Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—Foreign ministers of the 11 countries that make up the “Friends of Syria” group are preparing to meet in Doha on Saturday to discuss arming the Syrian rebels, a senior French foreign ministry source told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The French diplomat revealed that the Friends of Syria will discuss ways of providing political and military assistance to the Syrian opposition, in addition to assessing developments in the field, most noticeably the fall of Qusayr and the recent successes achieved by Assad regime forces in a number of areas.
The previous meeting of the foreign ministers of the Friends of Syria—Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, USA—was held in May in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
In the meantime, Paris has moved quickly to clarify comments made by President François Hollande on Iran at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. The French president opened the door to Iranian participation in the Geneva II conference—expected to be held in early August—in response to the election of Hassan Rouhani as president of the Islamic Republic.
The French diplomat, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, emphasized that the Paris government cannot act as if nothing has happened in Iran, in reference to the election of moderate candidate Rouhani.
The source said that the change “is not in French policies, but in Iran itself,” adding that any effective change in its stance on Iran is “dependent on actions, not words and statements.”
Paris had been one of the biggest opponents to Iran’s participation in the forthcoming Geneva II conference, considering Iran to be part of the problem, not the solution.
The French diplomat revealed that there are two conditions on Iran’s prospective attendance at Geneva II.
He said, “First, Iran must agree with the contents of the Geneva I statement, which stipulates the formation of a transitional government with full authority, including responsibility for the armed forces and security services, and which includes members from the regime and opposition, particularly as this is the basis for the current talks in preparation for Geneva II. Secondly, Iran must stop acting as a party to the conflict, which means it must cease support for the Assad regime.”
The source added that President Hollande was careful in his statement to emphasize that Iran would only be invited to attend if this would prove beneficial to the overall process, but that subsequent media reports had ignored these reservations.
France is concerned that Iran may seek to exploit the Syrian crisis, its nuclear file, and any prospective role in the Geneva II conference in order to serve its own interests. Paris called on Tehran to first respond to the UN and IAEA’s demands before it will be allowed to participate in Geneva II.
Speaking to reporters earlier this week, President Hollande said: “On the presence of Iran, let’s wait for the new president to speak and let’s see if he can be constructive,” adding, “My view is that if he is constructive, then yes, he will be welcome.”