Jean-Marc Ayrault: "The first priority is Syria."

Press Conference by Mr. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, at the 71st United Nations General Assembly

New York, 19 September 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m pleased to see you all here, as the 71st United Nations General Assembly begins getting under way.

I arrived on Saturday evening, and I will be in New York until Friday. President Hollande will fly in this evening. And I will offer my assessment of this General Assembly right here next Friday at 11 a.m.

This is a particularly intense ministerial week, which begins in the context of a world faced with numerous challenges, and in which the threat of terrorism weighs heavily on every continent. Yesterday morning I visited the Memorial for the victims of September 11, and I couldn’t help but look back at what led us to the situation we’re in today, in which terrorism is endangering our societies and democracies. We must step up our fight against that scourge, while at the same time sparing no effort to work for peace. Because clearly, terrorism is fueled by all these regional conflicts and the frustrations to which they give rise. Thus my priorities for the coming week here in New York, which I’m going to tell you about now.

1/ The first priority is Syria.

During the past few days, I’ve spoken with numerous partners. I will attend the Security Council meeting organized by the New Zealand presidency on Monday, which will focus mainly on the situation in Syria.

First, I will meet with representatives of the countries we know as the “Friends of Syria” to examine the situation in that country, particularly within the context of the Russian-American agreement on the cessation of hostilities. At this meeting, we will also hear from the representative of the Syrian opposition, Riyad Hijab, whom I’ve invited.

So where do we stand? The Russian-American agreement is particularly fragile, as the last few hours have shown. But a glimmer of hope must remain. Indeed, it’s the only basis on which the international community can support a cessation of hostilities and civilian access to humanitarian aid. This humanitarian aid is fundamental, and it is no longer arriving, or hardly at all. I am thinking in particular of Aleppo, which suffers more and more with each passing day. As we’ve repeated non-stop, a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian aid are the two prerequisites for resuming negotiations on a political transition, one that absolutely must take place.

As I was saying, this glimmer of hope is fragile. We are well of aware of that. The American bombing of Daesh ended up affecting regime forces in Deir Ez-Zor. And as we’ve all seen, that raised tensions between the agreement’s co-sponsors. But honestly, let’s look at things as they are, without considering tactical aspects or ulterior motives. These are the facts on the ground. Cease-fire violations are the regime’s fault. There’s no doubt that it’s the regime that’s responsible for the bulk of this tragedy. This is something we must never forget. There have been more than 300,000 deaths, nearly all of them due to the war conducted by the regime against its own people, a war that has also led to the displacement of millions of refugees. That’s the reality.

The only possible path, therefore, is for everyone to join forces to ensure that the cessation of hostilities is respected. In this regard, there must be a strengthened, renewed dialogue between the Russians and Americans. But given the fact that the dialogue must not be limited to two countries, as important as they may be, we also need a collective commitment. And I want to emphasize this collective aspect. Because despite all the good will in the world, when a fragile agreement is drafted, the hard thing is to implement it. So if there’s no support from the international community, if there’s no strong commitment—and France is ready to contribute to it, as we have constantly stated and repeated, as recently as this morning - I urge everyone to shoulder their responsibilities. That is the challenge of this ministerial week with regard to the crisis in Syria.

Some have already said that it’s all over. We’re at the General Assembly, this is a unique opportunity. Let’s take advantage of the full potential it offers us.

On behalf of France, I propose we establish an effective oversight mechanism. Indeed, we must build trust, we must be capable of gathering all available information relating to the parties’ respect of the cessation of hostilities. And I repeat, we must pay particular attention to the delivery of humanitarian aid, which remains non-existent, even though the Syrian people have been deprived of everything for more than five years now. It is up to the regime, first and foremost, and to Russia to make sure this humanitarian aid arrives.

Along with the Russian-American agreement, other questions are up in the air. I am thinking, of course, of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime but also by Daesh, which has now been established by the Security Council’s Joint investigative Mechanism. This is a major threat to international peace and security that goes well beyond the Syria conflict. A strong response is therefore necessary. France will not allow the world to ignore the risks involved in the proliferation of chemical weapons. That would not only be a mistake, it would be morally wrong toward the victims of these atrocities in Syria.

2/ This brings me to our second priority at the General Assembly. I want to discuss the French initiative concerning the Middle East peace process and to follow up on the meeting I chaired on June 3 in Paris.

In addition to all the conversations I will be having this week in New York, several meetings are on my agenda concerning this topic, including a meeting following up on the Paris conference, scheduled for today.

Despite all the expressions of skepticism—views that have been repeated over and over by those who clearly don’t want to do anything and even hope to ensure that nothing is done—I am convinced that, as we had hoped, the June 3rd meeting in Paris moved the lines by making the international community more aware of the fact that something must be done to motivate the parties, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, to resume their negotiations. Actually, several countries are working to that end: Egypt, Jordan, the United States, Russia. The Quartet report published in July detailed the various threats to the two-state solution and reiterated the urgent need to revitalize the efforts of the international community. All efforts are welcome and in fact complement the French effort. That’s what I say to all those who are involved and whose initiatives in fact serve to strengthen the French initiative.

Because our goal remains the same. It is to hold an international conference before the end of 2016 that will present Israelis and Palestinians with a unique contribution by the international community in the form of a comprehensive package of incentives. This package will concretely illustrate the support we are prepared to provide in the event of a peace agreement between the parties. The General Assembly must generate the kind of political momentum that allows us to achieve this goal.

3/ My third priority is the refugee crisis.

Two high-level meetings are scheduled: one organized by the president of the general assembly today, in which I will take part, and the other by President Obama tomorrow, in which President Hollande will speak on behalf of France.

