Remarks With French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at Joint Press Availability

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Quai d'Orsay, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Paris, France
September 7, 2013

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) -- Kerry. I would like to commend both your energy and your ability to convince as well as your very reliable judgment or point of view. Together with the Secretary of State we discussed a number of topics, including, of course, Israel and Palestine and as well Syria, of course.

Let me start with a few comments. What we’ve been seeing very clearly over the past few days, notwithstanding a number of side comments of briefings, the first one is that the Damascus chemical massacre is proven and bears a signature. It is Mr. Bashar al-Assad who is the only one to hold the arm that was used for the massacre and to be in a position to use it, and he did use it. And we have to keep back to this because these are the facts.

In addition, and it is also what explains the fact that when people are comparing to the situation in Iraq, it has nothing to do. You remember that France did not participate in the intervention in Iraq. But at the time, the weapons of mass destruction did not exist, therefore, it was a mistake to go there; whereas, here, weapons of mass destruction exist and the fault, the mistake would be not to sanction.

Second, this massacre requires a strong reaction in order to sanction and in order to deter for an obvious reason which everybody will understand. Mr. Bashar al-Assad – as was said by the Secretary General of the United Nations, said this is a crime against humanity and we have to deter him from doing it again.

Then there is a third element which is obvious, even though it may require some thinking. The sanction is not in contradiction with a political solution. It is a prerequisite. Mr. Bashar al-Assad will not join any negotiation as long as he believes he is invincible.

From that, people were saying that France and the United States would be isolated. It is pretty much the opposite, and let me get back to what happened over the past 48 or 72 hours. Now, seven out of the eight G-8 countries share our views as to the necessity of a strong reaction. Twelve of the 20 G-20 countries, including Germany now, share in this reaction. And this morning, the 28 countries of the European Union supported the number of key elements: first, the 21st of August massacre is an abominable crime, it is a crime against humanity, it is a crime of war. All the evidence show that the regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for it. In order to sanction it and in order to deter it from doing it again, we need, I quote, “a clear and strong answer from the international community.”

And these messages are also those of the Arab League, or as shown this morning once again, those of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. Therefore, there is a clear and growing support to a strong and clear reaction.

Together with John Kerry, we are in sync about the nature of this response. It must be short, targeted, and by nature prevent Bashar al-Assad from committing a new similar massacre. It is the prerequisite to the political settlement which we are actively looking for. It must also comply with the most efficient timing, and this is the reason why President Hollande said yesterday that we would be waiting for (inaudible) investigation team.

We agree (inaudible) that the crisis – the solution to the crisis in Syria will be political, but it would be an illusion to believe that we could find a political solution without a determined response to this abominable crime.

Let me conclude by saying – and this is obvious – that France and the United States stand together. Some people may wonder why, and you only need to go back to history. Each time the cause is just and we stand together, France and the United States.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Laurent. I will say a few words in French in order to share some of our thinking with the people of France directly, and then I will say a few words in English to do likewise for my fellow Americans.

(Via interpreter) I’ll start by saying that I fully agree with all that Laurent said. It is a pleasure to be back in Paris for a meeting with my friend, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and I look forward to meeting tomorrow with members of the Middle East Peace Follow-on Committee of the Arab League. We are grateful for France’s hospitality. Thank you very much.

When President Kennedy came to Paris to meet with Charles de Gaulle a little over 50 years, Kennedy said the relationship between France and the United States is essential for the preservation of freedom around the globe. He also acknowledged something that we know very well at home, that our alliance with France has more than withstood the test of time, from the very days of our country’s existence through two world wars to the great partnership that exists today between President Obama and I and President Hollande and the Foreign Minister of
France, Mr. Fabius. France and the United States have stood together to defend the values that we share, and at this moment in the wake of the brutal chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the relationship President Kennedy spoke about is as essential as ever.

The French understand perfectly the importance of the situation because some of the earliest deadly chemical weapons attacks took place here on French soil during World War I, and many of the earliest victims of these lethal and indiscriminate weapons were young French soldiers no older than 19 or 20 years.

