Address by PM Fuad Siniora before The Council of European Union Foreign Ministers
It gives me great pleasure to be with you today and share with this distinguished gathering some of our thoughts and preoccupations in Lebanon and our region. This meeting is timely as it accompanies major developments in my country, and important milestones in the Lebanese EU relations.
For more than a year, the Lebanese people have demanded change. Loudly and unequivocally, they claimed the right to independence, freedom and sovereignty. Energies, those of young people in particular, were mobilised in an unprecedented manner. Today, these people are eager to see their country move forward in consolidating what has been achieved following the tragic assassination of late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, namely the withdrawal of Syrian troops and the formation of a new cabinet with a strong mandate from a democratically elected parliament. They look forward to a prosperous and democratic future through the reestablishment of the rule of law. Their determination has not been deterred by the series of assassinations and bombings that have marked the past year, clearly aiming at terrorising the Lebanese people.
After three decades of domestic turmoil, Israeli occupation and what had grown to become a heavy-handed Syrian presence and interference, Lebanon is now starting the difficult task of rebuilding and strengthening its democratic culture and institutions. The drafting of a new modern election law is a case in point for laying the strong foundations of a dynamic and democratic political life. We are determined to rebuild a strong and capable state, to move with the Lebanese society in adapting to change and to the requirements of the future. This is a crucial challenge, but we are making big strides.
At the same time, a national consensus is being rebuilt on major national policy issues. The fact that this process of national dialogue has been initiated from within and is being undertaken without any external involvement is unprecedented in Lebanese history. Our Government's long standing positions have gained support across the various communities and political divide. While this dialogue has not been completed yet, consensus has already been reached on a number of important issues, specifically:
- The international judicial process related to the investigation of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination.
- The rebuilding of Lebanese Syrian relations on the basis of non-interference and mutual respect, with a view to establishing full diplomatic relations.
- Delineating the border between Lebanon and Syria in the Shebaa Farms area and entrusting the Government to pursue all that is required in this regard as specified by the United Nations, to end Israel's occupation of these Lebanese lands.
- Resolving the issue of Palestinian arms in Lebanon through dialogue and without confrontation, while reaffirming the exclusivity of the Lebanese State's authority on all its territory. This will be pursued as part of a holistic approach to the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. In particular, this will include taking steps to improve the humanitarian and social conditions of the refugees, although this remains the responsibility of the international community through the activities of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency).
In the days ahead, we shall resume the national dialogue to address two important remaining issues:
- The firstis finding a solution to the problem of the extended term of the President of the Republic. Lebanon deserves a forward looking President, freely and constitutionally elected, to accompany and help guide this historic period of change, and preserve national unity.
- The secondissue is reaching a national consensus on the role of the weapons held by the Lebanese resistance, in the context of developing a defense strategy for Lebanon that would ensure that the State is the guarantor of peace and stability on all its territory.
Clearly, these are difficult issues, but the constructive manner in which the various parties are approaching the dialogue gives us hope that we will find ultimately sensible and workable solutions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the past year, the European Union has accompanied us through this process of change. Your support remains essential as we strive towards developing a stronger democratic system, as well as a prosperous economy, able to withstand regional turbulence and foreign interference.
Last November we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Barcelona process. Lebanon remains committed to its principles of economic prosperity, peace and cultural interaction for our region. In Luxembourg, the first association council between Lebanon and the EU will be held on April 11, as our association agreement enters into force. We are also fully engaged in the preparations for the first round of negotiations of the action plan of the Lebanese European Neighborhood Policy that will start on the 6th of April. Our Government strongly believes that the Neighborhood Policy can bring a significant contribution to its reform endeavors. The importance it gives to local ownership and to a truly participatory approach to reform and development are values that we fully share.
Along with the social, administrative and political reforms, we are well advanced in the development of an economic reform agenda, which is the outcome of discussions and input from the various domestic stakeholders, as well as close cooperation with international financial institutions. The Government's economic program has two main objectives:
- The firstis to liberalize and develop the Lebanese economy, promote its growth, create jobs to guarantee social stability, and allow it to reach all its potential; a potential that had been impeded by ineffective governance and stifling political restraints on important sectors.
- The secondobjective is to ease the debt servicing burden that had accumulated over the years - with international financial support to augment the domestic policy effort and domestic contribution.
- We expect to call for a “Beirut Conference for the support of Lebanon” in the coming few months. We hope the support from the EU will be commensurate with our ambitious reform plan.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The success of Lebanon in its march towards freedom, stability, democracy, and economic prosperity will all provide an inspiration to the countries of the region. This success would be a victory of moderation over extremism; of tolerance over prejudice; of dialogue over conflict; of openness over inward looking and isolationism. We do not want our region to succumb to the forces of extremism and despair.
We witnessed two unfortunate events in these last weeks that remind us of the importance of a genuine and constructive dialogue especially between the EU and the Arab and Muslim world. The first- deplorable as some of it was - revealed the amount of frustration and humiliation that the Arabs and Muslims are feeling. I am referring to the angry demonstrations reacting to the Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. The second was the Israeli attack on the Jericho prison after the unexpected pull-out of American and British monitors.
The Jericho incident can only add to the protracted and ongoing humiliation of the Palestinian people, which is deeply felt throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and is no doubt a major source of extremism and violence. It is important to address the underlying causes of the problem instead of dealing with their symptoms and consequences. We in Lebanon continue to believe that the Arab Peace Initiative put forth by the then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and unanimously adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, provides a sound basis for a lasting regional peace. We are convinced that military solutions or military superiority will never lead to peace nor provide real security to any country, including Israel.
The Lebanese who marched through the streets of Beirut in March of 2005, and who gathered again on the 14th of February this year, carried a common message: that we want change; that we want to be proactive in achieving change through democratic and peaceful means. As a beacon for tolerance and moderation, Lebanon is capable of playing a key role in a mutually beneficial dialogue and partnership with Europe. We know that the only thing necessary for the triumph of extremism and despair is for good and capable men and women to do nothing. The responsibility of change lies with all of us, particularly those who hold key positions. We in Lebanon are prepared to do our part, for we believe that the opportunities are greater than the challenges ahead. We want to work together to make our neighbourhood a peaceful and prosperous one, thereby making it a better place for all of us and for the future generations to come.
Prime Minister of Lebanon