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Syria – Geneva II conference (Montreux, January 22, 2014)

Geneva II conference – Stakeout by Laurent Fabius

THE MINISTER - Ladies and gentlemen,

The first day of this Geneva conference is coming to a close and I think we can draw some lessons from it.

The goal of the Geneva conference as indicated in the UN Secretary-General’s invitation is to build, by mutual consent between the parties, a transitional government with full executive powers.

All speakers shared this view, with the exception, it must be noted, of Mr Bashar al-Assad’s representative, who engaged in a wild diatribe that was both long and aggressive, in sharp contrast to the responsible and democratic position adopted by the President of the Syrian National Coalition.

France, through me, has advocated peace. Peace through the formation of this transitional government, peace through an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian measures.

The position we’ve adopted is just and it will therefore be maintained.

At the end of today’s meeting, the question of what view we should take will certainly be raised. Is there any hope? There is hope but it is fragile. We must therefore continue because everyone or almost everyone has reiterated that the solution to the appalling Syrian conflict is a political one and it therefore requires further discussion.

That will be France’s position.

Q. - (inaudible)

THE MINISTER - No, you shouldn’t draw those conclusions from my comments. The conference meeting itself was already very difficult to arrange. First of all because this is a very long, very hard conflict. And secondly, because a very long time has passed since the Geneva I conference, which shows how difficult it was to organize this meeting, but also because there are very conflicting positions. But the fact that the conference is taking place - we should commend the UN Secretary-General - is a positive sign.

Obviously, when we hear Mr Bashar al-Assad’s envoy, whose tone was radically different, as you probably heard, from all the others, we think that it will be difficult. But there can be no other solution than a political one. And so France’s position, and that of many others with us here, is to support the continuation of the discussions.

Q. - (inaudible)

THE MINISTER - Thank you. If I understand your question, the solution is obviously a political solution. In saying that, I reflect the point of view of almost all my colleagues. We believe that a solution should not be sought through military means, which would mean different groups being killed, but through political means. And that means discussions and therefore negotiations.

Now, as regards terrorism, I think that some people - and I’m not in any way singling out Sergei Lavrov - but some people have dangerously twisted people’s words.

What happened? When the Geneva I conference took place - I was there, it was even I who wielded the pen - there weren’t any terrorists in Syria. On the one hand, there was Bashar al-Assad’s government, which was in a very fragile position, and on the other hand, the population. And unfortunately the opportunity wasn’t grasped, even though France was pushing in that direction, and it’s now several months later, and we have Mr Bashar al-Assad and his deadly regime on the one hand, and on the other hand the terrorists that we have to fight, and in the middle, if I can put it that way, the moderate opposition which we support.

Some people are misrepresenting the facts by saying, «All those who are against Bashar al-Assad are terrorists,» but this is false, and my Turkish colleague stated very emphatically, «Are the millions of children and women who have been driven out terrorists? No. Are all those who are fighting the regime terrorists? No.»

And I would even go further. I believe that there’s an objective alliance between Mr Bashar al-Assad and the terrorists. An objective alliance? Why? Because they’re two sides of the same coin.

What’s Mr Bashar al-Assad’s argument? He says, «I may have faults» - although according to his representative he’s not responsible for anything - «but you must support me because otherwise it’s the extremists, the terrorists.» The terrorists, the extremists say, «If you’re against Bashar al-Assad, you must support us.» The reality is that we shouldn’t support any of them. We should support those who are reasonable, those who are democratic, those who want a free Syria, who guarantee respect for human rights and respect for the communities and a united Syria. Despite the difficulties, these people can be found in what we call the moderate opposition, the Syrian National Coalition.

So we have to conduct this detailed analysis, combat the real terrorists, refuse to accept Bashar al-Assad’s regime and support those who want a solution based on a transitional government.

Q. - In the context of this dialogue in which no one is listening, will Friday’s meeting take place and does it make sense?

THE MINISTER - A dialogue in which no one is listening? No. Everyone was listening except for one delegation. The deafness and blindness of one delegation doesn’t mean that the others, who represent the whole of the international community, have been afflicted by the same deafness and blindness. The contrast is striking between the colleagues - irrespective of the range of opinions - who respected the agenda, respected their time limits, respected a democratic approach, and one representative, one delegation, that felt that it wasn’t bound by any sense of responsibility and engaged in what I called a wild diatribe, which coming from me isn’t a compliment, which was, in addition, aggressive and long. And so I hope that their deafness and blindness aren’t infectious.