Shortly after that war ended, the community of nations came together to draw a global redline to ensure that these heinous weapons would no longer be acceptable on the battlefield or anywhere else, and forever. And with a few abhorrent exceptions, that line has been upheld. But we know with absolute certainty that Bashar al-Assad, as the minister just said, has crossed that line, that redline. And on August 21st it was not soldiers fighting in trenches who were targeted. It was hundreds of young children and their parents, Assad’s own people. It was innocent families who suffered the (inaudible) horror, eventual death these weapons cause.

There is no question that that happened and that the Assad regime is responsible for that. And plus, they have the capability to attack again, and the risk of inaction is far worse than the risk of action. Today, Assad is watching to see whether his actions will be met with impunity. And he is looking – he is joined by his friends in Iran, in North Korea, by Hezbollah and others who want to see if the United States, France, and the rest of the world will stay silent when our warnings are ignored.

It is not hyperbole to say that the safety of the entire world depends on whether our collective conscience and our commitment to international norms that have been in place for nearly a century compels us to react. We are not talking about going to war. This is not Iraq. It’s not Afghanistan. It’s not even Libya or Kosovo. We have been very clear the United States believes the only way for the Syrian conflict to truly end is through a political, not military, solution. What we are talking about here is a limited military action, one that is aimed squarely at degrading Assad’s capacity to use chemical weapons and deterring him from using them again. What we are talking about is standing together and speaking with one voice in opposition to a quite clear violation of a redline that the world has defended for nearly 100 years.

This is really our Munich moment. This is our chance to join together and to pursue accountability over appeasement. The United States, as our French partners know, cannot be silent spectators to this slaughter. This is not the time to allow a dictator unfettered use of some of the most heinous weapons on Earth. This is a time to pursue a targeted (inaudible), as the minister has said, a clear and effective response that holds dictators like Bashar al-Assad responsible for the atrocities they commit.

I know I also speak for President Obama when I say that we are exceedingly grateful to have France by our side in the effort to uphold the global redline on chemical weapons and protect our shared sense of decency for the generations that follow.

(In English) Let me reiterate that we are not talking about going to war. This is not Iraq. It is not Afghanistan. It is not even Libya or Kosovo. We have been very clear the United States believes the only way for the Syrian conflict to truly end is through a political and not a military solution. What we are talking about here is a limited military action, one that is aimed squarely at degrading Assad’s capacity to use chemical weapons and deterring him from using them again. What we are talking about is standing together and speaking with one voice in opposition to a clear violation of a redline the world has defended for nearly 100 years.

So this is our Munich moment. This is our chance to join together and pursue accountability over appeasement. We in the United States know and our French partners know that this is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter. This is not the time to send a message where doing nothing is far more risky than responding. This is not the time to allow a dictator unfettered use of some of the most heinous weapons on Earth. This is a time to pursue a targeted and limited but clear and effective response that holds dictators like Bashar al-Assad responsible for the atrocities that they commit.

And I know I speak for President Obama when I say that we are exceedingly grateful to have France by our side in the effort to uphold the global redline on chemical weapons and to protect our shared sense of decency for generations that follow.

I’ll be happy to take some questions.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My question goes to both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Fabius. Mr. Kerry, do you agree with the French President when it comes to waiting for the report of the UN inspectors to conduct potential strikes against Syria? Next, I would like to ask you why you withdrew your staff from your Embassy in Lebanon? Do you – are you worried about Lebanon?

And Mr. Fabius, you also very much – you very much (inaudible) what is happening in Lebanon. Do you think this action would have an impact on it?

SECRETARY KERRY: We have great respect for the President, President Hollande’s decision. The President of the United States has made no decision, and I will return to Washington and obviously this will be a point of discussion. But we take that decision under advisement, but the President has given up no rights of decision with respect to what he may or may not do – President Obama has not.

