Minister looks ahead to anti-Daesh coalition talks

Turkish offensive in Syria – Discussion of the proposal for a resolution on condemnation of the Turkish military offensive in north-east Syria – Speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at the National Assembly (excerpts)

Paris, 30 October 2019

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When the Turkish offensive began, France proposed a ministerial meeting of the [Global] Coalition against Daesh [so-called ISIL]. Indeed, we were extremely surprised that when the Coalition against Daesh was launched, all the countries met to decide on a shared initiative and that, when we were starting to get significant territorial victories, at a given moment two members of the Coalition, the United States of America and Turkey, without consulting the Coalition against Daesh, took initiatives that contradict the approach of combating the terrorist group. We thought this initiative was unacceptable. We called for a meeting of the Coalition. All the members of the European Union approved our move, and the meeting is finally going to be held on 14 November. France will take part in it, obviously, and I’ll send a frank and uncompromising message to our partners there. It will be a meeting of clarification and confirmation. It’s in a fortnight’s time.

First of all, we’ll have to agree on the need to continue the Coalition’s efforts to combat Daesh, update plans to that end, and ensure everyone takes into account the developments of recent weeks. On this occasion we’d like each member of the Coalition to shoulder its responsibilities, and we’d then all like to draw conclusions from this, in the new context.

A clarification by each Coalition partner, a clarification of the intentions of each Coalition partner, is now required. The question is simple: how can we continue together the fight against Daesh? The answer must be clear. We must be true to our word, consistent, and support and maintain respect [for] and the autonomy of the Syrian Democratic Forces. That’s the big challenge of this ministerial meeting we wanted, which is finally going to be held for the essential clarification.

I’d also like this Coalition meeting to provide an opportunity for a very frank discussion about the issue of Daesh fighters. It’s a central issue for the region’s security. It’s a central issue for Iraq’s security. But it’s also a central issue for France’s security, although I understand the repeated questions about French fighters, of whom there are 62 – a significant number, but compared to the more than 10,000 Daesh fighters who are currently in prisons in north-east Syria, it’s a small figure, and you have to tackle the issue of fighters comprehensively: ensure that the issue is central for the Russians, the Tunisians, the Moroccans and the Iraqis, and that we can provide a collective response, together with those who would like to make a contribution to that response.

Finally, this meeting of the Coalition will have to review in detail our humanitarian support and stabilization activities in this context. In addition to north-east Syria, Iraq – which is in a very difficult situation – must also benefit from assistance and support in the face of the influx of additional refugees it’s receiving from Syria.

In addition to the Coalition and this confirmation and clarification meeting, it will also be important for us – because some of you have emphasized it – to clarify, at the NATO summit at the beginning of December, i.e. a fortnight later, Turkey’s status as a NATO ally. The meeting should provide the opportunity for a significant discussion between allies, a frank discussion, an uncompromising discussion, a discussion with the American position and a discussion with the Turkish position. As you know, the French President has expressed his willingness to take part in a preparatory meeting with the British Prime Minister, the German Chancellor and the Turkish President to discuss, before the meeting, the state of our relations with Turkey. This offer is still on the table, with the aim of clarifying very clearly the various parties’ intentions. I remind you that we’ve suspended our aid to Turkey. I also remind you that in the two meetings that will take place, we’ll be taking an extremely firm, extremely clear and extremely uncompromising position. (…)

I had the opportunity to say in the National Assembly a few days ago that I’ve experienced two tragic moments in the Syrian civil war. On 31 August 2013, as Defence Minister, I saw the impact of an American decision not to take action. On 13 October 2019, as Foreign Minister, I saw the consequences of a new American decision not to take action. It seems to me we’re facing a strategic turning point in this crisis, and this strategic turning point shows the compelling need for a real European surge towards greater European sovereignty and greater European strategic autonomy. The time has come to share responsibility; the time has come to ensure Europe shoulders its responsibilities. The time has come for Europe to adopt an uncompromising approach, otherwise Europe will be left behind by history. And in this regard, we must indeed recognize that this situation – the concomitance between the Turkish action and the American action –sows discord within the transatlantic relationship. I wanted to say this here, at the conclusion of this debate.

I have to say, on behalf of the government, that we appreciate the unanimity which is emerging and the determination to ensure we continue the fight against terrorism and solemnly express here our solidarity with the Syrian Democratic Forces./.

Published on 31/10/2019

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