In a briefing to journalists on Sunday, French Ambassador to Egypt André Parant said it’s too early to determine what policy changes France will make on the Syrian front beyond its determination to fight the Islamic State.
“We are targeted because we are engaged in the struggle against terrorism, and notably against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But I don’t imagine we will stop fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. What happened might reinforce our determination to fight them more,” Parant said.
The conversation with the ambassador took place in the aftermath of a string of attacks across several locations in Paris, killing at least 129 and injuring 352, according to the latest French media tallies.
On Sunday night, the French Ministry of Defense announced that it would be conducting air raids in the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, in a joint operation with US forces. France began launching air strikes in east Syria in September, with its war on the Islamic State limited to a small contribution to the US-led coalition in Iraq.
Parant added that the hunt for a political resolution in Syria should not stop, underlining that there is agreement on major points, but there are many questions related to the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the transition.
He added that the main divergence between different players lies in whether Assad should be part of the solution, or if, “like us, he is thought to be part of the problem.”
“Some think that Bashar is better than the Islamic State, but we think that neither of them is better than the other,” he added.
Parant reiterated France’s position on Syria, which transcends the fight against the Islamic State. The Islamic State only appeared in 2014, Parant said, “But what did we do between 2011 and 2014? I am not saying Bashar should go tomorrow, but he constitutes the best reason for the Islamic State to continue.”
The ambassador used his country’s position on Syria to show that France’s interest in fighting terrorism and commitment to security does not mean blind support of authoritarian regimes.
“France supports all those who fight terrorism. When we say Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the situation in Syria, I don’t think we are supporting an authoritarian regime.”
“We cannot dissociate democracy and terrorism. Democracy is the better antidote for extremism and terrorism. But we can also see terrorist movements flourish in democratic regimes,” he added.
On France’s preparedness for terrorist attacks, Parant said that this is obviously not the first of its kind in Paris, with the latest incident being the January attack on the Charlie Hebdo journalists.
However, the scope this time is different, he said. “We never have attacks of that size, with this number of victims. This is the first time we see suicide attacks in French territories.”
“We knew that France was exposed to this risk and the alert of the security services was very high. We are an important country, that is highly engaged in the world fight against terrorism in the Middle East, Africa and the whole world,” he added.
Besides its role in Syria and Iraq, France has sent troops to fight Islamist groups in Mali, as well as supported African troops in fighting the militant Boko Haram group in Nigeria.
Parant pointed to French youth who become radicalized at home and join the ranks of combat in Syria as an important source of threat. “There are some surveillance measures taken for these young people.”
Parant insisted, however, on separating between questions of migration and security, saying that France’s policy toward registering immigrants and refugees shall not change, and will only follow its ability to host incoming groups. “If migrants reach France in a legal way, there won’t be changes. There might be more measures with this or that person, but we can’t draw a straight relation between migration and security,” he said.
Parant discarded threats of vigilante acts against Muslims of France in retaliation to the attacks, despite his recognition of concerns on this matter. “French society is educated and tolerant. People don’t confuse Muslims with terrorists, Islam with Islamism, Islamism with terrorism. They know how to differentiate.”
On Egypt’s Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff Mahmoud Hegazy’s recent visit to France, Parant said that he has no detailed reports, but there is an evident cooperation between the two countries, particularly with the recent supply of arms from France to Egypt.
Parant pointed out, “It is normal when there are talks on security, that there are also talks related to intelligence.”