François Hollande’s press conference in Qatar
Qatar/Syria/Lebanon/Iran/bilateral relations – Press conference given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)
Doha, 22 June 2013
France/Qatar/Syria/Iran/Arab Spring/trade/transparency/football/French language
THE PRESIDENT – Ladies and gentlemen, this visit to Qatar is ending. It was my first since I was elected, and I took this opportunity to confirm the relationship that’s existed for a long time – since Qatar’s independence – between our two countries. I thank the authorities, the Amir, the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister for the welcome given to us. When I say, “given to us”, I mean of course myself, the government – five ministers were present – and the 46 business leaders accompanying me.
Relations between Qatar and France are based on three principles, in my view: trust, reciprocity and transparency. Trust because we have – particularly regarding the region’s problems – the same approach: security, stability and the rights of peoples.
We’ve always guaranteed Qatar’s security and, with regard to the unrest and the risks that exist – the main one being in Syria – we have the same determination, which is today to exert as much pressure as possible on Bashar al-Assad’s regime to enable a political solution. We’re providing all our assistance to the Syrian opposition, given that it’s been clear about its unity and above all its relationship with a number of groups that mustn’t be in tomorrow’s Syria.
Yesterday the Friends of Syria conference was held, and France – through her Foreign Minister – upheld this position. It’s the one that has been chosen and that we must now implement.
With the Amir I also discussed Iran and the change of president. We’re waiting for signals, but our position won’t change. Iran has the perfect right to acquire civilian nuclear energy, but she mustn’t have a nuclear weapon. And there too, pressure will be exerted and will continue to be exerted. We’d like the negotiations to reach a conclusion, and the ball is now in the Iranian President’s court.
Still within this relationship of trust, we also discussed the so-called Arab Spring countries: Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. We, France and Qatar, agreed to provide our support for the different transitions under way in those three countries. In a few days’ time I’ll be visiting Tunisia. We must do everything to ensure that elections are held, that freedoms are protected and that Tunisia can fulfil her destiny. Likewise, on Egypt and Libya, we must ensure those countries can build states that guarantee proper [democratic] procedures. That’s the relationship of trust.
The second principle is reciprocity. Contrary to many preconceptions, there’s a balance of exports and imports between France and Qatar. There’s no surplus, no deficit on either side: it’s a balanced relationship. We’d like this balance to be maintained, but with a larger volume of trade. That’s why the French companies are here.
A number of contracts and agreements have been signed, and that’s good, but that’s the role of companies. As I said this morning, I’d like French companies to gain markets through their excellence, not through preferential treatment – first of all because there’s no such thing: you don’t become competitive purely by virtue of friendship. French companies have been demonstrating their quality here for a long time. (…)
The final principle is transparency, because everything must be clear, everything must be simple in relations between France and Qatar. There too, we can provide our experience and highlight what may be shared interests.
There’s the great subject of sport, in the sense I mentioned this morning of the only valid competition, namely on the global scale. For the time being, we’re preparing the European [Football] Championship, so it was agreed that we’d share our experience on this, so that Qatar can organize a very fine World Cup. It’s not simply about the sporting event, because we’re well aware that considerable infrastructure and hotel accommodation will be needed, and our cooperation on this can really be exemplary.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to finish on a cultural and educational note: it’s very important for the French language to be spoken throughout the world, particularly in countries like Qatar, and that students can also be trained and supervised. (…)
Qatar wanted to be a Francophone country – at any rate, she adhered to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. That’s good! Because the French language doesn’t belong only to French people. It belongs to everyone who speaks it. (…)
Syrian opposition/French assistance
Q. – Syria was at the heart of your meetings with the Emir of Qatar. There was the Doha meeting on Syria yesterday. Firstly, what assistance is France ready to provide to the Syrian opposition? And secondly, aren’t you afraid that the Syria conflict might spill over into to Lebanon and that there might be more problems, especially because there’s been a lot of tension lately? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT – The assistance is firstly political. We’ve been providing it since the beginning of the conflict. And I myself was the first head of state to recognize the Syrian opposition’s legitimacy to speak on behalf of the Syrian people. The assistance is political because we, France, were the first to organize a conference of the Friends of Syria. The assistance is political because whenever we’ve been able to exert pressure to give the Syrian opposition structure, we’ve done so.
The assistance is material and it’s humanitarian. In a few hours’ time I’m going to visit Jordan, where we’ve contributed a lot. Let me remind you that last summer the Defence Minister and I took the decision to set up a medical team in Jordan and ensure that the refugees – even more numerous than today – could be received in decent, sanitary, humane conditions.
The assistance is also military. As you know, we were the first to tell the Europeans that the embargo could no longer be left [in place], given that Russia is continuing to supply weapons and isn’t doing so clandestinely, moreover – she’s doing it officially. The very day the G8 summit concluded, the Russian President said he was going to continue supplying weapons to honour contracts signed. We said the embargo necessarily had its limits or at any rate its contradictions. So how do you deliver [weapons] after that? It’s a question we Europeans must resolve amongst ourselves, but also with our American friends, because we’ve set conditions. The [first] condition is that the opposition should structure itself politically and militarily. The second condition is that we can’t imagine delivering weapons to groups that could subsequently use them to the detriment of democratic Syria’s interests, moreover, or possibly against us. But the intention is indeed to exert military pressure because unless there’s military pressure, sadly things can happen on the ground, and to whose advantage? Bashar al-Assad’s on the one hand, and that of the most radical elements on the other. We refuse to accept that.
On Lebanon, you’re right. Insofar as Hezbollah is involved in Syria, necessarily with consequences for Lebanon, Lebanon’s fragile balance can be jeopardized. On France’s behalf, I support the Lebanese President in his efforts to preserve the balance that was found, through a principle of non-interference in what’s happening in Syria and therefore of Hezbollah’s return to Lebanon. (…)
Iran/Syria/Geneva 2 conference
Q. – You previously said you’d see no obstacles to Iran taking part in Geneva 2 if it were useful. Your Foreign Minister said that he’d refuse, that he was opposed to it because Iran generally engages in blackmail. Did you discuss this with the Emir? Also, do you think Geneva 2 will be in August, September or never?
THE PRESIDENT – I was at the G8 summit and so I signed a communiqué calling for a Geneva 2 conference to be organized in order to find a political solution. So that’s the aim. What’s the political aim? It’s not to bring together protagonists, get them sitting around a table and say, “there we are, we’ve done Geneva 2, it’s over!” Geneva 2 must mean the creation of a team that must ensure Syria’s future. Geneva 2 will be held when this solution has been prepared. You ask me about Iran’s presence. There’s been an election in Iran, a new President. It’s up to him to show he can be useful; it’s up to him to show us he can also put pressure on Bashar al-Assad to find a solution. If it’s to make the same remarks as previously, I fear it will contribute little to the success of Geneva. (…)
Q. – In an interview with the Qatari news agency you mentioned new proposals for arms contracts. I’d like to know whether, among other things, you mentioned the Rafale contract, and what the prospects are for that aircraft in the Emirate.
THE PRESIDENT – Yes, as I told you, we’ve cooperated on defence for years. France provides around two-thirds or three-quarters of Qatar’s military equipment. The businesses accompanying me have highlighted the quality of their offers, particularly with the Rafale and the opportunity that would exist for Qatar to buy those aircraft. Apart from that, I think we must let the negotiations continue. If you’re asking me whether I talked about them, I’ll reply to you, “I talked about them”. (…)./.