Moreover, the situation is very difficult. No one could have expected the sessions this morning and this afternoon to be a bed of roses and we - who are in favour of peace, in favour of a political solution - must therefore, despite everything and despite the pitfalls, continue to advocate that.

Furthermore, I notably had the opportunity to meet a number of my colleagues: my Chinese colleague, my Algerian colleague, my Indian colleague, and I also met the mission of Syrian women, who are very courageously getting involved in efforts to resolve this crisis, and irrespective of their differing positions, they are all calling for a peaceful and political solution. That’s also France’s position.

Thank you very much.

  • Image Diaporama - Syria – Geneva II conference (Photo : Philippe (...)

    Syria – Geneva II conference (Photo : Philippe Desmazes/AFP)

  • Image Diaporama - Syria – Geneva II conference (Photo : Fabrice (...)

    Syria – Geneva II conference (Photo : Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

  • Image Diaporama - Syria – Geneva II conference (Photo : Philippe (...)
  • Image Diaporama - Syria – Geneva II conference (Photo : Fabrice (...)

Speech by Laurent Fabius at the Geneva II conference

Secretary-General,

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The solution to the Syria tragedy can only be political. The purpose of this conference, known as Geneva II, is political and it’s clear. It is very well set out in the letter of invitation from Mr Ban Ki-moon, whom I congratulate on his determination. I quote:

“In light of the appalling human suffering and widespread destruction in Syria […] it is imperative to reach a peaceful settlement with the greatest urgency […] a political settlement implementing fully the Geneva Communiqué […] beginning with an agreement on a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent.”

So things – at least on paper – are clear. It’s not about having a general discussion on Syria, not about hurling insults or propaganda slogans, and nor is it a way of playing for time or delivering speeches repeating the word “terrorism” without analyzing the real causes and therefore the real ways of combating it. It’s about seeking a political agreement for Syria concerning this transitional authority with full executive powers.

And in order for there to be no possible ambiguity, the United Nations Secretary-General adds that “attendance will be taken as commitment to the aims of the conference stated above”.

France is fully in agreement with these objectives, reaffirmed in a unanimous Security Council resolution. Contrary to what some people claim, they do not constitute “preconditions”. The conference’s agenda is in no way a precondition; it’s the mandate given by the United Nations, which is therefore binding on everyone.

We’ll therefore have to be very vigilant in ensuring that this agenda is respected, that pretences and possible delaying tactics are prevented and that we can make as much progress as possible, under the mediation of the Joint Special Representative, Lahkdar Brahimi, in the search for peace.

**

Does this mean that this search will be easy? Most probably not. You only need to hear some of the first speeches this morning. Any conflict of this nature and violence is very complicated to extinguish. It’s taken a year and a half for this meeting to take place. The bloody clashes in Syria and the whole region, the horror of the atrocities shown only yesterday – we haven’t forgotten the chemical massacre committed in Damascus by Bashar al-Assad, who swore a few days earlier that he didn’t possess those kinds of weapons –, the recourse to large-scale crimes, organized famine, all this and many other monstrosities can’t be forgotten. The regime bears overwhelming responsibility for this situation and, by the same token, for the rise in criminal terrorism, which it claims to be fighting but which, in reality, objectively, is its ally. The Syrian National Coalition is acting bravely against both, and we support it.

Because this terrible situation exists, because it’s killing hundreds, thousands of innocent men, women and children every month, we’re urgently calling at the outset of this conference for one or more ceasefires to be implemented, for humanitarian corridors to be opened up and for supplies and medicines to be provided to the survivors. These measures – no doubt isolated, but essential – should help not only the suffering population but the progress of this conference.

**

For we’re here in this comfortable hotel at a time when, on the ground, people are suffering and dying and fighters are killing each other. If it’s true that every man has within himself the entire human condition, then France, a peaceful power, calls on the belligerents – and particularly the regime – to take concrete, so-called confidence-building measures as a matter of urgency. Those who don’t do so will be adding inhumanity to their inhumanity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

France, an independent nation, a permanent member of the Security Council, a traditional friend of the Syrian, Jordanian and Lebanese peoples and all the peoples of the region, is here to try and further the cause of peace. We have no hidden agenda. We have no interest to defend other than that of reconciliation, of a Syria finally united, democratic, respectful of individuals and of the various communities, of an independent Syria, without foreign fighters on its soil and not led by a mass murderer.

This is the twofold wish I’m expressing, alongside the Syrian National Coalition, for this conference and for its participants:
-  To fulfil the conference’s agenda as it has been defined;
-  To implement, without delay, positive confidence-building measures for the Syrian people.

All this in order to make progress towards peace.


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