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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

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Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow US and Western Governments arrow State Dept. on Lebanon: United States Welcomes the Doha Agreement on Lebanon
State Dept. on Lebanon: United States Welcomes the Doha Agreement on Lebanon PDF Print E-mail
Written by State Deptartment   
Thursday, 22 May 2008

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Statement by Secretary Condoleezza Rice

Washington, DC
May 21, 2008

The United States welcomes the agreement reached by Lebanese leaders in Doha, Qatar. We view this agreement as a positive step towards resolving the current crisis by electing a President, forming a new government, and addressing Lebanon’s electoral law, consistent with the Arab League initiative. The United States supports the government of Lebanon and its complete authority over the entire territory of the country.

The United States commends the efforts of the Arab League’s committee of Foreign Ministers, in particular the leadership of the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, and Secretary General Amr Moussa.

We call upon all Lebanese leaders to implement this agreement in its entirety, in accordance with the Arab League initiative and in conformity with UN Security Council resolutions.

2008/406

Released on May 21, 2008

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Briefing on Lebanon and Other Middle East Issues
C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
Washington, DC
May 21, 2008

(9:50 a.m. EDT)

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s nice to see some of our regular – all of our regular gaggle participants as well as some of those of you who don’t show up on a regular basis. But anyway, I can understand the attraction why.

The way I wanted to handle this was have David handle your questions about the obvious issues that are out there today, and then I’ll stay behind to answer any other non-David Welch, Middle East-related questions. So I’ll turn it over to David.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thanks, Sean. Let me just preface my remarks by saying we expect, I hope not too long from now, that Sean will give you a statement in the name of the Secretary about the agreement in Doha on Lebanon. I can address any questions that you have about that.

Let me make a couple remarks at the outset. As you all know, Lebanon has been going through a significant political crisis which, very, very unfortunately, spilled over into the streets of Beirut beginning on the 5th of May. That this agreement has been reached in Doha is really a welcome development. It’s a necessary and positive step toward accomplishing what the Arab League’s initiative on Lebanon was designed to do, which was: first, to elect a president of Lebanon – as you know, there hasn’t been someone in that office, the highest Christian office in Lebanon, since November; second, the Arab League initiative called for forming a new government and that – the basis for that has also now been agreed in Doha; and third, the Arab initiative also asked that Lebanon’s electoral law be addressed. And the Lebanese politicians gathered in Doha also agreed on that.

As you know, throughout this crisis, before, during it, and today and afterwards, the United States supports the legitimate authorities in Lebanon, including the government and its security establishment. And we believe that the Government of Lebanon and the legitimate security forces of Lebanon should extend their authority over all the country.

We commend the efforts of the Arab League. In particular, I would like to single out the diplomatic effort led by Qatar under the leadership of the Amir, and in particular of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim. They, together with the foreign ministers, six of them who comprised the Arab committee and the Secretary General of the Arab League, did a very good job under extremely difficult circumstances to forge this agreement.

Now, the next step is for it to be implemented. We would like to see that done in its entirety. As you know, this agreement has some – several provisions, including an important one related to security in addition to the political ones that I mentioned at the outset. We believe this should be done in accordance with what the Arab League set out at the outset and in conformity with the Security Council resolutions for Lebanon.

Okay. Those are the introductory comments I have to make, and I’m happy to address any of your questions about this. We’re on the record, just to repeat.

QUESTION: So then we shouldn’t expect much in the way of answers? (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, it depends. You know, maybe you’ll get something. If you look at it carefully, it might even surprise you.

QUESTION: David, is this the – sort of the best face you can put on it? I mean, you’ve got an agreement that Iran and Syria immediately praised. It nearly doubles the number of seats in parliament that the opposition will have and gives them effective veto power. How can that be a necessary –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Doubles the number of seats in parliament?

QUESTION: From --

QUESTION: In the cabinet.