President Hollande and I want to convey a three-fold message:

  • First of all, we must address the fundamental causes of the refugee flows and more generally, migration: war, persecution, poverty, climate disruption;
  • Secondly, we must strengthen our aid, notably for those countries that are especially affected. I am of course thinking of Lebanon, which has received more than a million refugees, of Jordan and Turkey.

France will provide almost €100 million in donations to the refugee crisis in 2016. This is twice as much as in 2014.

Without taking into consideration the more than €900 million in loans to Jordan. The increase in our official development assistance should also help to strengthen our humanitarian assistance. We have committed ourselves to this unprecedented effort until 2018. I will make sure that these commitments are implemented, despite our budgetary constraints;

  • With respect to receiving refugees, France has pledged to receive 30,000 people from Turkey under the EU resettlement and relocation mechanism. These refugees are on top of the 80,000 or so who lodged asylum applications in France in 2015. These commitments must be upheld and France will uphold them.

4/ I will now turn to the 4th priority: the consolidation of peace all over the world, whether in Libya, Mali or the Central African Republic.

Throughout this week, high-level meetings will focus on the crises. France has taken the initiative to organize several of these meetings in order to ensure that the international community remains mobilized. In our view, there are no conflicts that are of lesser importance, and no crisis should be forgotten—I am thinking of Burundi; we managed to get the Security Council to send a police force to this country to conduct an on-site investigation.

With respect to Libya, I will take part in a ministerial meeting on Thursday. It’s true, it has to be said, that the situation is troubling and has significantly deteriorated over the last few days. The offensive led by General Haftar aimed at taking control of the oil crescent is obviously not a step in the right direction. There is a real risk of setbacks, after several months of efforts to strengthen—albeit at a slow but steady pace—the Government of National Accord that resulted from the Skhirat agreement. We must therefore jointly signal our support for this government and its prime minister, Fayez Serraj. That is why France has invited him—as President Hollande announced a few days ago—to come to Paris in the very near future.

With respect to Mali, I will also deliver a speech on Friday, September 23, within the framework of a ministerial meeting to be attended by Malian president, Ibrahim Boubakar Keita. This meeting will provide an opportunity to take stock of the implementation of the peace agreements as well as to discuss Mali’s development;

France came to its rescue in 2013. I saw for myself in May during my visit, together with my counterpart, Franck Walter Steinmeier, that significant progress had been made in the region. Although tensions and asymmetric attacks persist, as we have noted over the last few days, the security situation is generally improving. The international community’s commitment, notably on the part of the countries that contribute troops to MINUSMA, is ongoing. This effort must be maintained. On France’s initiative, the Security Council authorized the deployment of 2,500 additional peacekeepers in June, as well as the strengthening of the mission’s mandate.

Lastly, the parties must be encouraged to effectively implement the peace agreement signed in Algiers last year. This will notably be the purpose of the meeting to be attended by the Malian president.

With respect to the Central African Republic, I will take part in a meeting on Friday with President Touadera. Remarkable progress has been made in this country: firstly, the political transition has been completed in accordance with democratic rules, constitutional order has been restored, a government has been put in place and this government is at work. However, huge challenges remain: the commitment to reconciliation is not sufficiently shared; some people are deliberately standing in the way of this process. Violence has again erupted over the last few days and there have been deaths. The development projects critically needed by this country, which has high expectations, have still not been launched. Our meeting will provide an opportunity to encourage the government to give new impetus to this process, notably in preparation for the donors’ conference scheduled to be organized by the EU in the fall.

5/ Beyond these four priorities...

  • I will meet with Nadia Murad, the young Yezidi woman who suffered at the hands of Daesh and is now a UN goodwill ambassador, in order to discuss how to follow up on the remarkable work of the Pinheiro Commission of Inquiry, which is investigating all of the massacres, and how to combat impunity. This is what I stated on February 29 in my speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva;
  • I will also speak at a meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum co-chaired by Morocco and the Netherlands and will present France’s strategy to combat radicalization;
  • With respect to monitoring the Iranian nuclear deal, I will take part in a ministerial meeting of the E3+3;
  • I will co-chair, together with my Qatari and Tunisian counterparts, a meeting on the economic and investment opportunities in Tunisia in conjunction with the Tunisia 2020 Conference due to take place in Tunisia from November 29 to 30;
  • As I did on the sidelines of the Security Council meeting, I will meet with human rights NGOs.

6/ And I will of course take advantage of my presence in New York to nurture our bilateral relations with the United States.

As I told you, I visited the September 11 Memorial yesterday.

On Thursday morning I will address the students and professors of Columbia University. This event will provide an opportunity to exchange views on the importance of transatlantic cooperation to jointly address all of the challenges facing our world today. On Thursday at noon, I will then meet with France’s foreign trade advisors in order to discuss our economic relations and how to strengthen them. I will also visit the start-up, DataDog, which specializes in innovative services for managing information networks. This start-up was founded by French nationals, demonstrating that innovation is at the heart of what France and the United States can achieve together.

Lastly, I will participate in an event devoted to cooperation in Marfa between the École des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, the University of Houston and the Geneva University of Art and Design. I will launch the France Alumni USA platform, aimed at facilitating networking between former American students in France; this will also provide an opportunity for me to tell Americans who wish to study in France that they will be very welcome.

I wanted to include all of these elements in my program because I believe that culture and education are bridges between France and the United States that remain extremely relevant today.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the priorities and a summary of the schedule, which as you can imagine is very busy this week.

Last modified on 02/10/2016

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