France and Russia seeking to work together ’pragmatically’
Russia – Bilateral relations/fight against terrorism/Syria/Ukraine – Statements by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at his joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Mr Sergei Lavrov
Moscow, 20 June 2017
THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen, cher Sergei, today’s meeting is actually part of the follow-up to the Versailles meeting on 29 May. We have a lot of issues to discuss, we had a lot of issues to discuss, and I also apologize for the delay in this meeting with the press.
Our two countries share the same responsibility with regard to international peace and security, by virtue of our roles as permanent members of the Security Council. We face the same threat, terrorism, and we’re utterly determined to combat it and share our procedures for combating it.
We also owe it to future generations to tackle the same challenge, global warming. Ultimately we share the same European continent, and we want it to be an area of cooperation, not merely of coexistence – still less, rivalry. So how can we take more effective action together? Jointly furthering our security interests and guaranteeing our countries the highest possible level of economic prosperity were the focus of our discussions.
We must first of all understand each other, and I came to say, for my part, that we’re neither seeking to isolate Russia from the rest of Europe nor to weaken it economically. We’re seeking to work together pragmatically, concretely, to resolve problems that affect us as much as they affect Russia.
What are they?
First of all, Syria. We have a common enemy there in the form of the well-identified terrorist group that wants to use Syrian territory to organize attacks on us and attract, train and indoctrinate foreign fighters. We also have an interest there, namely the return to stability, which involves defining a credible political solution ensuring a negotiated democratic transition. Neither Russia nor France has an interest in the tensions developing on the ground, and the end of the Syrian civil war is an imperative after six years of war and massacres by Mr Assad’s regime. For us, stability is a national security issue.
Against the background of this Syrian chaos, the proliferation of chemical weapons is particularly worrying. The regime’s failure to honour its commitments, which were nevertheless made under the aegis of the two great powers – the United States and Russia – rings out as a new challenge to the rest of the world. In this context, the status quo is no longer acceptable. Too many risks and too much suffering are emerging from Syria, and I’d like us to work together, in accordance with our interests, on a process that ensures a genuine cessation of hostilities and an essential political solution to bring Syrians together. And I’d also like Russia – and we talked about this at length – to support safe and unfettered access to humanitarian aid wherever it’s necessary. On these different points, chemical weapons and humanitarian aid, consultations between our two countries will continue in the coming days, in a spirit of both mutual respect and pragmatism.
Lastly, there’s the Ukraine crisis. I reminded my friend Lavrov of the importance we attach to resolving this crisis. We don’t want there to be a focal point of instability in the European area. In the framework of the Normandy format, France remains fully committed, alongside Germany, to making mediation efforts that will enable the parties to move forward on implementing the Minsk agreements. It’s a matter of urgency, because the longer the crisis lasts and the more the links between the two sides of the contact line diminish, the more remote the prospect of a settlement becomes, and with it the prospect of normalizing relations between the European Union and Russia.
We obviously discussed bilateral relations between our two countries. As Sergei Lavrov pointed out earlier, French businesses have remained in Russia, and in 2016 France was still the main provider of foreign direct investment and the main foreign employer in Russia. We have close cultural, human and tourist ties. Sergei Lavrov and I also had our first exchange of views about dialogue between civil societies, the so-called Trianon Dialogue between our two countries, which was announced in Versailles. For France, the role of civil society and commitment to human rights are crucial, and we’re very insistent that this commitment, the so-called Trianon Commitment, should be implemented.
I’d like to thank Sergei Lavrov for the discussions we had, our outstanding relations and the length of our discussions, but it shows that we [France and Russia] now have a basis for getting down to practical work and making progress on resolving the crises affecting us both. I hope to continue our dialogue in this spirit, in the spirit that has dominated our discussions throughout the afternoon, and I hope to continue it very soon in Paris, where I’ve invited my friend Lavrov.
Q. – Do you think the United States’ action in the framework of the coalition in Syria is destroying efforts to fight terrorism? In particular, Australia today announced that its aircraft would stop flying over the territory. Is France also going to consider these questions?
THE MINISTER – My answer is going to be very brief. First, as regards France’s involvement in the coalition, it has been very clear: we’re involved in the coalition to combat and eliminate Daesh [so-called ISIL]. This hasn’t happened yet. Our involvement in the coalition will continue until the end. This hasn’t happened yet, but Daesh has lost a lot of ground. The Battle of Mosul is under way, that of Raqqa too. (…) We’re in the coalition and will stay in it until Daesh is eradicated. This also means we must, concurrently, think about and take action in favour of a political solution in Syria which guarantees Syria’s integrity, rejects its break-up and allows a process of negotiated transition. I said this in my introductory remarks and talked a great deal about it to Sergei Lavrov.
As regards the Sukhoi incident you were talking about, it shows the need for deconfliction. This principal is important; it must be maintained even if there are tensions or occasionally accidents, which are regrettable. Moreover, I’m delighted that a de-escalation process is starting at the three sites identified in the Astana Process, plus Syria’s southern area. I’m also delighted that the offensive against Raqqa is under way.
Q. – Can France, precisely, play a role in the Syria conflict – particularly at a time when tensions between the coalition and Russia seem to be escalating?
THE MINISTER – We have common ground in our assessment of the situation in Syria. Firstly, we’re both determined to defeat Daesh and combat al-Qaeda. We’re both determined to ensure that Syria’s territorial integrity and unity are maintained. We’re both determined to ensure that there’s a state in Syria which carries out its functions.
We’re opposed to the use and manufacture of chemical weapons. We would like the broadest possible access for humanitarian aid. And we’re trying to act in favour of a political solution on the basis of Resolution 2254. There was perhaps a lack of trust, which would help us understand each other better, as I said earlier.
Today’s meeting has allowed us to continue this trust which was demonstrated in Versailles. Trust also means honesty. But it means respect too. And this is the spirit we’re going to continue working in so that the situation in Syria can lead firstly to a ceasefire and, secondly, the political conditions allowing the essential transition [to take place].
Q. – You’ve talked to us about the Franco-Russian civil society dialogue; you’ve announced it was going to be called the Trianon Dialogue. What exactly does it cover? Is it linked to human rights, the right to freedom of expression, of assembly, LGBT rights, for example, too?
THE MINISTER – The two presidents have endorsed the principle of creating a body allowing relations between our two countries not to be exclusively political or economic ones, but that civil society, in its diversity, can hold discussions regularly, robustly and on a permanent basis. The principle has been endorsed and we’re now in the process of working out how this tool will be implemented; we want to establish it as soon as possible. (…)./.