We have had a very interesting discussion following the visit of Mr. Gambari to Burma.
Unfortunately, the content of his report is disappointing - and I want to say once again : unfortunately. He was not in a position to meet with General Than Shwe. It is true he has seen Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi - that is the minimum that could have happened - unfortunately he did not receive in return any serious sign of opening by the authorities of Burma. Vague promises that something would be done, the announcement today of the release of some prisoners, not knowing if they are political ones or not, with a vague reference to the elections process, and by the Junta the announcement that the release that will take place in the next days will concern the most disciplined of the prisoners…you will appreciate what it means in such a country as Burma.
Unfortunately there was no readiness by the authorities to open a political dialogue with the opposition without precondition. On the other hand, Aung San Suu Kyi and the LND restated in a communiqué yesterday their readiness, as asked for by the Secretary General of the UN, readiness to participate in political dialogue, without any kind of precondition. Why ? Because there should be some election - as you know there is a road map which has been imposed by the authorities of Burma. Why imposed ? Because the process, the agenda is refused by the opposition for the moment. So it is not a commonly agreed agenda, political agenda for the society in Burma. We have to be very careful not to validate - not to legitimate - such a process in the Security Council as long as there is no political dialogue that could ensure that the opposition will be in a real position to participate, democratically, in those elections.
But we should not be discouraged. We think we should support the good offices mission of Mr. Gambari. We are supportive of the willingness of the Secretary General of the UN to engage, once more, in the Burmese dossier. He will fix the benchmarks for his possible visit to Burma - it is not up to the Council to do that - and we will certainly help him in any way we can to get something, something concrete, from the authorities of Burma.
What I can say is that - and we are commonly reviewing our policy vis-à-vis Burma in the European Union, there is a process of discussion among the Europeans - we have to make decisions on how we view the future of Burma if nothing happens in the few months to come. And we the French think the Security Council should take its responsibility as we will take our responsibility as French.
At the same time, if there are signs of openness by the regime, then there is no doubt, and the regime knows that, that there is an extraordinary goodwill and willingness by the international community to engage and be very supportive and offer some positive steps towards reconstruction and reconciliation, to support the political process and to support the economic and social improvement of the situation for the Burmese people.
Because of course, the first victims of this tragic situation in Burma are the Burmese people.
I gather from your remarks, you can correct me if I’m wrong, that the Security Council, other than encouraging the continued use of the good offices of the Secretary General, is not looking to make any statement or do anything that really increases the pressure on Myanmar to take the steps that you want them to take ?
For the moment we have issued very clear statements last year with the elements that we would like to see, benchmarks if you want, for the political process to be inclusive and democratic in Burma. So we are still backing these elements - there is no need to repeat them indefinitely. And we support what Mr. Gambari did by proposing those elements once again to the authorities of Burma. We have been asked by some members of the Council to wait for this visit and to prepare for a possible visit by the Secretary General. Fine. We don’t want to oppose that, so we will see. But if and when the visit takes place, and if nothing happens, then we will have to come back to the Council and to make some decisions.
France is not opposed to the Secretary-General visiting Burma without further moves ? And I also wanted to ask for your position on the 2008 constitution : do you think the elections can proceed under that Constitution ?
No, we don’t think so. On the second point it is very clear. We think that as long as there is no consensus in the society of Burma to accept the political process leading to elections, we don’t think those elections should take place. And regarding the visit of the Secretary-General, it is not up to us to accept or to refuse, it’s up to him to decide to do it. If he thinks that it is relevant, that it is timely and that it could be efficient, we will support him, because anything that could help gaining something for the freedom of the people of Burma will be useful.
What is France’s position on Sri Lanka ? There have been some questions, as the conflict there escalates, about whether it is an appropriate topic for discussion inside the Council, or briefings, or otherwise. What’s your view ?
We are very concerned about the report about very heavy civil casualties in what we can hope to be the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka. As you remember, France organized in January, while presiding over the Security Council, a debate on the respect for international humanitarian law, and we certainly think that in Sri Lanka, lot of elements of international humanitarian law have been violated by both parties, to be very clear. I think it is very important and timely that Mr. John Holmes is on the ground now, he is visiting, he is trying to see what we can do to help, so we will try, first of all, to be of help to the people of Sri Lanka. It is obvious that during the bombings by some sides, civilian casualties occured ; in other cases we know that the guerrilla has a tendency to use the refugees and the civilian population as human shields. Those are unacceptable behaviours, but we will discuss that probably once Mr. John Holmes has come back.
Can you comment on the latest IAEA report on Iran which says that while the number of centrifuges have levelled off they’ve enriched enough low-grade uranium to move to the next stage ?
What I can comment is to confirm our very serious worries about the behaviour of Iran, the constant and persistent refusal to cooperate with the agency. We think there is no sign at all, unfortunately, for several weeks and months now, of decreasing of the building up of a potentially military nuclear capability by Iran. We think this report is unfortunately coherent with the perception that we have. The program has not stopped and Iran is constantly violating its own obligations vis-à-vis the international law and the agency, so at one moment, we will have to deal with that, this is very clear.
Is this a dangerous new phase ?
It’s not up to me to comment on such a precise point. My point is to say that once again, we have to confirm, unfortunately, that they are going on with the programme and they are not complying anymore with the agency’s rules.
Is there a Security Council plan ? Is there any talk of a meeting or consultations on this specific issue ?
Not to my knowledge in the next days.
One last thing on Myanmar : those of us who are following the issue have asked repeatedly whether the Secretary-General was going to go there on two recent trips he made in South Asia. The answer of the spokesman office was that he was not going to go there, that the time was not right, that there was no positive signs, indications that would allow him to go there. And now we have a disappointing trip. Isn’t the Security Council waiting for something which is not likely to happen maybe for at least a year ?
Once again, it is not up to the Security Council to direct mandates to the Secretary-General on issues like that. The Secretary-General knows exactly where we stand in the Security Council, everybody was waiting for the result of the visit of Mr. Gambari, we have now as serious knowledge of the outcome of the visit, and as I told you, they are very thin and very disappointing. It is up to Mr. Ban Ki-Moon to decide if the time is right and at what conditions he wants to go if he wants to go. And then we will discuss with him of course, and we will see, it is not up to the Council to create problems for a potential visit of the Secretary-General and if he decides to go there, our probably common will in the Security Council will be to support the try by the Secretary-General.
I thought you said that as far as further steps towards increasing pressure, maybe consideration of sanctions or other, you thought the Security Council was going to wait until after the visit by him.
Yes, I said that if he wants to go, of course the Security Council will have to wait for the result of the visit of the Secretary-General. This makes sense to me, and then we will see what happens and we will take our responsibilities in the Council, it is very clear. Thank you.