With respect to Lebanon and Beirut, no, we have not withdrawn from our Embassy. What we have done is draw down some of the numbers of people simply because we want to get to a point where we have the numbers there, if something were to take place, that we believe is completely manageable. But we have not withdrawn, we will not withdraw. We have simply reduced a certain number of personnel for safety reasons based on judgments about threat and so forth.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) Regarding Lebanon, we know the very close ties between Lebanon and France. The Lebanon people are cousins, they are our brothers (inaudible). The Lebanese President has set a fair path by saying that it was necessary we should do (inaudible) to try and disconnect what is happening in Syria from Lebanon. But of course, Mr. Bashar al-Assad is trying to do the opposite and to export the conflict to Lebanon.

Regarding your question, of course, we are taking the necessary precautions, not just in that country but in the other neighboring countries, those that may be impacted. But let me repeat that the reaction we are considering is one which is strictly limited to the chemical weapons. And of course, the intent, the goal is absolutely not in relation to the entire region, so it would be one more primal breach if anyone tried to export to neighboring countries the consequences of what would be a limited strike. But regarding Lebanon, let me once again express our friendship and the friendship of the French people vis-a-vis Lebanon.

QUESTION: Regarding the lack of support you have still for military action, have you been thinking about a Plan B, something that would be a clear strong action without military strikes?

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) Well, I do not understand how you can talk about a lack of support. These are the facts, as I said. Out of the eight top global powers, seven shared the same analysis and wanted – and a willingness to react with our side. And as I said since yesterday and this morning, out of the 20 top world powers, 12 shared our point of views. And I’m sure you’ve read this joint statement that was issued. And if there’s some reluctance on the other side, we haven’t seen anything in common. There’s no common analysis on behalf of these countries. And this morning, yet again, 28 European countries agreed to share the analysis, the way of thinking. The Arab League moved in the same direction, the Council of the Gulf Countries as well.

So at the beginning, maybe you could consider there was more isolation. But the support – the joint analysis and all, and what we see of the willingness, everything is being put together. And if you look at things objectively, you cannot – it would be totally wrong to talk about isolation.

SECRETARY KERRY: To build on what Laurent has just said, and I couldn’t agree with it more, today I had a discussion with the 28 foreign ministers of the European Community. All of them made powerful statements of condemnation for what has happened. And increasingly among them, there was a sense of conviction that Assad has done this, that the regime has done this, and he is responsible.

Now, we agreed to help provide additional information to any of those who are not yet convinced. And I was encouraged by the statement that the EU gave. First of all, they were under no obligation to make any statement. Secondly, there was no expectation they would make a statement. Thirdly, I had no expectation they would make a statement. Fourthly, normally the Chair simply comes out and does a press and there is no statement out of this meeting. But there was a statement. And it’s a strong statement calling for strong action – not specifically military, but calling for strong action – to be able to hold the Assad regime and the presumption, a clear statement about the presumption of Assad having done this.

Now, some don’t believe in taking a military action ever, at all, and some want to wait for one thing or another. But the overwhelming support is moving in the direction of holding the Assad regime accountable. And in addition to that, as Laurent just said, seven of the eight of the G-8 have specifically supported action being taken such as we are contemplating, and 12 out of the 20 – that’s a majority, and in a democracy that’s pretty strong, and particularly when you consider some of the others and what their interests are, I think it’s a very powerful statement.

So this is growing, not receding, in terms of the global sense of outrage for what has happened. And we will continue to make the case here and elsewhere, and especially as I get home in the United States.

Andrea Mitchell of NBC.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, you say that the support is growing, not receding, but the European Union, the 28, there were disagreements among them. They did not endorse military action. They want to wait for the UN inspectors’ report, even though that won’t be dispositive as to who produced this hideous attack. And they acknowledged the authorship of it being Assad, so there’s no question about that anymore, so why they want to wait for that is unclear.

But the support at home is going absolutely in the other direction. By day, the count of House members is declining who support this. And Americans are saying: Why should we do this? Why are chemical weapons worse than the 100- or 120,000 who have died already from conventional weapons, despite the treaties? People at home are telling their Congress members we want to worry about our schools, our kids. How can the Administration take action in the face of that without the mandate of the UN, without the mandate of Europeans, for military action?