QUESTION: In the cabinet, I mean.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: In the government. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: From six to eleven. I mean, how can this be necessary and positive from – for U.S. goals in the Mideast?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, look, let’s step back from this for a second. First of all, there are a number of governments who’ve acclaimed this, and that Lebanon should move forward to resolve some of these political issues I think is really important. And if Syria and Iran have supported that, then perhaps they will continue to exercise a more constructive role in Lebanon. We would like to see that. It would come as a bit of a surprise to us, but the results are what counts.

As you know, Lebanon had a cabinet that included members of the opposition until November of ’06. They left because of political disagreements, and that escalated the difficulties that have arisen. You know, we support the majority in this. The majority agreed with this decision, and they comprise a majority of the seats in the new cabinet that will be formed.

You know, it’s not for us to decide how Lebanon does this, how Lebanon’s political leadership addresses it. And the people of Lebanon will – when they do have a new parliamentary election in ’09, will have a chance to record their own views about this and other aspects of what their political leadership has done.

When there were members of the opposition in the cabinet, if they were members of Hezbollah, the United States did not have a relationship with them. If there’s a new cabinet formed and it includes members of the opposition who are Hezbollahis, that’ll be the case in the future, too. You know our views on Hezbollah.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? I mean, doesn't this set up a scenario where we’re bound to be at the same place in a few months if the Lebanese Government – if the opposition continues to veto some of the policies of the Lebanese Government, you’re just going to lead to a similar place again?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I don’t think so. But of course, I can’t predict everything in the future. Again, let’s look at what happened here. I mean, there hasn’t been a president. Now there will be one. Second, the cabinet had been divided, as I said, since the walkout of members of the opposition. Now there’s to be a new cabinet, which will comprise members of the opposition as well.

I don’t know whether – I mean, most of you probably don’t know this, but the political tradition in Lebanon, when it comes to government decisions, is for consensus. Most Lebanese politics are formed around that principle. And it’s very difficult for Lebanese to get to consensus, but they generally hold to it once they can. I think there were over 4,000 cabinet decisions for this cabinet when the opposition was in it, that were arrived at by consensus. When – if you look at what would have likely been the result under some of the earlier proposals, this still gives to the majority in the cabinet, under this or any of the previous configurations, the right to take simple decisions by majority vote. Traditionally, those have been accomplished by consensus. But, yes, because there is a blocking minority, the minority is able to block major decisions if they seek to do so.

QUESTION: Do you think this leaves Hezbollah in a stronger position now than it was previously?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, it’s – you know, some have argued that they are accomplishing political objectives by intimidation and violence. I have to say that what happened on the 5th of May and thereafter is deeply disturbing in that respect. I think most Lebanese people – I mean, average people reacted very badly to that. As you can see, their public protests are not limited to political parties in Lebanon. Many people in Lebanon are upset over the situation that has evolved, press and editorial commentary throughout the Arab world has been very critical of Hezbollah’s actions.

The veil of resistance was ripped off this organization on the 5th of May when it took up guns against innocent people, against press establishments, against other political parties. You know, I – we have to see that for what it is, and I think the reaction to it has been extremely negative from most Lebanese and certainly throughout the region. That’s why you saw this energized Arab diplomacy to address this.

Again, this is not the end of this crisis and Lebanon still has to go through implementing this agreement. These are very delicate and political subjects for them and – however, I think we can go – we can see now that there could be a respite that would be very useful to heal some of these problems. And at the end of the day, it’ll be up to Lebanese to judge whether they prefer politics as they saw it on the streets of Beirut on the days following the 5th of May, or whether they prefer a more consensual and traditional approach to it.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Israel and Syria have launched indirect talks with the mediation of Turkey. A couple of questions on that. Was the U.S. involved in facilitating those talks? Did you encourage Turkey to play the mediating role? And what is the U.S. role in this? And is this part of the Annapolis process and how do you see this going forward? Are you looking at changing how you view Syria because of the this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: It’s our understanding that they’ve agreed to conduct some indirect talks under the auspices of Turkey. There’s been a statement from the Prime Minister’s office in Israel. And I gather, but I haven’t seen it, that there’s a similar, almost identical statement from the Syrian foreign ministry. In those statements, the parties declared their intention to proceed in good faith in these conversations with an open mind, trying to achieve an agreement.

