30 August 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Foreign Ministers of France, United Kingdom on Syria


Syrian officials should defect as quickly as possible in order to separate themselves from the Assad regime, Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of France, and William Hague, Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom, said today at a Headquarters press conference.


Addressing correspondents on the Security Council meeting being convened by France to address humanitarian issues related to the Syrian situation (see Press Release SC/10752), Mr. Fabius said his country and the United Kingdom were in agreement in reaffirming that President Bashar Al-Assad and his “clan” should be held accountable for their crimes before the International Criminal Court and within Syrian jurisdiction.


Calling on President Assad’s supporters to distance themselves from the regime, Mr. Hague said that France and the United Kingdom were also determined to hold to account those who perpetrated abuses in Syria and would support initiatives to bring the situation in the country to the attention of the International Criminal Court, despite the many obstacles to that.  If that did not succeed, the two countries looked forward to the day when a different kind of government in Syria would voluntarily refer the matter to the Court. 


Explaining the reason for the Security Council meeting, Mr. Fabius, whose country is holding the presidency of the Security Council for the month of August, said that France, along with the United Kingdom and other partners, felt that the humanitarian situation in Syria was serious enough to warrant the attention.  Despite the Council’s inability to work out a political solution to end the violence, due to vetoes by the Russian Federation and China, it was essential to address the humanitarian issue, he said.


Already, there were 25,000 dead, 250,000 wounded and more than 200,000 refugees, he said.  More than 1 million had been displaced in Syria, where humanitarian law violations persisted.  Questions had also been raised with regard to the neighbouring countries that were hosting the refugees.  Lebanese, Jordanian Turkish and Iraqi colleagues, therefore, would attend the meeting.


The meeting would also give particular attention to political issues, Mr. Fabius continued.  France and the United Kingdom had convergent or totally similar positions in many areas and would each increase its humanitarian assistance to the Syrian refugees.  The two countries were also taking a joint initiative to ensure that a meeting was held quickly on financing United Nations agencies for their relief work in Syria.  In addition, the two, with other partners, were putting together arrangements for a post-Assad period.


Mr. Hague said that his country stood with France in calling for urgent and generous contributions to United Nations relief efforts in Syria, noting that appeals thus far had not reached the requisite goal.  The United Kingdom, already the second largest national donor to Syria’s humanitarian relief fund, would contribute an additional 3 million pounds in aid to the refugees, bringing its total humanitarian support to 30 million pounds.  The new funds would include 2 million pounds to humanitarian relief agencies inside Syria and an additional 1 million to non-governmental organizations working with refugees in Jordan, particularly in support of women victims of sexual violence in the conflict.


The United Kingdom and France would also continue their work with the opposition in Syria by supporting the development of a transition plan and by delivering the non-lethal support to which his country had committed, he said.


The two countries were also determined to make clear that any use of chemical weapons was unacceptable and would call on the Secretary-General to make sure that the United Nations investigation mechanism for allegations of the use of such weapons could readily be deployed, he said.


Describing his country’s work with key allies and members of the opposition in Syria on a post-Assad Syria, he called on the international community to help coordinate that work with the involvement of countries from the region that were carrying a heavy burden from the crisis.  The international community must stand by the neighbouring countries in their time of need.  The United Kingdom was doing that in Lebanon.  The Security Council must also shoulder its responsibility and give full and purposeful support to the new United Nations and Arab League Special Representative.  In that, it must be prepared to return in the coming weeks to give full support for a plan for a peaceful political transition.


He noted that there had been further regional condemnation of the Syrian regime at the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, where President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt had said that the regime was oppressive and had lost legitimacy.  The United Kingdom strongly supported President Morsi’s call for a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflected the demands of the Syrian people for freedom.  He hoped that the Security Council and wider United Nations system would put their full weight behind that ambition.


Asked how the Security Council could overcome their differences on Syria, Mr. Hague said the two delegates had tried to speak to their colleagues to coalesce around a united approach.  They had made progress at times but their efforts to pass resolutions that would bring decisive solutions had been vetoed three times.  They had, however, never stopped talking to the Russian Federation and China about that, and today, France and the United Kingdom were now focusing on ways to help the millions of people caught up in a crisis that the Council had failed to bring to an end.  In the absence of a solution, they had to do everything they could to help.


Mr. Fabius added that for France, there was a clear message directed to the Syrian people that Assad would fall but that France would not drop the people.  The Council, on three occasions, had been blocked, owing to a veto by certain Powers.   France, however, refused to believe there was no role whatsoever for the Council in the Syrian situation.  The Council had not provided either unity or security, but France and the United Kingdom believed that international law was important and that the United Nations system was important.


He said the blockage regarding political resolutions did not mean that progress could not be made on the humanitarian front.  That was why France had appealed to the Council to progress as far as possible.  Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had called to apologize for his inability to attend the Council meeting, but the two would be talking next week.   France was also in contact with China as well as with like-minded partners, the Syrian resistance, neighbouring countries and the new mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi.  The Syrian people that wanted peace needed to know that the majority of nations were on their side.


On whether it was not a contradiction that France was seeking action in the United Nations while President Francois Hollande had unilaterally recognized the Syrian opposition, Mr. Fabius said that there was no contradiction.   France respected international legality.  The fact that despite the difficulties it had convened the Security Council meeting was part and parcel of that respect.  One of the ways to do that was to help the opposition to coalesce.  It was up to the Syrians to do that, although it was not easy as there were habits and there might be contradictions.  France, the United Kingdom and other countries were encouraging such a grouping and France was asking that it be very broad-based and inclusive and guarantee representation of the various Syrian communities.


Regarding attendance at the Security Council meeting, Mr. Fabius said that nine ministers would be attending.  United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had apologized and it would be the Permanent Representative of that country who would be present.  The level of participation showed how much was at stake.


On Turkey’s request for buffer zones, Mr. Fabius said that would be discussed with his colleagues.  Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would be present at the Council meeting, along with representatives of the neighbouring countries, which were receiving increasing numbers of Syrian refugees.  France and the other countries would look at possible alternatives and could not jump to a speedy response now.  There was international legality to be considered, as well as the issue of geographical location. Also, if protection was to be provided to thousands and thousands of people, then the means had to be available.  France felt that the international community must be very attentive to the areas that had already been liberated and which were under the opposition’s control.  Regarding additional financial support, France had announced that it would be adding 5 million more Euros than what it had already pledged for Syrian relief.


Still on the buffer zones, Mr. Hague said that nothing could be ruled out. However, anything that required military intervention had to be weighed carefully.  Thus there was considerable difficulty with the idea being proposed.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record