The Russian channel RT MAKE an interview with President Fouad Siniora
The Russian channel RT MAKE an interview with President Fouad Siniora to discuss the latest developments in the region as follows:
Question 1: Mr. Fuad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, welcome to the show, it's great to have you with us today. Mr. Siniora, after five months of political deadlock, Lebanon is close to forming a new government. Hezbollah's allies have made significant gains in the last parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Hariri has said many times that Hezbollah is not the main player and they do not control things in Lebanon. But they are backed by the Christians, by the President. Is the Prime Minister just putting on a brave face here, trying to play down Hezbollah's role?
Answer: Let me make it completely clear. There is nothing to be hidden about the role Hezbollah is playing in Lebanon. It is no secret that they constantly interfere in most of its affairs and that they always try to make an effort to show that they are the ones who are calling the shots. Hezbollah has been effectively responsible for creating new problems of which the most recent was Hezbollah’s insistence on the representation of some Sunnite MPs in the new cabinet that PM Hariri is forming at the present time. And allow me to here to point out that these MPs are very much abiding not only by “Hezbollah’s” instructions, but also by the Syrian regime’s instructions. The problem is that they neither ran in the elections nor appeared after being elected as a single parliamentary bloc. To the contrary, they were and are still acting and behaving as parts of the different parliamentary blocs. And in fact, their representation in the new cabinet would only mean that they are being considered twice: the first as being members in the different parliamentary blocs, and the second when they become represented in the new cabinet as a block on its own. Effectively by assembling themselves now as one block it is nothing but a false pretension.
Besides, and according to the Lebanese constitution, there is
nothing that obliges the designated Minister to include representatives of all the MPs or the parliamentary blocks in the new cabinet. Unlike the parliamentary consultations that are made by the President of the Republic in the process of choosing the designated Prime Minister. In this process of consultation that is done by the President he is obliged to abide by the result of the consultations, while the designated Prime Minister is under no obligation to abide by the demands or wishes of the various MPs or by every and all the other political groups. In this regard, the Lebanese constitution has made it crystal clear that the main objective of the designated Prime Minister in the process of forming the cabinet is to come up with a unified, homogeneous, coherent and concerted team that can work as one unit.
The test that the designated Prime Minister has to pass regarding what he decides as for the formation of the new cabinet rests actually in the final decision that will be taken by the parliament in giving or not giving him and his cabinet a vote of confidence.
Actually, I believe that the whole issue is more of less like a tempest in a tea cup and they are making an issue out of it. From Hezbollah’s point of view, this issue could be beneficial from the point of view of Hezbollah is for two reasons:
The first one, is that Hezbollah wants to make sure that the party is not only representing people from only one sect. Hence, Hezbollah wants to indicate to everybody that they are representing constituencies across all sects. Moreover, they want to send a clear message that they never leave their allies and that they are in fact, as I said, they want to stay in the position where they can call all the shots in the new cabinet.
And secondly, they want to send the following message: that they can really stop anything, whether it is in Lebanon or outside in the region as they are doing in Iraq and elsewhere where they have proved to be the major trouble makers.
Question 2: At this point we cannot ignore their presence, right, as they are in the government? The United States have rolled out sanctions targeting individuals and organizations doing business with Hezbollah. So what is going to happen in Lebanon now that Hezbollah is kind of present in its government?
Answer: Well, Lebanon is definitely facing quite a number of serious issues nowadays, and not only in this regard, because there are a number of other serious issues. One of these is the tsunami coming from the US sanctions that are being, or let's say, imposed by the United States. Such sanctions will in fact affect Iran and Hezbollah and all the agencies of Iran all over the world and in Lebanon as well. This is why the present situation requires a great deal of wisdom and real thinking in order to dissociate Lebanon from what's happening in the region. Otherwise, it will appear as if Lebanon is putting itself in the passage of elephants, and accordingly nothing can save it in this regard. That’s why we believe that all concerned in Lebanon, and even Hezbollah and the Iranians have real interest and accordingly should really make sure not to rock the boat in this regard or cause more problems for Lebanon. I believe that the situation is very delicate and sensitive which is why it requires a great deal of wisdom to avoid furthering the problems in Lebanon.
And allow me here to emphasize; Lebanon is not economically able to handle further crises or sanctions because people will only have to undergo more and more suffering and economic and financial deterioration. The policy of Dissociation should no longer be subject of compromise. To the contrary serious efforts should be made by Lebanon to put is compass right in its relations with the Arab World and with the international community.
