I am delighted to tell you that the United Nations force in Lebanon today reported to me that Israel has withdrawn from the country in full compliance with Security Council resolution 425 (1978). I have just conveyed this information to the Security Council.
The people of Lebanon have waited more than 22 years for this moment. We must all admire the fortitude with which they have borne this long ordeal. This is a happy day for Lebanon -- but also for Israel. It is a day of hope for the Middle East as a whole, and it is a day of pride for the United Nations. It shows that United Nations resolutions, when fully implemented by all parties working together, can be the building blocks of peace. Lebanon is now closer to peace than it has been in decades.
The main task of UNIFIL will be to help the Lebanese Government and armed forces assume their responsibilities along the border and throughout the area from which Israel has withdrawn. I trust the international community will also be quick to assist Lebanon with the task of reconstructing the economy in the south, and rebuilding its links with the rest of the country. This will help move the whole country to peace and stability.
I also hope that the implementation of Security Council resolution 425 (1978) will be seen by all the peoples in the region, especially Syrians, Palestinians and Israelis, as well as Lebanese, as an encouragement to move ahead faster in negotiating peace treaties based on earlier Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).
Those resolutions, enshrining the formula of land for peace, form the bedrock on which the 1991 Madrid formula for achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East was built. I, myself, shall be leaving immediately after this press conference for the region to meet the leaders there and to see what the United Nations can do to consolidate and build on today's achievement.
Finally, let me thank the leaders of Lebanon, Israel and Syria -- here I am referring to President Lahoud, Prime Minister Barak and, of course, the late President Hafez Al-Assad -- for the cooperation they have extended to the United Nations in the past few weeks.
I would also like to thank the Governments of Egypt, Iran, Jordan and Saudi Arabia for their support, as well as members of the Security Council and, last but not least, my own special envoy, Terje Rød-Larsen, for all they have done to make this day possible.
This is not the end of the long road towards peace in the region, but I hope it will be seen as the beginning of the end.
Thank you very much. I have to rush, but Larsen will be here to clarify and to answer any questions you may have.
Question: Mr. Rød-Larsen, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, I would like to wish you a warm welcome and congratulate you on this achievement. I will immediately open the floor to my colleagues, who may have more interest in this.
Question: Can you give us a sense of whether you intend to request -- I guess you have already made the request for an expansion of the force to nearly 8,000. Is that still meaningful, and is it likely to happen rather soon?
Terje Roed-Larsen: Yes, we do, indeed, think it is still meaningful. However, the force will, within the first two weeks of next month, reach 5,600, and we feel confident that that number can handle the challenge of redeploying UNIFIL throughout the area of south Lebanon. But we are still of the opinion that the force should be increased up to the number you mentioned.
Question: Today, President Lahoud called the line that was demarcated by the United Nations “fictitious . Is Lebanon recognizing the announcement that was made by the Secretary-General, as far as you know?
Mr. Rød-Larsen: Included in the Secretary-General's report there is a statement made by the Government of Lebanon which we very clearly interpret in such a way that Lebanon will respect the decision of the United Nations as concerns the Israeli withdrawal.
The Secretary-General, in my presence, also talked to President Lahoud on the phone just before this, and I think that impression was reinforced in the telephone conversation.
Question: Just as a follow-up on that first, does that negate the possibility that President Lahoud is still challenging the demarcation of the border. And then my own question is: Could you tell us what all of the hang-ups were that kept delaying this announcement? What were the latest problems?
Mr. Rød-Larsen: If I may answer the first half of the question first, the official position of the Government of Lebanon is contained in this report, as is the official position of the Government of Israel. And we do consider, of course, this as being the positions of respectively the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel.
To answer the second part of your question, it is a very complicated story, both to identify a line which is in full conformity to the international boundaries of Lebanon and even more complicated to identify or to transform that line from a line on a map to a line on the ground. And, further, which is the last part of the exercise carried through by UNIFIL, under the auspices of the Force Commander -- that is, to verify whether Israel, according to the requirements defined in the Secretary-General's report of 22 May of this year, de facto had left all of Lebanon.
There are lots of practical problems which have to be addressed in such a complicated exercise being conducted, both by people on the ground, by mobile units and by helicopter. And I would say that 90 per cent -- even more -- of the problems we encountered on both sides were of a practical nature and not of a political nature. I think that the United Nations teams which have been working now for many, many weeks in the field have worked exceedingly well with both the Lebanese authorities and the Israeli authorities. I will, however, not conceal that there have been differences of opinion along the road and that there still are differences of opinion. But what is most important for us is that both parties now, based on the statements contained in the report, do respect the decision made by the Secretary-General.
Question: You said the last time you were here that this report would trigger the dispatch of larger units of peacekeepers, and there have been stories about French, Italians and Spanish sending larger units. Do you know what the state of play is? Is it agreed? Is there some kind of time-frame for those troops arriving?
Mr. Rød-Larsen: As I have already stated, the number of troops on the ground is about to be increased from about 4,400 to 5,600 as an augmentation of the existing battalions on the ground. In addition, we do hope that there will be new troop contributors. I do not want to comment on the specific nations here. And I do hope, as I stated during my last press conference here, that the endorsement of the report in the Council will trigger a contribution of troops from relevant nations.
Question: You have talked in this whole process of the practical line. Can you just help us understand how this differs from the recognized international borders, to what extent has this been the cause of the problems that you have had and why has a practical line been necessary?
Mr. Rød-Larsen: Let me first emphasize that I have not talked about the practical line throughout this process. What I have talked about is identifying a line for the practical purpose of confirming the withdrawal, which is something different. This line, which you will find on a map attached to the official report which you will have later today, is, in our opinion, in full conformity with the international boundaries of Lebanon and Israel.
But it is not up to the United Nations to demarcate borders. In our opinion, this is de facto the international boundary, as we have defined it, based on the best available evidence to the United Nations. However, de jure it is not the international boundary, because only nations can demarcate an international boundary. But I would like to emphasize that de facto, this is the situation and that this boundary is in full conformity.
I would like to add also that we are talking about two borders here. One is the border between Israel and Lebanon, the other one is the border between Lebanon and Syria. Concerning this boundary, we have simply, for the purpose of the withdrawal, used the dividing line between UNDOF's and UNIFIL's areas of operation. As you all know, UNDOF's area of operation is purely Syria, and UNIFIL's purely Lebanon. This gave the United Nations a line for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal, this being practical because there is no internationally recognized boundary between Syria and Lebanon.
Question: The Secretary-General mentioned the support of Iran, among others. Could you characterize what type of support you got from Iran in this process?
Mr. Rød-Larsen: Well, the talks with the representatives of Iran have been conducted purely with the Secretary-General, so I have not been personally present at any of those conversations. So I am afraid I cannot answer that in detail. But what I do know is that these conversations have been to the full satisfaction of the Secretary-General.
Question: Can you describe in a little more detail how you see the redeployment happening? Are they going to go into the sites where -- the former outposts of the Israelis, were those destroyed? Will they have to do any negotiations with the Hezbollah to take charge of some of these places? And a little more detail on what they will be doing and how soon. Does this happen tomorrow? Do you start moving the troops that are already there into the areas?
Mr. Rød-Larsen: Let me first say that the implementation of 425 (1978) has three main elements: the first is the withdrawal of Israeli troops, and the Secretary-General has just minutes ago confirmed that this withdrawal has taken place. There are two other tasks -- two other requirements: the first one is to restore the authority of the Government of Lebanon, and the second one is to assist the Government of Lebanon in restoring peace and security.
Unrelated to both these issues, the most important element is that the Government of Lebanon deploys armed forces in the south in order to restore its authority and in order to restore peace and security. Our task is to assist the Government of the Lebanon in this endeavour.
And then I would like to say that we are exceeding the pace, and that the Government of Lebanon now has deployed security forces in the south of Lebanon. So there is actually a security presence in every village in the south. At this moment, there are about 1,000 security troops deployed in the south -- predominantly internal security forces, but also forces from the Lebanese army. And this is the most important issue.
The second important issue is the deployment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which is there -- and I emphasize this again -- to assist the Government of Lebanon in order to restore peace and security and in order to restore its authority.
The announcement today of the confirmation will trigger the immediate deployment of the existing UNIFIL troops in the former Israeli-controlled areas in the south. And UNIFIL will set up permanent positions throughout the area, and will also be training extensively in mobile units.
Question: Following up on what you have just said, there seemed to be some concern in Lebanon today that, because of President Lahoud's reservations, the Lebanese army would not deploy to the south. Do you have any assurances from the Lebanese Government that in fact the Lebanese army is going to deploy in strength -- because 1,000 internal security forces with a few army is not exactly "in strength" for that kind of an area.
Mr. Rød-Larsen: As far as we know, there have been about 500 troops deployed from the army so far. The Lebanese position has been that they would not address this issue before the confirmation was given. We are today in a position where the Secretary-General has confirmed the withdrawal; which means that one of the main topics that we will have to address with the Government of Lebanon, and which is of course also relevant to the Secretary-General's upcoming visit to Beirut, will be exactly this issue, that is, the deployment of armed forces in the south.
Question: Can you tell us, please, what kind of assurances you have got from the Lebanese about the safety and security of the troops of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon?
Mr. Rød-Larsen: The President of Lebanon has issued, at my request, a statement to that effect, and it is very difficult to get a more iron-clad assurance than an assurance from the Lebanese President. I would like to add that there have been no episodes whatsoever involving the personnel of the United Nations or of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon on the ground. Quite the contrary, UNIFIL personnel of all ranks have felt exceedingly welcome in this new situation. And there are no reasons to believe that there is, under the current circumstances, any significant security threat to UNIFIL personnel.