Address by PM Fuad Siniora at UN on third report by Secretary General on UNSCR 1559

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Your Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen,                                                    

 

It gives me great pleasure to speak to you today, first to update you on recent developments in Lebanon; and, second, to share with you our thoughts on a number of issues of common interest and concern.

 

But let me first express our deep gratitude for the great support that the UN have provided to Lebanon over the past 19 months, including especially the Secretary General and the Security Council. This support has been instrumental in helping Lebanon move along in its transition towards the achievement of its territorial integrity, full independence and sovereignty, and most importantly to reach those results by peaceful means.  The UN support was not only important for Lebanon, but it also meant a great deal for the region; as the achievement of peace and security in Lebanon contributes to the peace and security in the Middle East. This positive role of the UN is also important because it demonstrates that the international institutions can be effective in protecting the legitimate rights of small countries and making it possible for them to achieve those rights through peaceful means.

 

 

 

Our meeting today is timely as it comes after the release of the third report of the Secretary General on UNSCR 1559, and before your Council convenes to discuss this report. In this connection I would like to commend and thank the Secretary General and his special representative Mr. Terje Rod-Larsen for an objective and accurate report.

 

Your Excellencies

 

The great historic transition that the Lebanese people started a year ago is not yet complete.  There are certainly a number of serious challenges before us. But let me first start with what I believe are important strides that have already been made on the road towards the Lebanon we want - a self-governing, stable, democratic and more prosperous country.

 

After many years of civil strife, Israeli occupation and Syrian presence, during which most major policy issues were being either managed by non-Lebanese or were in some cases considered taboo or too sensitive to tackle, the Lebanese started to engage in real and serious debate over all policy matters. The Conference of National Dialogue, which was initiated last March, was a clear expression of the readiness of the Lebanese to address difficult national issues in a serious and peaceful manner. This process of national dialogue, which groups 14 representatives of all parliamentary blocks, has already achieved significant progress. Consensus was reached on important matters such as the relations with Syria, the delimitation of all common borders between Lebanon and Syria including, first and foremost, the Shebaa Farms area, the policy towards Palestinians in Lebanon, as well as on the international investigation and judicial process relating to the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri and his companions. The significance of reaching an agreement on such issues should not be underestimated.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

The Lebanese people have shown remarkable resilience in the face of a systematic attempt to terrorize and intimidate them by means of bombings and the assassination of a number of pro-independence political figures and media personalities. This collective resilience has demonstrated that the Lebanese people have indeed moved a long way towards a strong, united and stable country; a country that cannot be easily fractured or intimidated.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

It is a major challenge to put the Lebanese Syrian relations on the right footing. The scars left by the dramatic developments of the past 19 months, and the heavy-handed interference in Lebanese domestic affairs by the Syrian security establishment for many years, are not easy to heal. However, and for the sake of fairness, we should admit that Syria and for a long part of the past thirty years played a very important and constructive role in putting an end to attempts of partition of Lebanon and in helping Lebanon achieve the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from most of the South in the year 2000. At the National Dialogue it has been unanimously agreed that the relations between the two sister countries should be strong and positive based on mutual respect, parity and non interference, and I personally strongly believe in that.

 

Such relations require, first and foremost, an effort to reestablish confidence between the two countries and a genuine acceptance by the Syrian government of a truly independent Lebanon; and a genuine recognition that a free and sovereign Lebanon can have good relations with Syria and can serve the Syrian and the Arab interests better. This is a challenge. In our view, a positive response by Syria on the steps agreed by all parties in the National Dialogue, including the establishment of diplomatic relations and delineation of the borders between the two countries including in the Shebaa farms area, will be an indication that the Syrian government is beginning to accept the idea that good relations are possible between Syria and an independent Lebanon. However long it takes, good relations between Lebanon and Syria on the basis of mutual respect will be achieved because they are in the interest of both countries.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Since 1978 Lebanon has suffered from the Israeli occupation of large parts of its territory, as well as several other invasions and aggressions, which all resulted in major destruction and dislocation. In May of 2000 Israel withdrew from most of the occupied territories with the exception of an area bordering Syria’s Golan Heights, which is referred to as Shebaa Farms.

 

For us, the liberation of this still-occupied Lebanese land is a priority national issue, and it is incumbent upon Israel to withdraw from it, hand over the Lebanese detainees in its prisons, submit the maps of the landmines it left in the South, and stop its infringements on Lebanese sovereignty. We look forward for an active role by the UN in helping us achieve those rightful demands. The delineation of the Lebanese Shebaa Farms area, and which Israel has continued to occupy even after its withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000, is important in this context because it has major implications on our ability to liberate it. Agreeing with Syria on the border line that separates the Shebaa farms from the Syrian Golan Heights will be an important step towards achieving the full withdrawal of the Israelis from Lebanon until the internationally recognized borders in accordance with UNSCR 425. The Syrian government has already declared verbally that the Shebaa farms region is part of Lebanese territory. Also, and as indicated in the Secretary General’s report, President Assad himself stated in June of 2001 that “according to international law, it is up to the bordering states concerned to identify the status of a territory. Once that discussion is completed, an accord must be registered with the international authorities. In the case of Shebaa, this is the strict responsibility of Syria and Lebanon”. Accordingly, and in line with the Lebanese consensus on this matter, we have approached the Syrian government in order to delineate the border line in that region, so that the two governments will then deposit the border agreement with the UN, who will draw the appropriate consequences. We still await a positive response from Syria. In any event, we will be requesting the Secretary General to confirm the specific steps required by the UN to recognize Lebanese sovereignty over the territory of the Shebaa Farms.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

Another government priority is the implementation of the policies towards the Palestinians in Lebanon through dialogue, as unanimously agreed to by all the National Dialogue parties. This includes discussions with the Palestinian side to end all armed presence outside the refugee camps within 6 months, and, subsequently, to address the issue of weapons and security within the camps – all in line with Lebanon’s sovereignty and the state’s obligation to provide security to all, throughout its territory, in accordance with the Taef national reconciliation pact of 1989.

