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Department of Public Information (DPI)
21 April 2006
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRIME MINISTER OF LEBANON
to the Security Council and a private meeting with the Secretary-General today, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, briefed correspondents at Headquarters on recent developments in his country.
The Prime Minister was joined at the press conference by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon, Fawzi Salloukh, and the Minister of Justice, Charles Rizk.
Prime Minister Siniora described Council members as very supportive of Lebanon’s independence, sovereignty and freedom, and of the results the country had achieved, thus far, in that regard. They had encouraged Lebanon to continue to address all remaining matters, and he, in turn, had expressed the importance it attached to shouldering the outstanding issues, leading to the delimitation of its borders, establish excellent relations with Syria based on mutual respect and parity, and solve pending issues regarding its relationship with the Palestinians, as well as outstanding issues concerning the ongoing international investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
He said he had asked the Security Council and its members to do their utmost to empower his Government, both politically and economically, to expand the pressures it had created over the past year, and to do everything possible to allow Lebanon to maintain its sovereignty and independence, which Lebanese so highly valued. He heard the support of each and every Council member in that regard.
To a series of questions about the Shaba’a Farms, the Prime Minister said that that was a plot of land to the south-east of Lebanon with a total area of about 42 square kilometres. That land was, in fact, Lebanese territory, and many times in the past decade, Lebanon had exercised its sovereignty over that plot of land. The Israelis occupied that part of Lebanon, starting in 1967 until 1989.
He said that the situation was as follows: Lebanon said that the land was Lebanese and the Syrians said invariably that it was Lebanese, but they fell short of making any effort to sign the necessary documentation or maps for the United Nations depositary, to enable the Organization to recognize that land as Lebanese. Meanwhile, the United Nations considered that land to be Syrian and, accordingly, that was the subject of resolution 338 (1973). The Lebanese, however, considered the land to be Lebanese and, therefore, subjected to resolution 425 (1978).
The Lebanese Government had asked the United Nations to tell it, “in clear terms”, what was really required to certify that territory under Lebanese sovereignty, he said. His Syrian brothers were saying they could not undertake any demarcation, as long as that plot was occupied. All the techniques were available to do the necessary demarcation, and everybody could sign the maps. “The delimitation can be done to the last millimetre -– if we are sending a rocket to the moon, we are putting it in a place where we know exactly per millimetre where it’s going to land,” he said, adding that he had asked the Secretary-General to advise him about the matter, so that it could be resolved.
If Syria refused to delimit the border under occupation, no delimitation could be done under “425”, a correspondent said, asking for a further reply.
Minister of Justice, Mr. Rizk, replied that the delimitation of the border had to take place between two neighbouring countries, and there were perhaps hundreds of cases in the world that had led to the delineation of borders. Any issues -- whether between two nations, two brothers or two States -- required that all causes and hot spots of tension be eliminated. He sought the border delineation as soon as possible, and the United Nations was the very place where such agreements between two States should be deposited. It was necessary to build sound relations between the two countries. When he received the Secretary-General’s reply in that regard, he would transmit it to the appropriate authorities. The Prime Minister and he were called on to seek all ways and means to delineate the borders between Syria and Lebanon, particularly Shaba’a Farms, under conditions to be set by the United Nations. That was not just a Lebanese-Syrian issue, but also an Arab issue.
Concerning a question about the tribunal, he said that that was one of the first issues on which there was unanimity in the National Dialogue, all political movements had been unanimous, that the United Nations and the Security Council should create an agreement with Lebanon for an international tribunal with an international character. Lebanon had not called for such a tribunal because of a lack of expertise or qualifications, or juridical culture. There were three reasons; the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri was a terrorist crime and fell within international jurisdiction; among the accused there might be more than one nationality, and more than one trial on the same crime must be avoided; and for security reasons, and because of the very heinous character of the crime, an international tribunal was preferable. As for the tribunal’s makeup, he sought a mixed composition with a strong Lebanese character. There could also be non-Lebanese judges and Arab judges.
Regarding Mr. Brammertz, he said he hoped he would complete his work before 15 June, which was the deadline for the completion of the investigation. If necessary, and it might be that an extension was necessary, he would agree that he should stay until the appointment of a prosecutor who would then take the results of Mr. Brammertz’ and Mr. Mehlis’ work to issue indictments, and so forth.
