Foreign Minister discusses CAR, Syria and Ukraine
Interview with M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, by France Info
Paris, 4 February 2014
Central African Republic
Q. – The French army has been deployed in the Central African Republic for two months, and yet the massacres are continuing. Is the French army overwhelmed?
MINISTER – No, certainly not. It was lucky the French army intervened, otherwise there would have been tens of thousands of deaths. It intervened as soon as the United Nations gave it authorization to do so.
We must act on three fronts:
On the security front, things aren’t yet resolved, but there are signs that things are calming down, and the African troops are getting up to speed. European troops are going to join us. So there’s a big job to do, but it’s being done.
There’s the humanitarian aspect, which is tragic, because out of 4.5 million inhabitants two million people are in a serious humanitarian situation.
And there’s also the preparation of the democratic transition. An election will have to be organized. There’s also been some good news: the new interim President, Ms Samba-Panza, is an absolutely outstanding woman. So we’re still looking at a very difficult situation, but fortunately the Africans, the French, the Europeans and the international community have been playing an active role.
Q. – Are 1,600 French soldiers enough in the Central African Republic today?
MINISTER – That’s the figure that has been set. The bulk, in terms of numbers, is made up by the African troops, and the bulk must rest with the African troops.
Q. – Let me rephrase the question to you: no additional French soldiers in the Central African Republic?
MINISTER – No, that’s not planned. However, there is the prospect of a peacekeeping operation being established. Probably from the summer onwards, the UN will take over. In the UN’s discussions, the figure of 10,000 soldiers in total has been mentioned. We’d go from 6,000 Africans, 1,600 French and a number of Europeans to 10,000. (...)
Q. – Syria, too, is always in the headlines. There are still massacres in Syria…
MINISTER – Sadly, yes.
Q. – Despite the talks on peace which are taking place in Switzerland, on the city of Aleppo only a few days ago; what use are these talks? Aren’t they talks for nothing?
MINISTER – Unfortunately, for the moment they aren’t leading to much, but everyone clearly understands that there’s no solution other than a political solution in Syria. For there to be a political solution, these talks must take place.
They have two aims. The first is humanitarian. We’re calling for the Bashar al-Assad government to make gestures for there to be ceasefires and humanitarian access; it is refusing for the time being and so we must increase the pressure.
The second aspect – and this is the main purpose of the Geneva conference – is to try and build a transitional government, with full executive powers, which will take over from Bashar al-Assad. We’re a long way from this.
Let me add a point which I believe hasn’t yet been highlighted, but which I’ve seen in the notes given to me: the Syrian government is putting a brake on the destruction of chemical weapons. In the notes I read yesterday, only 5% of the chemical weapons were coming out of Syria, whereas at the beginning of February we were supposed to have reached 100%. So the Bashar al-Assad government needs to honour the commitments it made on the destruction of chemical weapons.
Q. – And if it doesn’t honour its commitments?
MINISTER – In that case, it would go back to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Q. – Could an international strike, a US or French strike come back onto the agenda?
MINISTER – No, it isn’t envisaged, but as soon as a government – which has unfortunately accustomed us to a great deal of dodging – makes a commitment before the international community, it must keep its commitments.
Q. – Is that also a warning you’re issuing to the Syrian regime this morning?
MINISTER – Yes.
Q. – In Ukraine, the situation is still in deadlock. You’ve just met the opposition leaders, very recently. Those opposition leaders fear a military operation, the state of emergency and a violent crackdown. Do you, too?
MINISTER – There’s no solution through an escalation of repression; it’s absolutely unacceptable. So I met the opposition leaders in Munich, where I was at the weekend. I also met the Foreign Minister of Mr Yanukovych’s government. We’re pressing the case and acting to find a path to dialogue; there’s no other solution. Mrs Ashton is in Kiev, on behalf of Europe…
Q. – The representative of European diplomacy.
MINISTER – I’m meeting the different people. My American colleague is doing the same thing, and we’re trying to combine our efforts for the same goals.
You have to understand clearly that it’s not either Russia or Europe; that presentation is wrong. It’s up to the Ukrainians to choose. If they choose the Association Agreement with Europe, it will be positive for everyone, including Russia. Russia has interests in Ukraine, but if Ukraine could redevelop, it would be positive for everyone.
In any case, we’re totally opposed to the repressive activities taking place there.
Q. – It’s also about money, because Russia has put $15 billion in loans on the table. Is Europe going to get out its cheque book to attract Ukraine?
MINISTER – Europe has offered an Association Agreement, which of course includes financial elements. Additionally, a whole series of steps is being taken with the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It’s a whole process, but it’s a choice that isn’t simply economic. It’s up to Ukrainians to decide. If there’s no swift solution, there will have to be a vote at some time or other.
Q. – What financial resources is Europe prepared to put on the table to attract Ukraine today, as Russia is doing, once again?
MINISTER – Yes, but you can’t choose…
Q. – Is it a bidding game?
MINISTER – It mustn’t be that, and it mustn’t be a game of blackmail either. It’s up to Ukrainians to make up their minds. One of the big problems you must see is that you have the whole western part more focused, obviously, towards Europe, but you have a whole Russian-speaking part of Ukraine focused towards Russia. So things mustn’t be presented as a choice: you have to manage to reconcile it all./.