Syria/Turkish offensive in north-east Syria/European Union – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France 2 (excerpt)
Paris, 10 October 2019
Q. – First of all, because we’ve just mentioned jihadist prisoners, and in particular the most dangerous ones who have been displaced, removed by the Americans, have we also displaced the most dangerous ones?
THE MINISTER – No, we believe that prisoners, foreign fighters – of whom there are large numbers from many countries, not only from France: far from it – must be prisoners on the territory where they were taken prisoner and must be tried on the territories where they committed their terrorist actions. We haven’t changed our position, because it’s the position shared by all Europeans, and this obviously means guaranteeing the security conditions of those prisons and camps. That’s why the Turkish intrusion and offensive of the past two days is extremely serious. It’s extremely serious and we totally condemn it; the French President spoke about this earlier. It’s extremely serious because it undermines five years of fighting against Daesh [so-called ISIL]. Because the enemy is Daesh. Contrary to what some people think, Daesh isn’t dead. Daesh fighters are currently in the camps or prisons or have gone underground and are waiting for only one thing: for people to turn their eyes to other issues so that they can reorganize and restart the caliphate. So we have to be extremely vigilant on this. That’s why the Turkish offensive is extremely serious. It’s also serious because, as you’ve said, a lot of displaced people and refugees are going to add to the displaced people and refugees who are currently living in extremely difficult conditions.
Q. – But to get back to the Daesh soldiers, who are therefore in danger of escaping…
THE MINISTER – We haven’t reached that point.
Q. – We haven’t reached that point. But some worries are being expressed – and the President expressed them too – about the restoration of the caliphate…
THE MINISTER – We haven’t reached that point. It’s a concern we must take into consideration. But we haven’t reached that point.
Q. – But shouldn’t those Daesh soldiers have been repatriated, at least the French ones, to be tried in France so we can at least be sure they’re imprisoned?
THE MINISTER – Our point of view is that terrorists must be tried where they committed their crimes. The people who have been victims of the jihadist fighters’ attacks, bombings, threats and torture should be able to see them tried locally. That’s what we want, as do many Europeans.
Q. – Even if we risk them being released one day…
THE MINISTER – At the same time, we must totally ensure the security of those places; but we’ll come back to this, I imagine. It’s also a prerequisite we’re especially mindful of.
Q. – Are there currently any French forces in Syria?
THE MINISTER – I won’t answer that question. I was defence minister for a long time, I’m [now] Foreign Minister and I’ve never commented on the operation of special forces.
Q. – So there are special forces. What can we do today to stop the Turks?
THE MINISTER – We must reclaim history. We created a coalition against Daesh five years ago. In that coalition against Daesh, which is an international coalition, France has played its full role. The coalition has not only been able to remove Daesh from certain territories in Iraq, it’s also managed to ensure that north-east Syria, thanks to the alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces, is stabilized – in a fragile way, but stabilized – pending the peace process that will clearly have to come one day, somehow or other. So that coalition bears responsibility for what happens afterwards. I must tell you today that France would like that international coalition, which has been mutually supportive until now, to meet very urgently to ensure everyone faces up to their responsibilities – not only the Turks but also every member of the coalition. There are about 30…
Q. – Because the Turks are part of the coalition.
THE MINISTER – There are about 30 countries in the coalition – [which includes] the Australians, the Canadians, the Gulf countries, the Turks and a lot of Europeans – which share our feeling and expressed it at the Security Council earlier in New York. The international coalition must meet, because we’re in a new situation and because the fight against Daesh is in danger of resuming, because Daesh is waiting only for this opportunity to get out. So France is asking for this international coalition, which has met several times, to meet today…
Q. – When was the last time?
THE MINISTER – Oh, back at the start of 2019! [France is asking] for it to say today, right: what’s the situation? What do we do? What do you, the Turks, want to do? What do you, the Americans, want to do? How do we ensure the security of places where there are currently jihadists and fighters in prison? In short, put everything on the table, clearly, so that everyone shoulders their responsibilities and also put everyone on the spot: “What are you doing? What are you doing? How are we going to manage our security tomorrow?” Because what’s at stake is our security, your security, which is today being undermined by the Turkish offensive as it’s unfolding at the moment.
Q. – There’s our security. There’s also the threat brandished by Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan that he’ll let these Syrian refugees go – there are currently 3.6 million of them in Turkey…
THE MINISTER – Yes, yes, it isn’t the first time…
Q. – Yes, it isn’t the first time, but before an agreement was concluded with Turkey in 2016 to close the Balkan route, a million refugees entered Europe. If he opens the floodgates again, it isn’t easy to see how those refugees would be prevented from coming again!
THE MINISTER – Today, first of all, the European Union has never operated in response to blackmail, I don’t think that’s a good approach. But, rather, let’s bring the international coalition together to raise these questions as well. President Erdoğan must also know that in the zone where we said 450,000 people were living, today you’ve got 60,000 who have already been displaced. So his intervention is going to increase the number of refugees going to Turkey. Moreover…
Q. – But he wants to get rid of a million refugees and put them in that zone.
THE MINISTER – …Turkey also knows perfectly well that resurrecting Daesh or helping resurrect Daesh, as they’re doing today, may also have repercussions on Turkish territory, because there have been attacks by Daesh on Turkish soil, especially in Istanbul, but elsewhere too. That fear must be shared to some extent by the Turkish public.
Q. – Can we say that the Americans have betrayed the Kurds?
THE MINISTER – President Trump doesn’t seem to have opposed the operation the Turks are carrying out today, even though much firmer positions are being asserted today. All the more reason for talking about this around a table and for the international coalition – of which we’re members, of which the United States is a member and which is responsible for taking military action in the area – to meet and clarify things. So we want this to happen as soon as possible. (…)./.