Our firm stance on Syria has paid off - Laurent Fabius

Syria/statements by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at his joint press conference with his American and British counterparts

Paris, 16 September 2013

THE MINISTER – This morning, President Hollande had a meeting with me, John Kerry and William Hague to discuss the situation in Syria and the decisions to be taken in the next few days.

Following this meeting at the Elysée Palace I had an initial working meeting together with my two colleagues. After this press conference we will receive our colleague, Mr Davutoğlu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, to review what needs to be done with him too.

This meeting has two goals. Firstly, to prepare for the swift and effective implementation of the agreement reached in Geneva on the elimination of chemical weapons. Secondly, to work toward relaunching the political process which is the only possible way to put an end to the tragedy that Syria has been facing for two and a half years now.

The Geneva agreement is, as I’ve had an opportunity to say, a major step forward. Our position has been clear and constant since the chemical massacre on 21 August; I summed it up when I said “punishment and deterrence”.

Our firm stance, which is shared by the countries represented here, has paid off. The Syrian regime had no other choice than to agree to eliminate its chemical weapons; I want to remind you that the regime was denying the existence of these weapons just a few days ago and that their use on 21 August will undoubtedly be confirmed by the UN inspectors’ report this afternoon.

The important thing now is that this agreement be swiftly implemented in order to eliminate once and for all the chemical threat posed by the Syrian regime on/to its own people and on/to its neighbours. We want to see concrete and verifiable action as swiftly as possible, while keeping in mind that all options must remain on the table if the declarations are not acted upon on the ground. That’s why the group known as the P3, i.e. the United States, Britain and France, wants to obtain a strong resolution from the UN Security Council in the next few days. A resolution to support the chemical disarmament plan that will have the full authority of the Security Council. A resolution that will of course provide for serious consequences if it’s not applied, and lastly a resolution that will clearly reaffirm that those responsible for the crimes must be held accountable.

We are working on this and we will work on it over the next few days in New York in order to achieve a joint P3 resolution and then a resolution that can be adopted by the entire UN Security Council.

Ladies and gentlemen, the chemical aspect is obviously only one especially heinous aspect of the Syrian tragedy. It’s only one means among all the others that the regime is using to violently repress its people. The fighting, unfortunately, is continuing and with it the terrible suffering of the Syrian people. As we know, there can be no military solution to this conflict; there must be a political solution.

A year and a half ago in Geneva, we managed to adopt a few clear principles in order to coordinate the political transition in Syria, in particular – these were the words that were used – the transfer of all executive powers, including the control of the army and the security forces, to a transitional authority. But the Damascus regime has for the moment chosen not to follow through on this, preferring, according to Mr Bashar al-Assad’s words, to “liquidate the opposition”.

We must make the regime understand that the only option is the negotiating table. We will renew our joint efforts over the next few weeks and even days in order to develop a political solution in consultation with all the countries that subscribe to the principles agreed upon in Geneva.

We know that in order to negotiate a political solution, we need a strong opposition. We therefore also intend to strengthen our support for the Syrian National Coalition, and with this in mind a major international meeting will be held in New York at the UN General Assembly, focusing on the Syrian National Coalition.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the steps and decisions we’ve taken. Before I hand over to my two colleagues and friends I want to stress that it’s critical that the three countries represented here are united right now, as in the past and in the future. (…)

Q. – It seems the Russian President, Mr Putin, and Mr Lavrov, his Foreign Minister, are already reluctant to use force if Bashar al-Assad doesn’t abide by the agreement. So aren’t we already on the path to a Russian and Chinese veto in the UN Security Council?

THE MINISTER – We’ve already explained the conditions under which everything must be done. An agreement was reached in Geneva, which is a very important step, and we must thank and congratulate John Kerry for his work with Sergei Lavrov.

Now this must translate into a Security Council resolution. We’ve begun working on it. This evening, the UN inspectors will present a report that will provide a series of details on the chemical massacre of 21 August, and in the hours and days to come, working first in the P3 format and then with our other colleagues, we will propose a resolution.

This resolution will incorporate the elements of the Geneva agreement and enshrine them in international law. As stated in Geneva, moreover, the resolution will define what will happen if the Syrians don’t abide by their commitments.

All resolutions must translate concretely into reality and include sanctions. That is the mindset in which we are working.

Q. – To dismantle the chemical weapons in Syria, don’t you have short-term objectives that are in fact detrimental to the long-term objective of having President Assad leave power? And won’t the fact that Syria’s chemical weapons are to be eliminated by mid-2014 – an ambitious timetable – give rise to criticism of the Assad government’s cooperation in the months to come? And how are you going to protect against the scenario we saw in Iraq in the ’90s, when there were years of extended talks, allegations of cheating, delaying tactics and deliberations about what should be done? How are you going to prevent this from dragging on over a very long period? (…)

THE MINISTER – There is no contradiction between these two elements: military action and the management of chemical weapons, and what you are referring to as this strategic outlook. On the contrary, it’s not incompatible. It’s the same process.

First, if Bashar has changed his attitude, changed his position, it is precisely because we were all so firm. His position will be weakened by the fact that he can’t keep his chemical weapons, because without chemical weapons, which he will no longer be able to use against his own people or his neighbours, he will be weakened.

He must understand that a military victory is not possible for him. The regime must come to the negotiating table. He must understand there is no military solution for him, only a political solution. That’s why this process isn’t incompatible, but, on the contrary, is rather one and the same thing. We are dealing both with chemical weapons and with what you call the strategic outlook.

A final word if I may. What underlies many of your questions and our answers is the importance of strengthening the moderate opposition. It appears that Bashar al-Assad and terrorist extremists are fighting each other, but in reality they are strengthening each other. What’s keeping Bashar al-Assad in power is a whole series of communities – we’ve mentioned the Christians, and there are others as well – who say to themselves, he may indeed be a dictator, but what will happen if he’s no longer there? It’s in the interest of the terrorists to say that there’s only Bashar al-Assad and themselves, so that all those who are opposed to Bashar al-Assad are forced to join the terrorists. But that’s obviously a completely false presentation of the facts.

If we want both to bring about regime change and not fall under the sway of terrorists, we must – and this is our position – support the moderate opposition, which of course recognizes minority rights and recognizes the principles on which we want to act. It will be up to the Syrians to decide, but it is very important to understand that the choice isn’t between Bashar al-Assad and the terrorists, but that a political solution will come about through an agreement between representatives of the regime and the moderate opposition. And I think public opinion isn’t sufficiently aware of this and needs to be reminded. Thank you very much./.

Published on 17/09/2013

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