Question 3: Like you said the situation is very fragile. For Washington, Hezbollah is one of many terrorist groups- and I mean, from the other side of the world you can see that makes sense, these people blow things up, take hostages, attack civilians, etc. But for Lebanon, Hezbollah is part and parcel of the land, an inevitable part of the fragile balance, part of coexistence. Is the Lebanese government trying to explain this nuance to the Americans, are you getting your point across in Washington?
Answer: Well, the situation is fragile and I don’t hide that. Lebanon should definitely make every effort and attempt to clarify its position, and to make it clearer. Through its diplomacy, Lebanon should convince the people in Washington about the importance of keeping Lebanon away from being subject to the major shocks and clashes that will come out of these sanctions. Hence, it is something that has to start. Lebanon can not afford handling more economic and political crises at a time where the national stability is on the verge of collapsing. This is why it is important for Hezbollah to become more cautious and more aware of the underlying risks in order to realize that its current policies would only cause more problems for itself and as well inflicting on Lebanon more than what it can take in its own plate. In this regard, it is time for the Lebanese government and for the people who are in charge in the Lebanese government to exert more diplomatic effort to dissociate Lebanon from what is happening in the region and to avoid being subjected to any sort of sanctions.
Question 4: Israel has recently announced that Hezbollah is using hideouts in the Lebanese capital to make missiles and if need to be Israel is ready to fight a war with Lebanon over this. You led Lebanon through a war with Israel; you know Israel's methods- is this just a regular Netanyahu bravado or is he really ready to strike Beirut again?
Answer: Well, let me tell you something. It is no secret at all that Hezbollah has plenty of rockets with high precision as Hassan Nasrallah himself has said on several different occasions. But, I don't think that declaring this by Hassan Nasrallah openly is really wise. As we do not need to try to give Israel any excuse for attacking Lebanon, and in fact I really blame Hassan Nasrallah for saying all of these statements that in fact would give an excuse for Israel to attack Lebanon.
During the past 30 years, Lebanon has been subject to six Israeli invasions. You can say that, we in Lebanon have benn practically subjected to one invasion every five years. And this definitely can't help Lebanon, as I believe that this is not the right way to really deal with things and we don’t want anybody to tell us later that we are responsible for any illegitimate Israeli attack for giving it a good excuse to invade our lands.
In this regard, it is very important to recall what actually happened in 2006 when Hassan Nasrallah said immediately after the end of the Israeli hostilities of 2006 “Had I knew what might happen I would not have allowed then the attack of Hezbollah against the Israeli soldiers across the blue line on 12 July 2006. That situation pushes us to realize that by having and exercising some wisdom, painful regret could be avoided.
We in Lebanon have a real interest in including Hezbollah in respecting the declared policy of Lebanon of dissociating itself from the difficult crises of the region. This implies that Hezbollah’s weapons should be put in the hands of the only legitimate force in Lebanon, namely the Lebanese Army that never failed to show its bravery and commitment to protect Lebanese lands, and because the Lebanese Army only operates in accordance with a Lebanese agenda.
Besides, Lebanon has a declared policy which was definitely stated in its position during the invasion of Israel to Lebanon in 2006. We have actually made it crystal clear back at that time in the resolution of 1701. Hence, I don’t really see that repeating these statements by Hassan Nasrallah could be beneficial, because showing strength to his own people or trying to boost the morale of his supporters should in no way be at the expense of our national security. This nuance has yet to be understood. In this regard, one has to weigh things properly so that we avoid giving some excuses to Israel to attack our lands. We cannot afford another war in Lebanon.
Question 5: You said yourself, everyone knows that Hezbollah has rockets, it's no secret. Saad Hariri said that when Israel treats Lebanon and Hezbollah as part of the same entity, it feeds the Hezbollah propaganda, making it actually stronger. But in a situation like this, when Hezbollah is stashing missiles in the dungeons below Beirut, how else should Israel be seeing this situation?
Answer: I think it's clear that nobody can deny the fact that Hezbollah has rockets, particularly that Hassan Nasrallah himself clearly stated that his party has rockets of high precision types. But, the thing is that repeating so every now and then, could endanger our national security. I believe that it is very unwise for some people to behave irresponsibly by giving an excuse for Israel to attack Lebanon. Nevertheless, I rush to say that Israel has no excuse at all to wage a war against Lebanon in the first place. That’s why we believe that Lebanon should be extremely cautious while adopting its policies or formulating new ones as they all should be destined to serve Lebanon’s best interests and not to make Lebanon fight the battles of other countries, i.e. to fight the battle of Iran. Lebanon can't afford to do that.