Israel and Turkey have apprised us in the past of these discussions and kept us informed since their inception. I think Turkey played a good and useful role in this regard. You know, we have – we think the expansion of the circle of peace would be a good thing. And, of course, it would be very, very helpful if that included an agreement with Syria. That said, President Bush, during his – as recently as his trip to the region, declared that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians offer special promise, and we’re working to conclude an agreement by the end of the year on this. Those parties are in direct negotiation. So that’s what I have to say about that at this point.

QUESTION: How was the U.S. involved at all? Are you helping to facilitate these talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: No, Turkey played that role. We’re, as you know, not – we haven’t done that directly between the two. Turkey played a good role. We were kept informed. That’s where it is.

QUESTION: But Syria did not inform you. You said only Israel –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Israel and Turkey.

QUESTION: – and Turkey. You were not in consultations with Syria on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, the Syrians made some statements to the press that were suggestive, but not very specific as this last one was.

QUESTION: In the past –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Yes, please.

QUESTION: On the issue of Hezbollah arms, how would you like to see it going from here? And if a national unity government emerges, how would you like this issue to be handled by them? And there is real fear that with the blocking third, maybe some decisions on the tribunal might be reversed or, you know, the tribunal for Hariri will not take progress as it was supposed to be. I mean, how do you address these two issues?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, those are very good questions and thank you for asking them. First of all, let me be clear that there are – there’s an international standard in Security Council resolutions about what should happen with respect to weapons in the hands of militias or nongovernmental parties in Lebanon, and those are really explicit. There should be only one legal authority for security in Lebanon and that is the Government of Lebanon and its security establishment. Militias should be disarmed. That’s in 1559 and it’s reflected in 1701 as well.

In the Doha agreement there are provisions that relate to the authority of the state and to the use of – or enjoining against the use of weapons to achieve political gains. I don’t know if you all have seen the Doha agreement. It’s actually got quite a bit of language on this issue. And it says that the Lebanese have to address this. That’s – that was the case with – in the past as well. I think this is a really serious problem for Lebanon because it’s clear from the events of early May that the possession in the hands of one party of considerable military authority and power is deeply corrosive to open, transparent and fair politics.

And I think that the agreement that’s been reached is, in a way, a reaction to that and a setback for the Hezbollahis because now it has been inscribed again on the national agenda with some prominence that something has got to be done about this. That doesn't mean it’s going to be resolved immediately. I understand how difficult that is. But let’s – the moral plane here has shifted back again. And I think the people are pretty disgusted with what happened in early May, too.

With respect to the tribunal, once the Security Council acted to establish the tribunal, it was game over with respect to any further decisions required. The international investigation is proceeding. The tribunal is available for action when the investigation is ripe to proceed to prosecution, and that is what I expect will happen. I don’t see any further decisions that the Government of Lebanon would have to take in that respect.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: In the past, members of Mr. Olmert’s government have indicated that it was U.S. reservations about any talks with Syria, whether direct or indirect, which was one of their reasons for hesitating in going down that path. Can you tell us about how well-founded that perception was and whether those U.S. reservations have been appeased?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I think that that expression of our reservation conflates two issues in an unfair manner. It’s a question we get often. One is – one question is: Would we agree, or would we like to see, peace between Israel and any of its neighbors who do not have peace relations? The answer to that is yes. We have no objection to that. Indeed, we support that as a goal.

The second is, we do have reservations about the foreign policy behavior of Syria, and for that matter, its internal politics as well. We have expressed those many times, including directly to the Israelis. I have to say they share our concerns. That said, Israel lives in a difficult neighborhood; it’s in its national interest to find ways to expand the circle of peace if other people are serious about doing it, and I see that they’re undertaking that experiment now.

QUESTION: Is this – does this mean that the U.S. is not – is going to continue to play the role it has played in this process, which is nothing at all? I just –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, the role that we are playing is directly with respect to encouraging the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that are underway.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you don’t foresee a role for the U.S. or U.S. officials in –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We haven’t been asked – we haven’t been asked to play one.