And Mr. Minister, 60 percent of the French public also opposes this action. Why wait for the UN inspectors? And would you feel strongly about joining the United States if the United States Congress says no?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Andrea, I just – first of all, this case has not yet been made to the American people for more than a few days, and we will continue to make the case to the American people. You ask the question: Why should an American think that this is valuable? I’ll tell you why. And Laurent Fabius and I were talking about it as we walked outdoors. Because this concerns every American’s security. This is not remote. This is not some far-off place where something happened that’s just one Arab sect killing another Arab sect on some internal fight. These are chemical weapons, which for almost 100 years the world has banned from usage. And in time of war, the only people who have used them are Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein, until Bashar al-Assad.

Now, we know that there are security interests of the United States in the terrorists, the jihadists who grow in that part of the world and their focus on the West, on Europe and the United States and elsewhere. And if these weapons fall into their hands, every American, everybody in Europe, should be concerned. Sarin gas was used in the Tokyo subway. That’s what we’re talking about. As extremists grow in their power, which will happen if we don’t take action, we will have licensed Hezbollah, Iran, and Assad to do what they want to the people of Syria. That’s the consequence of walking away. The word of the world will be in question.

Multilateral structures and organizations that we’ve spent years trying to build up to respond to these kinds of things – the principal one is the UN – hasn’t been able to respond because one nation keeps vetoing its ability – or two nations – to be able to act. So are we supposed to turn away because the UN itself has become a tool of ideology or of individual nations and not say that the principle we put in place and have fought for all of these years is going to be thrown away? I don’t think so.

When you look at those videos of those children heaving for breath, unable to move, spasming, their lives stolen from them, or their parents’ lives stolen from them by gas in the middle of the night, when they should have been sleeping comfortably at home in their beds, instead they’re wiped out by a man who has no conscience about what he does to his own people – are we supposed to walk away from that?

President Clinton says the greatest regret that he has about his administration is that he didn’t move on Rwanda, and history is full of instances where countries walked away from a responsibility and worse things happened, including war. If we don’t confront this now, I promise the people of France and Europe and Americans, we’re going to see this issue grow, and it will be required that we confront it in some other place at some other time, where there may be a greater miscalculation.

And what will Iran say if the United States backs down? What are the implications for each of the countries in the region – Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, others – who are just downwind from the weapons, depending on which way the wind blows that Assad has chosen to use?

This matters to Americans as a matter of security. The stability of the Middle East matters to Americans. It matters to Americans whether or not Syria implodes and breaks apart and there are ungoverned spaces where terrorists call the shots. That matters to Americans. It matters to all of us, and I think we need to stand up and be counted. And so does my good friend Laurent, and we’re going to keep talking about why this is important to all of us.

And as Laurent said to me for the people of France: (Via interpreter) Laurent said to the French, it’s you, you are concerned, you are touched by this, everybody in France is touched by this.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) Thank you, John. Let me say with my own words some similar things. It is true that the public opinion, when you look at the polls, so far seems reluctant, if not hostile, because it seems to be far away, Syria, because there is what John a couple of days ago described as the war fatigue of the United States, because there is the sad instance of Iraq and some people are now saying: Is that true or not. There is all of that. But we are here to explain, and our own history has been to oppose the unfair wars. You know John’s background, and as far as I’m concerned and the same goes for President Hollande. We said no, we must not go to Iraq.

So why are we considering the decisions that we’re discussing? First of all, because we have the absolute conviction that the person responsible is Bashar al-Assad. There is no doubt at all. You must look at these images. It is not about having a legal discussion. You see the children lying side by side. There is no injury, no blood at all, not a drop of blood, and they are there forever, asleep forever. And you’ve seen the pictures, you’ve seen the videos, people with nervous reactions. And you cannot say it’s far away. It is not far away on a plane.

