Middle East

French defence minister open to Syria buffer zones

French President Francois Hollande, left, waves to the media as he leave the first Cabinet meeting after the traditional August holiday, with Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, right, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS: French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian suggested on Thursday that Western nations and allies could consider setting up a limited no-fly zone over part of Syria without a U.N. Security Council mandate.

But Le Drian, speaking on France 24 television, said a no-fly zone could not occur without "an international coalition", something that at the moment does not exist.

"The scenario mentioned by (U.S. Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton of a particular zone where there could be a banned area is something that needs to be studied," said Le Drian, speaking on France 24 television.

Le Drian's statement marked the first time a senior French official had suggested that an "international coalition," rather than the United Nations, could intervene in Syria.

Russia and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have blocked intervention in Syria.

The United States and Turkey said on Aug. 11 they were looking at all measures to help Syrian rebel forces fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish and U.S. diplomats, intelligence and military officials held talks in Ankara on Thursday that were expected to touch on a possible buffer zone in Syria.

"When we say that the subject of a buffer zone is being studied, we are studying the way in which it could be set up if there was an international multilateral political decision that was taken," a French government source said. "We could study this if there was an international coalition."

The source declined to comment when asked if an international coalition would work outside the U.N. Security Council.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, when asked earlier on Thursday about creating a no-fly zone and possible buffer zones, said Paris was "thinking about all that."

Aides to Fabius said Paris was still mulling these options within an international legal framework.

France chairs a U.N. Security Council foreign ministers meeting in New York next week which it has said will focus on creating humanitarian solutions to help the Syrians. At this stage, concrete proposals have yet to be finalised as negotiations continue between members of the council.

Fabius said he had invited Syria's neighbours - Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan - to attend the conference, given the number of refugees and fears of the conflict spreading.

Under the previous government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, Paris had called for the creation of safe zones defended by armed international observers along Syria's borders with Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

That would have allowed international aid workers direct access to tens of thousands of Syrian civilians affected by the government crackdown.





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