QUESTION: Well, are you willing to consider the idea? Is this something –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We haven’t been asked. So if we’re asked, we’ll consider it.

QUESTION: What role have you been playing with the Hamas truce effort with the Egyptians in the past few days?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: None.

QUESTION: None at all?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: No. The Egyptians are working that problem themselves to try and convince the Hamas militants in Gaza that a ceasefire is in the interests of the people of Gaza. And so far, unfortunately for the people of Gaza, they have not yet succeeded in doing that.

QUESTION: David, it’s hard to – not to conclude that you are not enthusiastic, perhaps, about –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I would describe myself as dispassionate at this point. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Dispassionate. Interesting. Well, I was going to say –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I’m a dispassionate kind of guy, Arshad.

QUESTION: But you’re (inaudible) on the Israel-Syria?

QUESTION: But you’re spending a huge amount of time on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Yes.

QUESTION: And it sounds like you’re not spending a speck of time on the Israeli-Syrian matter. And consistently since Annapolis and even before that, you have – U.S. officials have emphasized that they saw their focus as being on Israeli-Palestinian, that that was the track that was moving. Again, very hard to conclude that you didn’t think other tracks were likely to be fruitful and your emphasis was elsewhere.

Two questions. One, is that not a fair assessment that even though you would like to see Israel secure a peace agreement with Syria, or indeed any of its neighbors, that you don’t think this is perhaps the best track to pursue at this moment? And secondly, do you think that there is sufficient bandwidth in the system for Israel to be negotiating on two tracks, given the extreme difficulty of both?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, on the latter, that’s more of a judgment for Israel and Israelis to make.

On the former, objectively, when we looked at where we would like to put our foreign policy emphasis here, I think we saw the Palestinian track as most promising, we – in particular after the change of government on the Palestinian side last summer, about a year ago. When that happened, it seemed to suggest to us that there was a promise, really, to reorient the equation here. And yes we did, Arshad, as you point out, invest a great deal in trying to change the circumstances to build international support, to reopen a political track. We invested a lot of effort by the Secretary of State and the President personally in doing that. The Annapolis conference served as a launching pad for real, direct negotiations, which is where we are now. And we’re heavily involved in trying to encourage progress in those negotiations. And we would like to have real achievements on that track by the end of the year.

This does not mean that we would not favor the expansion of such efforts between Israel and Lebanon and between Israel and Syria. That said, I mean, Lebanon had its own problems and, frankly, we had our concerns about Syrian behavior in any number of dimensions that suggested to us it would be rather more difficult to pursue that track. That Israel has been able to open some sort of indirect conversation about these matters with the Syrian Government with the good offices of Turkey is a good thing. I mean, I’m not saying it’s not. And we hope it prospers. But where we’re making the major investment right now is on the Palestinian track.

QUESTION: Given that your close and longstanding ally, Israel, believes it is worth its effort to invest in the Syrian track, why isn’t the Administration willing to do more to support them in that, rather than dispassionate and focus elsewhere?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, look, direct negotiations are always the best way to proceed. In the past, peace has been built when the two parties, whoever they may be, are directly engaged with one another. And so, just looking at what’s happening right now, I think – again, I don’t want to speak for the Israeli Government, but I think they would argue that what they’re doing with the Palestinians is of an entirely different dimension and character.

QUESTION: Just one question then on Syria. Now that Syria and Israel are publicly talking about negotiations, indirect negotiations, how would that affect negotiations with Hamas? Could Hamas be involved in eventual negotiations? Could people eventually decide to start talking to Hamas because Syria is a backer of Hamas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: It’s a completely different issue. Syria is a country. Hamas is a militant terrorist group. The Palestinian Authority and the PLO represent Palestinians in negotiations with Israel, and that’s who’s conducting the talks for them now.

QUESTION: Since Syria backs Hamas, could they push for Hamas to be involved in the negotiations on the Palestinian front?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I don’t see that and I don’t think it would work.

