Any failure to act on Syria is reprehensible, says Minister

Syria – Russia – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Le Parisien

Paris, 22 February 2018

Q. – One massacre after another is being perpetrated in Syria: Aleppo on Tuesday, Ghouta on Wednesday. More than 350,000 Syrians have died since the conflict began. Yet you’re saying the “worst is to come”. Why?

THE MINISTER – There are no words to describe what’s happening in Eastern Ghouta. That’s how UNICEF is putting it today. Around 100 people killed daily, including many children; hospitals bombed, in violation of international law. There’s been only one humanitarian convoy since the beginning of January, to say nothing of the wounded. In view of this, any failure to act is reprehensible. We must act fast.

Q. – How? The international community seems paralysed…

THE MINISTER – France is using all its influence so that a Security Council resolution can approve an immediate humanitarian truce, as the President has demanded. I’ve just spoken to the United Nations Secretary-General. Its implementation needs to be verified and the Red Cross and United Nations need to be able to evacuate those people in a critical situation, relieve the wounded and put an end to this hell.

Q. – Russia supports this operation, carried out by the regime. Aren’t you afraid it will veto this resolution?

THE MINISTER – Everyone must shoulder their responsibilities given the tragedy unfolding before the public worldwide. Russia has the necessary leverage on Bashar al-Assad. It should approve the resolution as is. And then ensure that the truce is observed and humanitarian aid delivered. And there isn’t only Eastern Ghouta. Idlib, where there are three million inhabitants, and the nine regions besieged by the regime are also being bombed.

Q. – Against the backdrop of a conflict which is in the middle of becoming internationalized, what levers are at France’s disposal for changing the situation?

THE MINISTER – France has its place on the Security Council. We’re playing an active role in the process to resolve the conflict. We’ve made proposals that we’re ready to discuss with all parties in order to halt this process of hell and create an environment which makes it possible to develop a political process.

Q. – Blocking humanitarian access is against the rules of international law. Is there a red line for French diplomacy on this?

THE MINISTER – France is horrified at the scale of this disaster. It is speaking out and would like its voice to be heard and the UN resolutions to be actually implemented. I’m going to Moscow shortly about this.

Q. – Three weeks ago you were saying that “indications” show the Syrian regime is using chlorine on civilians. Do you now have proof of this?

THE MINISTER – We’ve repeated our red line on chemical weapons. The use of chlorine is part of this, provided it is lethal and proven. It isn’t the case in Eastern Ghouta today, and it’s the same tortured people who were targeted with sarin gas in 2013.

Q. – Gassed or bombed, Syrians are dying. What difference is there?

THE MINISTER – The use of chemical weapons has been forbidden since the First World War, prohibited for more than a century under international law – especially the 1993 Paris Convention. All countries pledged not to use it. Yet Bashar al-Assad breaks every law and rule in the law of war. Consequently the chemical weapons proliferation we thought had been eliminated is re-emerging. It’s unacceptable and dangerous for the future, for our security.

Q. – In this context, what is France’s policy vis-à-vis Bashar al-Assad? Should dialogue be resumed with him directly?

THE MINISTER – I repeat, we’ve got to be doubly realistic: Bashar al-Assad’s departure isn’t a precondition; but more than ever he’s the enemy of his people, which makes the idea of maintaining him [in power] in a reconciled Syria unrealistic./.

Situation in Eastern Ghouta district – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1

Paris, 21 February 2018

THE MINISTER – There are no words to describe what’s happening in Eastern Ghouta at the moment. There are around 100 deaths a day, hospitals have been bombed and there’s been only one humanitarian convoy since the beginning of January.

In such a tragic situation, any failure to act is seriously reprehensible. France is exerting all its influence so that a resolution at the Security Council can approve an immediate humanitarian truce, so the wounded can be evacuated and a minimum of calm brought to this hellish situation.

Q. – Russia supports this operation; aren’t you afraid it will veto a Security Council decision?

THE MINISTER – Everyone must shoulder their responsibilities. We know Russia has the necessary leverage. Firstly, it has to approve the resolution and make sure the truce is observed and the humanitarian aid can be delivered. Russia has the necessary leverage on Bashar al-Assad./.

Syria – Situation in Syria – Reply by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to a question for the government in the National Assembly

Paris, 20 February 2018

(Question on the situation in Syria)

It’s true that the situation in Syria is significantly deteriorating. Also true, in my view, is that the worst is yet to come, and if things don’t change we’re heading towards a humanitarian disaster. This is because the political process is at a standstill. It’s also because behind the battle against Daesh [so-called ISIL], which is our priority, behind the ever-present battle against al-Qaeda, civil war is continuing. It’s continuing in Eastern Ghouta, which you mentioned; it’s continuing in the Idlib region, with the regime bombing that territory of three million inhabitants; and it’s also worsened because of a now regional dimension: the Turkish incursion into the Afrin district and Iran’s incursion into Israeli airspace. All the elements are in place for the situation to get worse.

France believes it’s essential for the Security Council to enable a humanitarian truce, as of now, which prevents the most serious risks. This is what’s currently going on at the Security Council. And France also believes that, following the failure of the Russian initiative in Sotchi, a serious resumption of the Geneva negotiations is necessary. For this reason, it has made proposals for a constitution, elections, impartiality throughout the political transition and the inclusion of minorities. These proposals were picked up by some of our partners and will have to be discussed with all the region’s actors.

It’s why, at the President’s request, I’m going to Moscow and Tehran in the next few days.

This is a matter of the utmost urgency./.

Published on 26/02/2018

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