France pushes for political solution to Idlib crisis
Syria – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFM TV
Paris, 11 September 2018
Q. – The Syrian regime and its allies are preparing to launch this final battle in Idlib, which is controlled by the insurgents. What exactly do you fear?
THE MINISTER – There’s the risk of a humanitarian disaster and a security disaster, if by any chance the Russian-backed Syrian regime wants to pursue its intentions.
I say humanitarian risk firstly because there are three million people living in that area; that’s a very large number. And of those three million people, half are being displaced or are refugees, and half live solely off humanitarian aid.
And then there’s also a security risk insofar as there are many jihadist groups, mainly identifying with al-Qaida, in the area – around 10,000 to 15,000 [jihadists]. They pose risks for the future, to our security. The attack being prepared by the Russian-backed Syrian regime is extremely dangerous. At the Security Council this evening, France and other players too are going to say there has to be a political solution and that the military solution won’t provide a peaceful solution for Syria, and that this disaster – compared to which, what happened in Aleppo is nothing, nothing compared to the horror this may mean – must be avoided. So we’re very firm on this.
We’re also seeing that those who were guarantors for the Idlib zone, which was considered a de-escalation zone – I’m thinking of Iran, Russia and Turkey – had a meeting in Tehran on Friday about this and didn’t manage to agree. So much so that there’s also opposition between Russia, with the regime on one side and, on the other, Turkey, which obviously doesn’t want this offensive to be mounted.
Q. – Is there a risk of a chemical attack, and if so, what will France do? Could France initiate strikes, as it did in April?
THE MINISTER – Certain Russian players seem to be engaging in a sort of psychological preparation for chemical weapons’ use, which they would attribute to terrorist groups. In reality, we’ve already said – President Macron has been very clear on this point – that if chemical weapons were used, if it were proven, confirmed, if it were lethal, i.e. deaths were caused, there would be the same consequences as in April.
Q. – So, French strikes?
THE MINISTER – There would be the same consequences. Let me remind you that the use of chemical weapons is a red line for France, particularly in these circumstances.
Q. – You say you’re against this battle, which risks causing a humanitarian disaster, and at the same time there’s the impression that the West seems powerless against the determination of Syria and its key allies, namely Iran and Russia.
THE MINISTER – The powerlessness today is a result of Russia, which is refusing to envisage the only solution which would be credible for it over the long term: the political solution. We’re having discussions with Russia about this. It’s clear that a political process would first require a ceasefire and then a process of confidence-building measures and a process of humanitarian assistance, which we’re in favour of.
While Russia risks abandoning its commitments to stabilizing the Idlib zone, it also risks finding itself totally alone following a disaster for which it will have to accept all the consequences.
Q. – In this stronghold which is still holding out against the Syrian regime, there are jihadist fighters, foreigners; we’re talking about French people. How many French people are thought to be in that stronghold? Have you got a figure?
THE MINISTER – There are likely a few dozen French fighters from both al-Qaida and Daesh [so-called ISIL], but it’s a very limited number. The important thing is that there are also many terrorists from other nations, who risk subsequently finding themselves scattered if the Syrian and Russian offensive is mounted in the conditions we can imagine today.
So it’s important to avoid this risk; there’s still time to protect against this scenario, and it will also be appropriate to assist Turkey in its efforts to keep the population safe, particularly civilians./.