Q. – On the force in Mali, what specific capabilities is France prepared to commit, to help reconquer the north?
THE MINISTER – You’re aware of the situation in Mali: Mali is split in two, and a number of terrorists have established themselves in the north. Mali very legitimately wants us to help recapture her whole territory. So she’s made a request to the United Nations Security Council for troops to enable her to win back her whole territory.
There’ll be African troops, from neighbouring countries. Those troops will examine plans to enable the north, indeed, to be recaptured. France isn’t on the front line: she’s a facilitator. On the one hand, what we clearly want is for Mali to be able to recapture her territory. We know the terrorists based in the north are extremely dangerous, not only for Mali but also for all the neighbouring African countries, because they’re very heavily armed and have a lot of money. They’re also dangerous for France and Europe because they don’t hide the fact that they want to destabilize these countries.
If the Security Council – as I believe and hope – approves the Malian authorities’ request, that’ll eventually make it possible to dispel these concerns: not straight away but eventually.
Q. – Regarding the hostages, is France under threat at domestic level?
THE MINISTER – There are no specific threats in any particular towns or cities, if that’s your question, but overall we’re collectively under threat, like the neighbouring African countries, because these terrorists, who are linked to the group AQIM [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], have said very clearly that all “infidels” are their enemies.
Q. – So it’s about helping the Malian government regain sovereignty, but this action, particularly France’s, is also part of the more comprehensive antiterrorist struggle.
THE MINISTER – That’s an entirely fair depiction. Let’s be clear: it’s not about sending French troops; there’s no question of that. It’s up to the Africans, under a United Nations mandate, to take the necessary actions. If we, who are opposed to terrorism, can help in one way or another, we’ll do so.
Q. – Are you worried about French hostages?
THE MINISTER – It’s obviously a daily concern. President Hollande and I met hostages’ families last week. They’re extremely responsible people whose courage commands admiration. We’re working on a daily basis – I want to stress this – and discreetly, to get the hostages back.
Q. – Have you got any evidence they’re alive?
THE MINISTER – Yes, there was recent evidence that they’re alive.
Q. – To get back to the situation in northern Mali, can it be said that the region is also being used to train terrorists from other countries?
THE MINISTER – Yes, those are reports we have. There are a number of terrorists, including AQIM, who have a lot of weapons: some come from what happened in Libya, some come from money, some of the money comes from drugs, and the region serves as a hub for training a whole series of “trainee terrorists” who then go on to commit their crimes in other African countries, including as far as East Africa. So it’s a danger, not only for Mali but for Africa as a whole, and for Europe as a whole.
Q. – The matter has now been referred to the UN. Do you think an African force can be established quickly enough?
THE MINISTER – I hope so, because domestically in Mali in recent months the different players have had difficulty reaching agreement, and fortunately – although I’m remaining cautious – there’s now an agreement to make a request. It’ll be examined in the coming days, and I hope the Security Council takes a positive decision. If that’s the case, it’ll be a good decision.
Q. – Can there be any movement on Syria? What can we expect from the General Assembly?
THE MINISTER – I’m afraid unfortunately there might not be much movement, because it’s up to the Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities but two states are blocking things: Russia and China. Today, unfortunately, I can’t see what might make them change their minds. It’s all the more serious because there are deaths every day, and if the conflict lasts it also risks inflaming passions and thus leading to a sort of fragmentation of Syria, which would be extremely dangerous. If you have a section of Syria that becomes Iranian, another section of Syria that becomes this, another that, in a region that’s already extremely troubled and strife-ridden, it’s a big risk. That’s why France is at the vanguard in trying to bring the opposition in Syria together, find an alternative to Bashar and persuade the Russians and Chinese that Bashar must really go and that a solution must be found so the Syrian people can finally live in peace.
Q. – The fear of the Russians in particular is that Muslim extremists will take power after Bashar al-Assad. Is France also concerned about this possibility?
THE MINISTER – It must be avoided, and to that end Bashar al-Assad must be replaced quickly, because there are already fundamentalist elements being reported to us here and there. If the crisis were to last, the risk would be even greater.
Q. – You’ve said you’re optimistic about Mali. There was a lot of concern and questioning about whether ECOWAS could get enough troops. It’s been said 3,000 troops are necessary, and they haven’t yet been mustered; is that going to change?
THE MINISTER – I remain cautious, but it’s true this is the first positive sign we’ve got regarding Mali, because the President and Prime Minister of Mali agreed to send a letter, with ECOWAS’s agreement, to refer the matter to the Security Council. So this is a first phase – there will be others – and it’s a positive phase. It’s up to the United Nations Security Council to respond to the Malian authorities’ request, so that we can envisage Mali’s integrity being restored, which is essential, and the terrorists leaving.
Q. – Do you think those countries will have the 3,000 troops necessary?
THE MINISTER – I think it’s within the grasp of our African friends.