QUESTION: David --

MR. MCCORMACK: Last – last question.

QUESTION: Your answer to my question didn’t address the question of why you are not interested in –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: You had a chance.

QUESTION: I know, but you didn’t answer.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let’s get to Samir.

QUESTION: President Bush and Secretary Rice will meet with Cardinal Sfeir from Lebanon today.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Yes, very shortly.

QUESTION: What are you going to tell him? I mean, what --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, we haven’t told him yet, so how do I know? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What’s the message that you will –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, we have a lot of respect for the Patriarch. As you know, he is the Patriarch of the Maronites and they are, of course, the most important Christian community in Lebanon. He has very substantial moral influence over his flock and beyond it, in fact. So out of respect for his role in Lebanon, the President would like to hear from him and talk to him about how we see the future of Lebanon. You know, he has some influence over how Maronites view their political circumstances in the country, and the trouble over electing a president has essentially been a difficulty for Maronites because that’s the highest Christian office in the land.

QUESTION: So it’s a good timing for his visit today?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Pardon me?

QUESTION: It’s good timing for his visit today.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, his visit was planned before, and so it’s – it is good timing, but it’s fortuitous.

QUESTION: And if you could, without going back to the line – the Administration line that, you know, everything is completely unrelated to anything else and that no matter how close they are or how similar they may appear to 99 percent of the population, they’re, in fact, completely unrelated, if you – without going back to that, could you explain why you’re not concerned at all that the agreement that’s been struck in Doha could end up something like the failed agreement between Hamas and Abbas’ people in the PA, this kind of power-sharing agreement that involves a group that you consider to be militant terrorists?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, you know, I don’t like to compare apples and oranges, really. I consider the Palestinian situation, just in its history, its political character, completely different from Lebanon. You know, in the case of Lebanon, there was not a solution about how to elect a president even though there was a consensus about who the president would be because there were a variety of different moving pieces about what the political future ought to be with respect to the distribution of seats within the national unity government, how you’re going to conduct a parliamentary election next time around, what is the proper role of the political parties in the political life of the country. You know, this – we commend Qatar for leading this effort. You know, it’s difficult. This is not, I would argue, not a perfect solution, but it is much better than the alternatives, especially the kind of violence and disturbance that we have seen inside of Lebanon.

No one wants to see a return to the violence of the past that had characterized the Lebanese civil war, most of all Lebanese. They’re fed up with that. I think you saw that in the spontaneous demonstrations of people after the violence had calmed down in the streets, when they had a chance to go back out. And you know, I think the people who run some of these militant operations have got to look at what is the public view of what they’re doing. You know, Hamas is hurting the people of Gaza far more than it’s helping them by this behavior, and Hezbollah was shooting Lebanese. They’re not using their weapons to defend against some mythical Israeli enemy –

QUESTION: Is that an acknowledgement of one similarity?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, in their behavior, absolutely.

QUESTION: And that they both begin with H?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: (Laughter.) No. In their behavior, absolutely. No, I mean if they’re prepared to use violence instead of peaceful means –

QUESTION: So I guess that means that’s why you’re concerned, on your part, that it could deteriorate like the – what happened in – in the PA?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I think it did deteriorate. Look, what happened in early May was deeply disturbing and presented enormous risk to Lebanon, and to the area for that matter. And we believe it was instigated not merely by one party in Lebanon but by some of their supporters outside. That that has been halted and now may even be reversed with some damage to Hezbollah in the public eye is really important. And again, you have to weigh it – it’s not perfect as a solution, but you have to weigh it against the alternative, which would be a further deterioration –

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, that’s it, guys.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thank you all. Thank you.

