On the eve of his arrival to Riyadh, French President Francois Hollande said there will be no political solution in Syria as long as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — who is using Islamists to pressure the moderate opposition — stands his ground.
In an interview with Al-Hayat, he stressed how important it is for the international community to support the goal of Geneva II to be the foundation for a real transitional process, in order to avoid the expansion of chaos in Syria.
Hollande urged Iran to play a constructive role in the search for a solution to the Syrian crisis and to accept the content of the Geneva I statement about political transition in Syria. Moreover, he strongly condemned the assassination of former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammed Chatah and described him as “a man of dialogue and peace.” He called on Lebanese parties to respect the upcoming presidential elections in May 2014 and to stay united in the face of dangers, adding that he would address the issue of Lebanon with the Saudi monarch.
Hollande also backed President Michel Suleiman’s endeavors to unite the Lebanese people and lead them to dialogue. He also expressed his joy that the first session of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) will be held on Jan. 16, 2014. Hollande noted that Egypt’s stability calls for quick implementation of the road map to restore the civil authority and guarantee freedoms and basic rights.
Below is the text of the interview:
Al-Hayat: This is your second visit to Saudi Arabia in less than two years. How important is this partnership with the kingdom on the economic and political levels, in your opinion?
Hollande: I visited Saudi Arabia for the first time on Nov. 4, 2012. I had discussed the regional issues with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz during that visit, and we agreed that I return on an official visit in 2013. I respected this commitment because Saudi Arabia is one of France’s main partners.
The bilateral cooperation between the two countries is being fostered on several aspects, and we have similar visions regarding the global economy. Moreover, we share the same goal, which is to support growth and collaborate in the framework of the G20. Saudi Arabia is contributing to this through the moderate role it is playing in the oil market during this political phase marked by economic replenishment.
We also share the same desire to work for peace, security and stability in the Middle East. I will discuss with King Abdullah the negotiations about the Iranian nuclear file and the ways of reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis, in addition to the importance of ensuring Lebanon’s stability. We will also talk about our partnership in the field of defense.
On the economic level, Saudi Arabia is France’s first client in the Middle East. Big, small and medium-sized companies are significantly present in the sectors of civil services, energy, transport, manufacture of agricultural products, banking, malls and construction. The major Saudi Arabian supply programs correspond with the quality fields of French institutions. France provides opportunities for Saudi Arabian investments, in which it could find the expertise, technology and services it is seeking.
Al-Hayat: We constantly hear that Assad remaining in power is a better option, according to some people, than radical Islamists governing Syria. Do you think this is realistic?
Hollande: There is no political solution if Assad stays. His insistence on pursuing oppression by all means will only prolong and exacerbate the Syrian crisis. Assad is not fighting Islamists. He is using them to put pressure on the moderate opposition, and the victims are the Syrian people first and foremost.
In this framework, France is giving direct humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and answering the needs of Syria’s neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan that are welcoming around one million displaced people. France is still working on finding a political leeway in coordination with the moderate opposition forces that enjoy its support.
France believes Geneva II should set the stage for a real transitional process. I hope the international community will gather around this simple goal. Otherwise, we face the danger of more chaos spreading in Syria and the region.
Al-Hayat: France has always stood by Lebanon. Are you determined to play a role among the region’s countries to facilitate the formation of a government, and will you work with the Christians to avoid leaving the country without a president?
Hollande: First, I would like to firmly condemn the attack that killed the man of peace and dialogue, Mohammed Chatah. This escalation of violence that is jeopardizing Lebanon’s unity should be stopped.
France is holding on to Lebanon’s sovereignty, and it is working relentlessly on helping the country overcome the political and security difficulties that are happening in the framework of the Syrian crisis.
France does not intervene in Lebanon’s internal affairs, and it calls on all parties to assume responsibility and work together on finding the necessary unanimity to resolve the current situation.
Moreover, France calls on respecting the constitutional duties, especially the scheduled presidential elections in May 2014. Lebanon needs to stay united in the face of lurking dangers. This is my message to all officials. My visit to Riyadh will also be an opportunity to bring up this topic with King Abdullah. I am also in contact with President Suleiman, and I support his endeavors to unite the Lebanese and push them to dialogue and unity. France continues to mobilize its partners in the framework of the International Support Group for Lebanon, in particular, to enable it to better deal with the presence of displaced Syrians on the Lebanese territories.
Al-Hayat: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon [STL] will start trying the accused men who are wanted in absentia in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, in the Netherlands on Jan. 16, 2014. What is your comment, knowing that the tribunal was initially established based on a French decision?
Hollande: France has supported the STL since its inception to serve justice and to combat impunity. I call on all parties to scrupulously respect its mission as per [UN] Security Council Resolution 1757.
I also congratulate myself on the first session of the tribunal scheduled on Jan. 16, and I applaud the Lebanese authorities for deciding to pay their part of the STL’s 2013 budget.
Al-Hayat: Do you see a serious change in Iran under President Hassan Rouhani, who you met in New York?
Hollande: Rouhani expressed his will to launch the dialogue and improve Iran’s relations with the international community. For this reason, I met him in New York on Sept. 24, 2013. We had an open and honest discussion, and I told him that words alone are not enough. Iran must take action and prove that it would refrain from manufacturing nuclear weapons. Negotiations are happening between the E3+3 and Iran. They reached a temporary agreement that suspends the Iranian nuclear program for six months. We should take advantage of this timeframe to reach a full agreement that entails all necessary guarantees.
Iran must also play a constructive role in finding a solution for the Syrian crisis and accept the content of the Geneva I statement regarding the political transition in Syria.
Al-Hayat: Do you think the Egyptian road map will guarantee stability in Egypt?
Hollande: Yes, Egypt’s stability calls for a quick implementation of the road map to restore civil authority. The constitutional referendum on Jan. 14 and 15 constitutes an important phase in this regard. However, beyond that, it is crucial that the fundamental rights and freedoms be guaranteed and that all political movements, which renounce violence, participate in the transitional approach. France relies on Egypt, which has a central role to play in the region, and old ties of friendship link us together. We stand by Egypt in this critical stage of its history.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly