New York, Asharq Al-Awsat- France played a pivotal role in achieving the consensus between the UN Security Council (UNSC) members on Resolution 1636 which demands from Syria "to cooperate fully and unconditionally" with the international commission investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov less than one hour before the start of the UNSC special session — which the member states” foreign ministers attended last Monday — in a last attempt to bridge the gap between the Russian-Chinese-Algerian stand that opposed the resolution and the French-US-British one.
After meeting alone with Lavrov, Douste-Blazy met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and informed them of the "counter proposal" from Lavrov in return for Russia”s vote in favor of the resolution, according to informed French sources. This Russian proposal centered on deleting paragraph 13 from the draft text, which threatened a resort to Article 41 of the UN Charter according to which the UNSC can impose sanctions on Syria. France exerted intensive efforts during the past few days to have a resolution issued unanimously so as to show the UNSC”s unity in addressing a clear and strong message to the Syrian Government.
Asharq al-Awsat met the French foreign minister after the UNSC session and had the following interview with him:
(Q) Is not the resolution adopted by the UNSC under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows the use of military force to enforce its implementation, a disproportionate step?
(A) Our aim is to ensure that the international investigation commission led by Detlev Mehlis will carry out its work in the best possible way. Syria must cooperate with Judge Mehlis in order to achieve this. Our aim was therefore primarily concerned with the investigation commission, which means concern with justice and not any other issue, concern with full justice. In these circumstances, Syria had to receive a strong message from the international community. I am happy that we were able to achieve the consensus. Syria has now to show that it is cooperating. I cannot imagine for a single moment that it will not do so because that will be very dangerous for it, for justice and law, and for the international community.
(Q) You are focusing on the need to achieve justice in this important issue, but it is obvious that the US administration”s aims go further than the investigation into Al-Hariri”s assassination. Are there not any deep-rooted differences between Paris and Washington, which might pose real problems for you later on?
(A) We are today within the framework of Resolution 1595 and the framework of justice. There will be other resolutions and other political issues in future. However, we are dealing with justice today and we must not confuse matters. I am happy with the consensus we achieved and as to tomorrow, we will see. We do not want however to undermine the region”s stability. That has never been our wish.
(Q) Does this mean that you are preparing another resolution to pressure Syria on disarming Hezbollah, as recent reports suggested?
(A) No. But it is true that the report of Terje Larsen (the UN secretary general”s special envoy in charge of following up implementation of Resolution 1559) was issued and it shows some positive elements and at the same time negative ones and that there is still a need to achieve more progress. It is not impossible for resolutions to be issued within this context in the coming stage. But this is another matter and another task and is not the same thing.
(Q) But when are you expecting action on this issue?
(A) I do not know exactly, but I imagine we will do this in the very near future. I do not have today a timetable to give to you.
(Q) The present process that the UNSC is witnessing at present concerning Syria recalls the previous process that led to the war in Iraq. The world remembers — and France probably is the first that remembers — that the United States justified the use of force then despite the strong international opposition and on the basis of the resolutions passed by the UNSC under Chapter 7. Are you not facing the danger of repeating the same situation, especially as the US President recently asserted that all the options remain, including that of resorting to the military one against Syria?
(A) Matters should be clear. France is insisting today more than ever before on focusing the spotlight on the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. France is willing today more than ever before on protecting Lebanon”s full sovereignty and continues today to defend that sovereignty. We are not here to undermine the stability of any regime, whether it is the Syrian or any other regime. We are not also here to carry out any kind of intervention. If disagreements do appear with the others, at any time, then we will say so. But this is not the case so far.
(Q) What do you say, not only to the Arab governments but more so to Arab public opinion which sees the UNSC adopting a new resolution, one that threatens to impose punitive measures on another Arab country in order to tighten the noose around it?
(A) This is not the reason that made me very eager to bring about the consensus. Our ability to achieve it in the UNSC clearly shows that the issue is not against an Arab country and no fingers of accusation were pointed at Syria because it is an Arab country but because the judge responsible for the criminal investigation considers this country not to be cooperating fully and this is something different. Justice is not politics. These are two separate things.
(Q) The text of the resolution adopted by the UNSC was amended at the last minute by abandoning the paragraph threatening directly to impose sanctions on Syria. But it was replaced by another language that maintained the threat of sanctions if Syria did not cooperate fully with the international investigation. In you opinion and in view of the broad demands that the resolution is asking, can Syria avoid the sanctions or are these inevitable?
(A) The threats of sanctions are expected but they are not automatic. In any case, this has to go back to the UNSC. It is extremely important that we get effective cooperation from Syria.
(Q) With the talk about the next stage in the investigation that precedes the trial of those suspected of involvement in the assassination and the demand by some to set up an international court to look into the case, to what extent does France support these calls to hold an international trial?
(A) We hope that the investigation commission can continue its work until December and when we will deduce all the results when Mehlis informs us whether Syria cooperated or not. I say, alright, all the results.
(Q) But does this mean that you support the idea of having an international court?
(A) We are today waiting for the Mehlis commission to continue its work until the middle of December. This is the date when the commission will hand us the names of the suspects and culprits.