 

The government has also initiated a major effort to improve the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in cooperation with UNRWA, which embodies the responsibility of the international community towards those refugees who were forced out of their country Palestine when Israel was established.

 

It is not a secret that, for many years, Lebanon’s relation with the Palestinian refugees on its territory has been difficult. In certain periods it was one of armed conflict. It is also a fact that the difficult living conditions in the refugee camps allowed them to become breeding grounds and safe haven for various armed factions. We intend to do our utmost to help change the living conditions in the refugee camps in association with the international community and the donor countries. We have started discussions with the Palestinians to address economic and humanitarian needs, in addition to the issue of arms and security. We intend to press on all these issues in the period ahead, especially with donor countries to give the necessary aid through UNRWA to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon until a final solution is reached for them in the context of the Peace Process and in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and the Arab peace initiative.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

In addition to implementing decisions already taken by the National Dialogue Conference, another challenge is to reach agreement on two remaining issues that are yet to be addressed. The first is the issue of the presidency of the republic. Currently, the majority in parliament considers the extension of President Lahoud’s term in September 2004 for three more years to have been the result of interference and coercion by Syria, which had great influence over the Lebanese parliament at that time, and against all advice discouraging them from such heavy-handed interference. Because the majority in parliament is not sufficient to constitutionally shorten President Lahoud’s extended term, thus paving the way for electing a new president, the issue has been referred to the National dialogue with the hope that a consensus can be reached. This has proved difficult so far. The National Dialogue will convene on April 28th to take up this issue again. Agreement on this matter remains a challenge.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Another issue which will be taken up in the National Dialogue after it is resumed is Hezbollah’s weapons and their role in the defense of Lebanon. While there is consensus in the country on the important role that the resistance, spear-headed by Hezbollah, played in forcing Israel’s withdrawal from the south in May 2000, as well as on the fact that the southeastern corner of the country (namely the Shebaa Farms) remains occupied, the future role of Hezbollah’s weapons in defending Lebanon is a matter of national debate. This debate will be carried out in the context of an agreed upon strategy amongst the Lebanese on how best to defend Lebanon, against the backdrop of the provisions of the Taef Accord of 1989, the UN Resolutions regarding Lebanon, the continued occupation of the Shebaa farms, as well as the long history of incursions and violations of Lebanese territory by Israel. Reconciling these considerations with the natural obligation of the state to be the sole provider of security to all its citizens and residents, and the right of the state to have a monopoly over arms and to exercise its full authority throughout the country, is a major challenge to be addressed in the period ahead.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

We meet also today in the midst of our consultations with the UN for the formation of a tribunal of international character to try those involved in the assassination of late PM Hariri and his companions. I would like here to express our deep appreciation for the professional work carried out by Mr. Serge Brammertz and the Investigation Commission which we hope will succeed in uncovering the perpetrators of this terrorist crime and bringing them to justice. This is important not only for the Hariri assassination, but also because Lebanon has suffered most in the region from political assassinations over the past two decades. Revealing the truth and serving justice on those found guilty will be a major deterrent to those who might contemplate such heinous crimes in Lebanon or elsewhere.

 

In order to insure continuity in the investigation and help bringing it to a successful conclusion, we would strongly support an extension of Mr. Brammertz’s term as deemed necessary.

 

With regard to the setting up of a tribunal of international character, I would like to thank the Security Council for putting this issue on a fast track, something to which we attach utmost importance. We stand ready to conclude our discussions with the legal team of the UN as soon as possible to make sure that the investigation will be phased smoothly into the tribunal. 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Our region is in turmoil. What happens in Lebanon has a significant impact on the whole region. As Lebanese, and also as part of the Arab and Muslim worlds, we have every interest and responsibility to work together against the forces of extremism and despair by addressing the reasons that lie behind them. We want to go back to the true principles of moderation and tolerance which characterized our region and the religions that emanated from it.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

The international community also have an interest and responsibility to help the peoples of the region shake off the feelings of hopelessness and despair, and to contribute to their own efforts in building more democratic and prosperous societies. The increasingly widespread prejudice and stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims as violent or inherently hostile to the west, only feed into their pervasive sense of humiliation and anger. So does the failure of the international community, to correct the great injustice done onto the Palestinian people. This sense of grave injustice, spanning over six decades has undoubtedly contributed to the sense of helplessness and humiliation in the Arab and Muslim worlds. It has also provided fertile ground for extremist and violent minds to engage – in the name of religion – in activities against innocent people that contradict the principles of all religions. On the other hand, Israel continues to refuse the Arab peace initiative thus maintaining the instability in the region and throughout the Muslim world. Actually, if we can all cooperate and mobilize our joint efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and with the other Arab countries, we would be as well contributing to the cause of democracy in Arab and Muslim worlds.

 

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

This should be a priority objective of the international community. A lot is at stake. Gentlemen, your responsibilities and ours are great. Lebanon is staying the course. We hope that, together, we will all succeed.

 

Fuad Siniora

Prime Minister of Lebanon

تاريخ الخطاب: 
21/04/2006