Returning to a number of questions about the Shaba’a Farms, the Prime Minister reiterated that Lebanon believed, and had evidence to prove, that the Shaba’a Farms were Lebanese. His Syrian brothers said that the Shaba’a Farms were Lebanese, but that was the extent to which they had gone. He, therefore, had asked the Secretary-General to clarify, very accurately, what was required to declare the Shaba’a Farms as Lebanese territory with the United Nations. The Secretary-General said he would undertake a full study with his legal advisers and come back to Lebanese authorities with “something very specific on this”.
The correspondent said he heard the very public answer by Syria to have been “no” to the Shaba’a Farms to be included in any agreement before an evacuation, and “no” to diplomatic relations. What about that clear answer from the Syrian side?
The Prime Minister said that Lebanon would like to establish relations with its Syrian brothers on a “sound” basis. There were diplomatic relations between all Arab States, so why wouldn’t we have diplomatic relations with Syria? The Lebanese, however, did not want their relations with Syria to proceed on the basis of a situation that was supervised or run by intelligence officers. That was not a very healthy relationship between two neighbouring countries. Experience had taught, in the Arab world, that, when Egyptian-Syrian relations were taken care of intelligence officers, the union fell through. There were two such experiments, and everyone should learn from experience. The Syrian answer was perfectly clear in the Security Council, he added.
He said he still maintained his position, and that was putting the relationship on the right and correct path. Lebanon would continue, it would not be provoked, and it would not change its view. As for the demarcation of the borders, as he already said, he was awaiting answers from the Secretary-General.
As for the correspondent’s question about Iran, he said that Terje Roed-Larsen [Special Envoy for the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559]was talking about the relationship between Hizbollah and Iran, but Hizbollah had repeatedly confirmed that it was a Lebanese party, and he was dealing with that as it said.
Another correspondent posed a few questions on Hizbollah. Was it getting weapons from Iran; would Hizbollah have any raison d’êtreto exist, if the Shaba’a Farms was part of Syria, as 70 different maps said it was; and was Syria saying that that land was Lebanese without signing an agreement with Lebanon, because it would like Hizbollah to continue having that exchange with Israel?
Prime Minister Siniora said that Hizbollah had made it very clear that it was defending any land considered by the Lebanese Government to be Lebanese. That was their position “to the letter”.
Is that your position? the correspondent asked.
He said that was what Hizbollah had been saying. As far as the relationship with Iran, he thought there was a “very strong” relationship between Hizbollah and Iran, and nobody denied that, neither side. Lebanon’s relationship with Hizbollah was that the latter was a Lebanese party. It was very well represented in the Parliament and in the Cabinet. Lebanon respected its participation in the Government, of which it was part and parcel, and it had really played an important and highly regarded role in the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the south of Lebanon.
Was it not a fiction that the Shaba’a Farms were Lebanese, so that Hizbollah had an excuse to be an armed resistance? the correspondent asked.
He said it was a limbo he was living in -– that the land was Lebanese and the Syrians were saying that it was Lebanese, but they were not willing to do anything that would lead towards the actual liberation of that plot of land through diplomatic channels.
To a follow-up to an earlier question, he said that Lebanon had good, friendly relations with Iran. The two countries had always expressed mutual respect for each other, and Lebanon was very keen to maintain very good relations with Iran.
He said, to another question about the Brammertz investigation, that he had full confidence in the choices made by the Secretary-General. Following his in-depth consideration, he had decided to appoint Mr. Brammertz to head the investigation, and frankly, Mr. Brammertz visited the Prime Minister once. He had not met him since, and he did not know where the investigation stood right now. However, in his positions, in that regard, he based himself on his trust in the United Nations and the Secretary-General, and proceeding from the confidence he placed in Mr. Brammertz, whom he believed had dealt objectively in an impartial way with the investigation. He also felt Mr. Brammertz was fully capable of uncovering the truth – the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He wanted an institutional memory. The issue had to be followed through. He could not force Mr. Brammertz to continue the investigation, that decision was the Secretary-General’s. However, he had said that he wanted the matter to be followed through and that he had not wanted any more time to be wasted with the appointment of a new chief investigator, which would mean some delay.
Further to the border delimitation question, he said that, many months ago, he had appointed a commission to undertake an in-depth study, based on documentation proving Lebanese de facto sovereignty over those lands, through persons registered in the area going back to the 1920s “when greater Lebanon was the name of the area”. He had such documents, as well as maps in French archives. He had previously submitted those conclusions and those maps to Mr. Roed-Larsen when he visited Lebanon, and he had said “you have a case” and should follow through, he recalled.
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