Assad cannot be part of Syria’s future, says Foreign Minister
Syria/French intervention/Iran/Russia – Hearing of M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, before the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee
Paris, 15 September 2015
I’ll confine myself to reiterating our profound opposition to Daesh [ISIL], a frightening terrorist group which is seeking the death of everyone on the planet, including French people. We’ve observed – it’s the basis for the adaptation of our strategy – that attacks in France have been fomented by Daesh from Syria. France’s concern for security forbids us from tolerating this. So we’re intervening on the basis of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter to exercise our right of self-defence, and I must tell you of my surprise to hear, in the Senate today, the representative of a certain party saying we have no legitimate right to intervene; isn’t the first priority of a foreign policy to guarantee the country’s security? For this reason, we’re sending aircraft on reconnaissance flights, and when sufficient intelligence is gathered, we’ll be able to intervene.
The question also arises of ground interventions. I share the opinion expressed in the media: a French ground intervention in Syria would be senseless and dangerous. Not only does no coalition country want to take that risk, it’s also important to learn lessons from past experiences. To dispatch Western soldiers for ground operations would be to fall into the trap set by Daesh, which would have a pretext to condemn the intervention of foreign troops. On the strictly military level, no one can send French soldiers to be massacred in Syria.
Ground action is necessary, but it’s the responsibility of the Syrian state.
So that brings us to Bashar al-Assad, whose removal is necessary for moral reasons and out of a concern for effectiveness. For some people, although he’s not a commendable figure, we should nevertheless reach an agreement with him because Daesh is even more terrible. May I remind you that Bashar al-Assad is responsible for 80% of deaths in Syria and that Ban Ki-moon regards him as a criminal against humanity? That’s the moral argument. But there’s also effectiveness. If you look into the story of that little Syrian boy drowned and washed up on the Turkish coast, whose photo shocked the world, you learn that his father was initially tortured in Bashar al-Assad’s jails before fleeing with his family to escape Daesh’s attacks. Saying that the man responsible for 80% of deaths in Syria represents the country’s future would be the surest way of pushing the population into the hands of terrorist groups. So France’s position is that Daesh must be combated but that it’s also right, as Staffan de Mistura is doing, to find a solution that can preserve the solidity of the Syrian state – without it we’ll find ourselves in an Iraq-type situation –, with regime elements that no doubt won’t be immune from any criticism, but without Bashar al-Assad. (…)
Roles of Russia and Iran
That brings me to our relations with Russia and Iran. As the Russians have sent new equipment to Syria, I spoke again to my colleague Sergei Lavrov about the situation in that country, in Berlin on Saturday. He’s still saying that Russia would like to avoid Syria descending into chaos – a chaos that nevertheless already prevails –, adding that he wants to prevent the Syrian state from collapsing. On this point, he’s right; but he also believes it’s thanks to Bashar al-Assad that the Syrian state is holding out. For our part, as I’ve said, we’re pushing tirelessly in the search for other solutions. France is the only country discussing these issues with everyone. As you can easily imagine, when I visited Iran with the Chairman of your committee, it wasn’t to engage in pointless discussions. I regularly discuss these issues with my Russian colleague. It’s no accident at all that the French President was the guest of honour at an extraordinary summit of the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. We’re also talking to Turkey and, of course, the United States. In every circle where it’s possible, we’re encouraging discussions that may bring about a political solution in Syria.
How should we take Russia’s additional intervention in Latakia? I often hear it said that the Russians want to protect their interests in Syria; but who is thinking of threatening them? Perhaps this new development has something to do with the fact that Russia, convinced that political negotiation is going to begin, is keen to guarantee its power through an increased presence.
Likewise, we’re talking to Iran, and things have got moving with the conclusion of the negotiation on the Iranian nuclear programme – which wouldn’t have been successfully concluded if France hadn’t stood firm. However, it’s difficult to know whether the conclusion of these negotiations will automatically lead to a better political climate. The positions of Iran and Russia on Syria aren’t exactly the same: Iran says it will support Bashar al-Assad whatever happens, there are Iranian elements on Syrian soil, and Hezbollah can’t be overlooked. For all that, we want to use all possible options in all circles necessary and, of course, at the United Nations.
To sum up, we believe that the military operations are necessary but that the solution is political. If we want to achieve a political solution, we must talk to everyone, which we’re doing. When it’s necessary to send troops on the ground, what will they be? There will be Syrian soldiers, but there will also have to be [other] Arab soldiers. So we’re also talking to the Arab countries and Turkey, despite our differences. But if we give priority to a political solution, we can’t totally rely on the position of one country, whichever one it is. Diplomacy consists in trying to bring together divergent positions. It so happens, unfortunately, that France alone doesn’t comprise the international community… The fact that we haven’t managed to persuade people for the time being doesn’t mean we’re not intervening. We’re intervening, we’re trying to persuade others, and when adaptations are necessary we’re making them, but we don’t want to go down blind alleys. Among the European countries, France’s relationship with Russia remains special; we’re aware of its influence and power, and we regard it as important to talk to it while letting it know our points of agreement and disagreement./.