France welcomes continuing Syria ceasefire
Syria – Interview given by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the French press (excerpts)
Algiers, 29 March 2016
Q. – On Syria, you say you discussed the issue.
THE MINISTER – Yes, I discussed Syria with my interlocutors, of course. I recalled France’s position, which is as follows: France welcomes the ceasefire, which has now lasted nearly a month and is generally being complied with. That’s a recognized fact, even though, as I told my interlocutors, we regret the fact – and we’re continuing to work on this – that humanitarian aid isn’t reaching everywhere, and it’s essential. And furthermore, [we discussed] the resumption of the process of political negotiation in Geneva, under the authority of the United Nations Special Envoy, Mr Staffan de Mistura. We’d like to make progress on the political solution, and that’s what I told my interlocutors.
I mentioned the issue of Bashar al-Assad, who can’t be the solution. He can’t be the president of a reconciled Syria with stable institutions that guarantee peace and allow the country to rebuild itself.
Q. – And what did your interlocutors reply to you – in the knowledge that Mr Mouallem [Syrian Foreign Minister] was in Algiers today?
THE MINISTER – They’re not making it a priority issue, but that’s a point where we differ in our assessments. But we’re not setting any preconditions for the political process: we’d like all issues to be raised with all those involved. You don’t say it’s necessary to begin with this or that before you can make progress, but you have to say so when it comes to the ultimate solution. We’re saying so to all our interlocutors, namely the Iranians, the Russians and the Americans, who also share this goal. So the discussions are continuing.
We’ve encouraged the Syrian opposition to take part in these discussions, these negotiations, and I have to say it’s made proposals. The Syrian opposition negotiator has been extremely clear and constructive. The same can’t be said of the Damascus regime authorities. We must continue, persevere and make progress by talking to everyone. At any rate, France would like to talk to everyone. I spoke to my Iranian counterpart on the telephone last week; we discussed these issues. We’re also having dialogue with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. We’re trying to make headway and talk to everyone, including the Russians. We’re of course liaising with our European partners, particularly with the Germans and the British, but also the Italians and obviously the Americans, because we had a meeting together a very short time ago to bring our positions into line. But at any rate, it’s clear to see – and in a way the facts speak for themselves – that the solution to the war is a political solution.
Q. – Is the recapture of Palmyra good news for the French government?
THE MINISTER – We’re not going to complain that Palmyra is no longer in the hands of Daesh [so-called ISIL], because the battle against Daesh is of priority importance. This battle has to continue with very great determination; we spoke about this in our discussions with our Algerian friends. We must fight Daesh in Iraq and Syria, but also in Libya; we talked about the Libya problem too. So this concerns the whole coalition’s battle against Daesh.
Palmyra, in many people’s eyes, is symbolic. The destruction or attempted destruction of Palmyra symbolizes hatred of culture and a particular idea of civilization. But at the same time, when Daesh gained control of Palmyra, it can’t be said that the Damascus regime really put up a fight, and this is regrettable. Perhaps if there had been as strong a reaction at the time, we wouldn’t be where we are, we would have been able to prevent the capture of Palmyra. There you are, it’s in the past, but I wanted to make the point, and this mustn’t exonerate the Damascus regime of the responsibility it has for the way it has treated its people. (…)./.