And remember as well that Bashar al-Assad has 1,000 ton of chemical weapons. He has sectors at the moment that can send these chemical weapons 500 kilometers away and they can also use things to go further. And it is not just a coincidence that these has been prohibited for 100 years. Of course, any war is horrible, but when you’re using weapons, even (inaudible) use ordinary weapons, even though they are more and more sophisticated, it is admitted, but not chemical weapons, and there is reason for that. And nonetheless, Mr. al-Assad is saying I don’t care, I ignore it, and I can even provoke you.

And like John was saying, behind it there is Northern Korea, and there is yesterday a congratulation message from Bashar al-Assad to his colleague from North Korea, congratulating him and asking for better cooperation or greater cooperation.

And then there is Iran. Can you imagine that if we are not able to react when there is a proven fact even by a major country of the world, by Syria, one of the greatest dictators in the world, who can imagine that next year, if the negotiations are in a dire situation, who could consider, imagine that in a year we would be able to prevent Iran from using nuclear weapons? Iran has a right to civil nuclear energy, but not to nuclear weapons.

So there is all of that, and also what is happening in Syria with the terrorists. We’re saying there is and we a need a political solution. But if we are not able to get together around the table representatives of the regime and representatives of the moderate opposition, let me tell you what will happen. On the one hand, you will have the dictator, and on the other hand terrorists for al-Qaida. And we’ve all seen that these terrorists can travel to all of our continents, so it is not just an abstract discussion, a legal discussion, a discussion for the politicians. It is relevant to people. And it is not just about defending our values and freedom. It is about defending our experience.

SECRETARY KERRY: (Inaudible) a very eloquent statement, a very important statement.

But it’s clear to me as I talk to friends of mine in the Congress that there’s a quick and automatic reaction by people in America – and I understand it – and people here and elsewhere. They hear: Oh my gosh, the President is thinking of a military action against an Arab – a country in the Arab world; here we go again, here’s Iraq, here’s Afghanistan, here we are.

But no, there will be no boots on the ground, no soldiers put at risk, no lengthy action, no long term – this is not Iraq, it is not Afghanistan, it’s not Libya, it’s not Kosovo. It’s nothing remotely like that. And people have an automatic sense of disconnect because it is, as Laurent said, far away and all the reasons. I’m not going to rebuild that. But there is an Iraq hangover. There is just a huge doubt in people’s minds, which I completely understand, because we all got burned by that and we’re still paying the price. And so it’s automatic. But that cannot strip away from us our responsibility to meet real threats today and to do our jobs to communicate to people why we believe they are, in fact, real. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Two more questions, and that will be the end of it.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Margaret Brennan from CBS.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Mr. Secretary, you’ve been working on building this coalition for weeks around the clock. Is there anyone besides France willing to take concrete action to participate in a military action, or are strong statements of support from the sidelines the extent that the U.S. will get in terms of participation?

And Mr. Minister, you talk about waiting for this UN report. Even a preliminary report could take weeks. The more time that passes, isn’t there a greater risk that Assad could move assets, that he could launch more attacks, or that he could retaliate against interests? I mean, do you have any timeline?

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: I shall answer that one in English. Now, if the report was in, I don’t know, October, your observation would be right. But we have been told by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the report will be delivered very soon. It has to be and it will be very serious. It needs to have all the (inaudible) scientific elements and it will be the case, obviously. But Mr. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told us in a very straight way that it would be done very quickly.

And we think that it could bring an element to the population, because you are saying, and rightly, that people are – is it very clear, is it genuine? And we have no doubt so far as we are concerned. Our services have shown through different ways, different channels, that facts are facts and that Mr. Bashar al-Assad is responsible for that, no doubt. And the experts will deliver their own job and their own study, and surely they will show that a, there has been the chemical attack which is decisive.

And you must maybe take notice that step by step during the last days, things have changed. A few days ago Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime were not saying that there has been a chemical attack, and now they are acknowledging that there has been one. It’s the first step. The second step, the regime is the only one to have the technique, the weapons, to way to make mixture between the different elements, and therefore, the general public will draw the conclusions that it’s worthwhile.

