusive. Sarin was used in Jobar between 12 and 14 April and in Sarraqeb on 29 April.

The presence of sarin residue in blood and urine samples taken from six victims proves beyond doubt that they were exposed to this gas, which is 500 times more toxic than cyanide.

Is Bashar al-Assad’s regime behind these attacks? The answer is “yes”. The information we have on Sarraqeb allows us to link, with certainty, the victims’ poisoning to the low-level release by a regime helicopter on 29 April of small munitions giving off white smoke.

Without losing any time, yesterday we handed this information to the United Nations mission created to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. This very morning, the British government also confirmed that it had physiological evidence that sarin had been used. The UN mission must have immediate access to Syrian territory.

I said yesterday that all options were on the table, and we’re working with our partners on this. Our goal is peace. The urgent thing is for the Geneva negotiations to be able to get off the ground and lead to a political solution, so that the horrors in Syria cease.

In this tragic and complex situation, France’s attitude is consistent: truth about the facts, pressure on the regime, whose crimes must not remain unpunished, and determination to hold the Geneva 2 conference, which must produce results in the interests of the Syrian people./.

 

Excerpts from the daily press briefing by Philippe Lalliot, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesman
Paris, 5th June 2013

Syria – Chemical weapons

Following Laurent Fabius’s statement on the use of sarin gas in Syria, what does France expect of its partners? How do you explain Washington’s wait-and-see policy?

We’ve provided evidence of the use of sarin gas in Syria to the commission of inquiry tasked by the UN Secretary-General with shedding full light on these atrocities.

It is now urgent and essential that the Damascus regime grant the members of this commission of inquiry free access to the entire Syrian territory so that the whole truth behind these atrocities can be uncovered.

We will draw all the conclusions in cooperation with our partners, with whom we are in continuous contact. All options are on the table.

Syria - Qusayr

Will France request that the Red Cross be granted free access to the city of Qusayr in Syria? What can France do in humanitarian terms to help the injured? Will it suggest bringing these injured people to France as was the case during other conflicts?

Ensuring access to humanitarian assistance for the populations is essential. We call on the Damascus authorities to grant the international humanitarian organizations and the NGOs free access to their entire territory.

The UN Human Rights Council has just warned of the urgency of the situation in the city of Qusayr and the need for the Damascus authorities to allow access to humanitarian assistance.

Regarding your second question, France has provided, on a bilateral basis, more than €20 million in aid to the civilian populations in Syria and refugees in neighboring countries. We are lending support to several treatment center projects in Syria in partnership with networks of doctors and notably with the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations. This aid involves, first and foremost, financial support for establishing and operating these centers as well as for paying the salaries of doctors who are taking huge risks in order to provide care. It also involves the delivery of medicines and medical products.

Syria - Geneva II conference

Do you think that a list of participants will be provided following the tripartite meeting to prepare for the Geneva II conference on Wednesday?

With respect to Laurent Fabius’s statements on chemical weapons, is there a possibility that the matter will be referred to the Security Council? On what terms and when?

Lastly, do you know what kind of evidence the Obama administration is waiting for in order to be able blame one side or the other for using sarin gas?

Today’s meeting, which is taking place at the technical level, is dedicated to preparing for the Geneva II conference. It’s up to the authorities organizing this meeting to report on its outcome.

The possibility of a referral to the UN Security Council is one of the options under consideration. As Mr. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, reaffirmed yesterday, “all options are on the table.” We’re working in close cooperation with our partners on this issue.

Lastly, with respect to your last point, I urge you to put your questions to the American authorities.

 

Statement by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Paris, June 4, 2013

This morning I had a meeting, on my initiative, with Professor Åke Sellström, head of the investigation mission set up by the United Nations Secretary-General and tasked with establishing the facts about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

On France’s behalf, I handed him the results of the analyses carried out by our laboratory, chosen by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to identify military toxins.

These analyses demonstrate the presence of sarin gas in the samples in our possession. In view of this evidence, France is now certain that sarin gas has been used in Syria several times and in a localized manner.

We decided to inform the relevant UN mission of the evidence in our possession, immediately and publicly. It would be intolerable for those guilty of these crimes to enjoy impunity./.

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