2008/409

 

 

Released on May 21, 2008
 

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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 21, 2008

INDEX:

ISRAEL/SYRIA
 
 Turkish-Mediated Talks / Not a Substitute for Israeli-Palestinian Track 
 Syria’s Role in Region 

LEBANON
 
 Hezbollah’s Role / Wants to Have Foot in Camp of Terror and Foot in Politics 
 Doha Agreement / U.S. Involvement and Role 
 Hezbollah’s Involvement Lebanese Government / U.S. Contact 
 Disarmament of Hezbollah 

MIDDLE EAST
 
 U.S. Role and Interest in Region 

QUESTION: The United States position towards renewing indirect talks in Istanbul between Syria and Israel guarded by the Turkish efforts and the United States can see itself playing a strong role in supporting Turkey to – Turkey’s efforts to gaining credibility in the area? And if the United States can see also itself playing a role to ameliorate the Israeli radicals from causing the current Prime Minister in Israel Government to collapse or, you know, to take any measures that would weaken these peace efforts as they usually do?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m really heartened to see your deep concern for the state of Israeli politics. Look, we have stated our position that if Israel sees fit to engage in direct or indirect negotiations, then that is a decision for them to take. And certainly, the goal of comprehensive peace in the Middle East is something that we all share.

The – this is an effort that the Israeli Government has undertaken. We don’t see it, and nor should it be seen, in our view, as a substitute for the Israeli-Palestinian track which, in fact, has gotten to the stage of direct negotiations. Turkey has decided to play a role. So – and again, those are decisions for these sovereign states to take.

Syria itself could, you know, begin to play a more helpful role throughout the region if it chooses to do so. It could begin by recognizing the sovereignty of Lebanon. It could begin by demarcating its border with Lebanon, including the Shebaa Farms area, so that issue can be resolved. The hold-up in that regard is Syria.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up question?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

Yes.

QUESTION: Staying in the region, on Lebanon, this morning, the U.S. did welcome the Doha agreement as, quote, “necessary and positive.” But it does include, as one of the active players, Hezbollah. Does that involvement in any way invalidate the deal in the U.S.’s view? Is there any way to judge that Hezbollah is transitioning from a terrorist organization to one that is becoming an active political agency, sort of on the lines of Sinn Féin?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right –

QUESTION: And then in the larger sense, Sean, because this did not involve any – as far as we know – active U.S. involvement, does this look as if the U.S. is becoming a spectator on these sorts of regional issues? Or is it more positive that people in the Middle East are trying to work out these issues among themselves?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, on the first part of the question, Hezbollah itself has indicated – given no indication that it is prepared to renounce terror and violence and merely play a political role in Lebanese life. They now want to have it both ways, have a camp – a foot in the camp of terror and a foot in the camp of politics. They’re – the sort of myth about Hezbollah as a, quote, “resistance” movement I think was put to rest by their recent actions in killing Lebanese citizens. This was – they used their arms and force of arms to kill their fellow citizens. So this sort of myth that they have tried to perpetuate there that this is somehow a resistance movement I think has really been completely destroyed by the actions over the past couple of weeks.

In terms of – you know, in terms of the United States’ role and interest in the region, those are certainly served by having friends and allies and interested parties in the region advocate for support and push the spread and deepening of democracy, the spread and deepening of personal freedoms, and the spread and deepening of the ability of people to realize their full economic potential, engage in trade, engage in starting up businesses. It’s something you haven’t seen traditionally over the past six years as being widespread, the kinds of, you know, personal freedoms that we recognize in the United States and other places in the West.

So the engagement of, you know, friends and allies in the region on the side of democracy and greater prosperity and the deepening of freedom in the region is a positive thing. I don’t think anybody, any actor that has an interest in the spread of freedom and democracy in the region would describe the U.S. interest or participation in trying to help resolve the issues in the region as lessening in any way. If anything, what you have is an expansion of – to others in taking a positive and active role in trying to spread those values throughout the region, and that’s a good thing.

QUESTION: Is there any – is there anything that you can provide us on – in terms of whether the U.S. Government was talking to Fatah or to any of the other parties providing insight or friend-of the-court types of advice?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we – we stayed in touch, obviously, with friends in the Arab League to keep pace – keep abreast of the conversations as they were unfolding in Doha. But really the deal that was agreed to was fundamentally agreed to among the Lebanese political parties and brokered by the people on the ground there. Of course, we have an interest in knowing what was being discussed, and we did keep up to date. But again, that was the extent of our involvement and our role.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: Back to the Israel-Syria talks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of the timing of this? Why did it come out now? Some have suggested that this might have been a convenient time for Prime Minister Olmert, given his political troubles, and a means of distracting from that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. You know, Libby, I can’t speak to that. You might talk to one of the three or all of the three parties actually involved.

Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Just on Lebanon quickly. I see the Secretary has issued a statement since the David Welch briefing this morning, and she welcomed the agreement, obviously. I assume she plans to continue – or to deal with this government and other officials in this building. But given the fact that about a third of the government is Hezbollah members, does that place any legitimacy on Hezbollah? Because 11 out of 30 ministers is a pretty significant number, so –

MR. MCCORMACK: It doesn't –

QUESTION: I know it’s a – it’s not an easy issue to deal with when you have a government that you welcome and recognize, at the same time a third of it is – belongs to a terrorist organization, considered by the United States.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: So, how do you do it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I suppose we’ll have to take a look at the final government as it’s composed and elected and seated. We have until this point dealt with this government in such a way we deal with Prime Minister Siniora. He is from a political movement that certainly shares the values that we are espousing in the region. We have not dealt with Hezbollah ministers, even though there are currently Hezbollah ministers that are part of this government –

QUESTION: Two --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, two or three.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Two or three. I can’t remember the exact numbers. We haven’t dealt with them. I would anticipate that would be the case going forward as well. But I – we’ll, again, take a look at the government and see exactly how we’re going to do – deal with it. None of that should be read in any sort of way as a diminution in our support for the March 14th movement or those who are fighting for Lebanese sovereignty. I expect we will continue to deal with those people, and I expect that people from that branch of Lebanese politics will form really the foundation of this government and lead this government, although Hezbollah may participate in it.

QUESTION: Right. So you would expect that even the ministries that might be headed by a Hezbollah member to – for – in those ministries for there to be people who you can deal with?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let’s see what it produces. But – and I can’t tell you that, you know, I honestly – I would have to check, Nicholas, to see if we’ve had any contact with people below the cabinet level in the ministries headed by a Hezbollah cabinet minister. I just don’t know the answer to that.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Same topic. What, in practical terms, do you want to see happen next in term of – in terms of Hezbollah disarming? I mean, it seems to be, you know, a huge task.

MR. MCCORMACK: It is a huge task, and it’s a huge task that is looming before the Lebanese people and this Lebanese Government. There are obligations that have been undertaken that call for the disarmament of Hezbollah. That hasn’t happened to this point.

And ultimately, it is the internal political dynamics in Hezbollah – in Lebanese politics that’s going to result in that disarmament. You know, it’s not going to happen by force majeure from outside forces. But it’s going to have to be something that’s dealt with by the Lebanese people. And frankly, the possession of arms by Lebanon – by Hezbollah is a manifestation of a – the larger political conundrum in Lebanese politics that hasn’t been resolved.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s realistic?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ve seen the --

QUESTION: Do you think it’s realistic, a realistic prospect?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, absolutely it is – absolutely, it is realistic. Is it going to happen tomorrow? I doubt it’s going to happen tomorrow, or the week after. But it’s part and parcel of a fundamental question that the Lebanese people have to deal with. They have seen up close and personal in very real terms over the past couple of weeks the dangers of having these kinds of armed groups operating outside of the governmental control. It’s costs people’s lives. It costs the economy productivity. It has cost businesses, in some cases, their livelihoods. So there are real costs associated with it, and the Lebanese people at some point are going to have to come to terms with that, as, frankly, they are the only ones that are going to be able to finally resolve that issue.

QUESTION: Well, what do you – what, in practical terms, do you want to see happen next? Do you want the Arab League to put this up for open discussion? Do you want them to exert pressure? What do you want to happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think in – you know, in general terms, the international political system should continue to exert pressure to have – to achieve that result. But like I said, it’s going to be – part of that is exerting pressure, part of that is supporting those forces within Lebanese politics who have an interest in seeing a different kind of Lebanon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)


DPB#91

 



 
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