SECRETARY KERRY: Margaret, let me – I’m not sure it’s been weeks. I certainly wouldn’t characterize it that way, number one. Number two, we are building support. This takes a little while because a lot of people don’t have the same information that we have, they don’t want to act rashly, and we need to make sure they’re briefed. We have only so many people, obviously, who are fully versed in this, and they’re busy briefing. They’re briefing in the UN. They just did that the other day. They’re briefing congressmen and senators in Washington, and they’re briefing other countries. So we are busy bringing information to people.

Just today we had a movement as one country that hadn’t signed on previously signed on today – very important. And yes, the answer is there are a number of countries, in the double digits, who are prepared to take military action. And I have said previously and I repeat again: We have more countries prepared to take military action than we actually could use in the kind of military action being contemplated.

So the answer is there is a building element of support, and we will continue to reach out. And the President obviously, ultimately, will make the case to the American people, and we’ll see where we are.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) you are saying, everybody is saying that the UN investigators will bring some evidence, but evidence is something we already know it is chemical gas. But they are not meant to say who is responsible for the attack. You’re saying that you have evidence of it. Why don’t you show it? This is what the public is expecting.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: Well, first of all, we believe that when some independent experts will have shown, clearly shown that there was a massive chemical attack, given that they are independent it will be even stronger that what we’re saying and it will get back to that. And once it is proven in an unchallengeable way that there have been a chemical attack, the conclusions will flow as a regime they have the stocks, they have the launchers, they’ve used chemical weapons before, they fired from their own places to the rebels’ area. And in addition, they’re not saying that they will stop. They stand ready to do it again.

And on the other side you have the opposition. They do not have the means. They do not have the missiles. They do not have the stocks. It would be rather surprising if they were to kill their own children. And as you may have noticed, the moderate opposition said that as far as they were concerned, they didn’t want chemical weapons, and that if they were to be in charge of the country they would destroy these weapons. So everybody can reach their own conclusions.

And regarding our own evidence, when it comes to the sarin gas which you were referring to, through different studies – and I insist on separate – both the British, the American, the French, the German services have proved that sarin gas was used.

SECRETARY KERRY: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and I were both United States senators and we voted on Iraq when the Iraq evidence came to us. Both of us are absolutely determined that neither of us in positions of responsibility would ever be party to presenting to our members of Congress or to our fellow citizens intelligence that we haven’t properly scrubbed and vetted and determined is accurate.

One of the reasons this took a little longer to come to this point is that we wanted to declassify some of the information in order to make certain that this would not be Iraq 2. We wanted to make certain that what we were putting out made the case. And we pushed our intelligence community very hard because there’s a reluctance in the intelligence community to make anything known that might give away a source or a method.

Notwithstanding that reluctance, we have declassified conversations that were heard by signals intelligence in which those conversations confirm that the Assad regime issued orders to prepare for the attack, told their soldiers to prepare for chemical weapons, issued orders to have gas masks, that every single rocket fired we have physical evidence came out of the area of the Assad regime control and landed in the area that was either contested or controlled by the opposition.

We then have evidence through further signals intelligence we have declassified that they gave orders to stop and they then had discussions about their fear of being caught by the United Nations inspectors. And we have confirmation in other ways about other countries in the region confirming that the Assad regime did it.

Moreover, both Iran and Syria have admitted a chemical attack took place. They’ve admitted it. They just say it was somebody else. And to pick up on what Laurent said, you have to put that to the test of common sense, of logic. How could someone else have gone into the Assad regime-controlled area and fired all of those things, and especially if they don’t even have them and they don’t have the technical capacity and the scientific capacity? I mean, there are just a series of things here, my friends, that add up to one conclusion.

Before I went to the United States Senate, I used to be a prosecutor, a lawyer. And I can tell you I would take this case to any court in America and you can convince people beyond a reasonable doubt of what happened. And we have additional evidence that we haven’t released because we don’t want to compromise the sources or the methods. But what we have released we believe is sufficient, more than sufficient, to prove this case.



PRN: 2013/T13-04