France Determined To Arm The ‘Syrian National Coalition’

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A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that the composition of a UN group to be assembled to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria must be fully representative and include China and Russia.

Spokesman Hong Lei’s remark came after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Monday that the group ‘must, without fail, include representatives of the five permanent UN Security Council members, including Russian and Chinese chemical specialists.’

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the inquiry last Thursday. Both Syria’s government and its opposition have accused the other of firing a missile loaded with chemical weapons near the city of Aleppo.

By endorsing the purposes and principles of the Chemical Weapons Convention, China has always stood for the complete prohibition and destruction for weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, Hong said.

‘China opposes any use of chemical weapons,’ Hong said, adding that the investigating group’s activities will require support and cooperation from all parties in Syria.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the media, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman has denied that France is sending weapons to NATO-backed terrorists in Syria.

In the Q&A session, the interviewer asked: ‘According to some French media outlets, France has already started delivering some weapons. What can you say about this?’

The spokesman replied: ‘France is bound by and respects the European weapons embargo that only authorises – in its latest version, as modified by the last Foreign Affairs Council meeting – provision of certain material and technical assistance.

‘On the matter of equipment, it is so-called “non-lethal” equipment, essentially for protection (bullet-proof vests, helmets) and notably encryption communications equipment. However, nothing that includes the category to which you are referring.

‘This is the debate that has now been launched by the French and the British within the framework of the 27 EU member nations to lift the embargo.

‘It is at the conclusion of talks with our European partners that we may possibly head towards making this type of delivery.’

Q: ‘If a decision is taken among Europeans to lift the embargo, will it go immediately into effect or will it be necessary to wait until 28 May?

Spokesman: ‘A decision for an embargo was made and it has been coupled with a system of sanctions.

‘Its application period was reduced to three months. The next deadline is set for the end of May. At that time, the foreign ministers will have to make a decision.

‘It is a deadline that does not stop states from taking decisions prior to that date. If we reach the May deadline without unanimity among member states, the package collapses in its entirety – sanctions plus embargo – hence, France’s determination to hold talks with our partners now within the informal Gymnich framework.’

Q: ‘Does a European country have the right to withdraw and no longer abide by the joint decision?’

Spokesman: ‘No, a state is bound by the decision to which it agreed. We are bound by this embargo until it expires at the end of May.

‘Each member state would then regain its sovereign power.

‘I read two things that are false: France intends not to abide by the rules that now apply to it. This is false.

‘The other false accusation is that France intends to act without consideration of what its European partners may think. We have a certain number of arguments to put forward and a certain number of states to convince.’

Q: ‘If the European opinion is divided on June 1st, will things go ahead, will weapons be delivered?’

Spokesman: ‘All it takes is for one state to oppose renewing the embargo to prevent the renewal decision from being taken. The embargo is now working against its initial goals because it does not prevent the regime from arming itself but it bans the opposition from defending itself.’

Q: ‘Don’t you think that supplying weapons to just anybody is interference? Many people have died in Syria.’

Spokesman: ‘Today, there is a credible and legitimate alternative to this regime.

‘It is called the Syrian National Coalition. We recognised it very early on as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

‘The coalition has asked us for assistance and to supply it with weapons. The question was put to us several months ago.

‘Now, we feel that the time is right to respond positively. We have enough guarantees about the people who may likely receive these weapons.’

Q: ‘Political dialogue with the Russians is going to be increasingly more difficult.’

Spokesman: ‘We have been having this discussion with the Russians for some time now. We agree on the ultimate goal, which is a political solution.

‘Let us not anticipate Russian reaction to a decision that has not yet been taken. Our goal is to continue the discussion. Until now, we have not been able to convince them, hence the Russian position, notably at the Security Council.

‘There must be a real discussion with the Russians, by integrating other considerations in it, such as the risk of radicalisation, that are at least just as important for them. Secondly, speaking frankly, they, like all nations, have interests in that region.

Q: ‘Concerning reports coming out of Syria this week about the possible use of chemical weapons, have France and its partners intensified contacts and preparations to render those weapons harmless?’

Spokesman: ‘We sought to verify the veracity of this information and we were not able to confirm it.

‘It is very difficult to go from evidence to proof and even more so to go from proof to indictment.

This is the work that we have asked the secretary-general of the United Nations to do.

‘An investigation has been launched to gather evidence and to check all the allegations made against, on one side, the Syrian regime and, on the other side, against the opposition. So, we must wait for the outcome of these investigations to be able to express a definitive opinion.’

Q: ‘The Syrian government accuses the insurgents of having used chemical weapons.’

Spokesman: ‘Accusations have been made in both directions. The regime accuses the opposition. To be very frank, we have doubts; if only on the opposition’s capacity to use such weapons. There are also accusations in the other direction in which the opposition accuses the regime.

‘This is why France and others have requested and mandated the secretary-general of the United Nations to carry out this investigation.

Q: ‘What do you think of the hypothesis raised by the Russians that dissident Syrian soldiers have used chemical weapons?’

Spokesman: ‘It is only at the conclusion of these procedures and when the facts are known that we will be able to draw conclusions.’

Q: ‘John Kerry says that the recognised use of chemical weapons would “change the game; it would change everything.” Have you made preparations to intervene in case chemical weapons are used?

Spokesman: ‘The French and American positions are perfectly aligned. The message for the Syrian regime is very clear: It would be a tragic mistake on its part to use these weapons.

‘This is one element of concern: Bashar al-Assad’s regime has already shown the extremes to which it is ready to go because, up to now, it has used the entire array of conventional weapons at its disposal. Our fear is that in a moment of insanity, it moves on to a strategy of terror.’

Q: ‘Have you anticipated stopping such weapons from moving to another country, Lebanon for example, or to the regime’s allies in the region?’

Spokesman: ‘What we are watching is not only the use but also the regime’s control over stocks. We must avoid having this type of weapon fall into even worse hands, if this is indeed possible.’

Q: ‘Has there been a response from the Syrian government on the question of that UN investigation into chemical weapons?’

Spokesman: ‘We are waiting for the Syrian government’s response, keeping in mind accusations made in both directions.’

Q: ‘Has the opposition shown itself open to the idea of an inspection?’

Spokesman: ‘Objectively, it is in everyone’s interest to have an investigation that can only be impartial because it is being carried out by the United Nations.’