Effectively, Hezbollah and until the year 2000 was fighting for the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon. But everything changed the moment Hezbollah turned its attention and guns towards the inside of Lebanon.
What really happened in 2006 took us into a bigger problem and that was again something that we dealt with in the best manner possible. The problem is that Hezbollah has been really playing and acting at the instructions and in the interest of Iran, and fighting all its battles and at the same time interfering in the domestic affairs of other regional countries. And there are plenty of cases in which Hezbollah appeared to be really fighting Iran’s battles, namely in its military interference in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, which ultimately led to the exodus of large numbers of Syrian refugees, of which about 1.2 to 1.3 million Syrian refugees are seriously suffering because they were obliged to leave their homes and towns and come to Lebanon. So, it is the responsibility of Hezbollah who participated in the military war fare in Syria that pushed many Syrian refugees to come to Lebanon.
And let me be very clear at this point: I am absolutely not denying that the major responsibility lies with Israel that is attacking Lebanon and still occupying parts of its territories and being stubborn in not finding a real solution to the Palestinian problem which is still the main problem in the region. But nevertheless, it is not our duty and not our responsibility to fight more wars on behalf of others or to put ourselves in a very risky situation, in which we will be subjecting our people and our national interests to major risks in case any attack is committed by Israel in the near future.
Question 6: Mr. Siniora, your Prime Minister is a frequent guest in Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri has been there recently as he was trying to form the government. Last year he went missing, then showed up in Saudi Arabia and announced his resignation, but revoked it as soon as he got back to Lebanon. Some might have the impression that Lebanon's crucial decisions are being taken in Riyadh. What is this strange relationship with Saudi Arabia all about?
Answer: In fact, this is not true and not true at all; Prime Minister Saad Hariri was raised in Saudi Arabia and has a lot of business from his father in Saudi Arabia. Rafic Hariri himself during the time he was a Prime Minister was even much closer to Saudi Arabia and never ever has anybody dared to say that he is being influenced by Saudi Arabia against the interests of Lebanon. I believe that the relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have always been excellent.
Forget about what really happened a year ago with Saad Hariri and I really think that it was a mistake and we definitely closed that chapter. Other than that, and throughout the past several decades since the independence of Lebanon, the relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have always been friendly, and Saudi Arabia never interfered in the domestic affairs of Lebanon. To the contrary, Saudi Arabia always showed its utmost support to Lebanon every now and then and was always the first country to show up its support to Lebanon throughout all the the difficult events and times in which the Lebanese security was in danger. And let’s not forget that it was under its guidance that the Taif Agreement was conceived and which was in fact the real beginning of the end of the Lebanese brutal civil war.
I am not denying the role of any other country, but the following has to be said: after every Lebanese war, it was Saudi Arabia who contributed in the process of rebuilding, and after every Lebanese crisis, it was Saudi Arabia who supported our government without interfering in its domestic affairs. But Hezbollah’s media has managed and on every occasion, to attempt to ruin this friendly relation between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and the Saudi’s reputation. And I do not believe that this is an unacceptable or a justified behavior towards one of our biggest allies. Moreover, this is not at all in the interest of Lebanon or the interest of the Lebanese.
Question 7: Last year we actually spoke to Saad Hariri, and he said that the atmosphere in Lebanon reminds him of that time when his father, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated. Do you have the same feeling?
Answer: I can't really draw similarities between what is happening now and what has happened in the wake of the assassination of Rafic Hariri. But, I can say that Lebanon is currently passing through very difficult times, whether it is because of the economic and fiscal situation on the one hand, or whether it has to do with the status of the Lebanese State in delivering or performing its role, and in practicing its influence over the state of affairs in Lebanon. In this regard, we come to speak about the presence of Hezbollah party in Lebanon that is armed to the teeth and that is interfering in the domestic affairs of Lebanon country and calling the shots every now and then, which is actually causing the disintegration of the Lebanese state as such. And in turn undermining the law and order in the country.
But the third and most dangerous situation lies in the non-abidance of Hezbollah to the declared dissociation policy of Lebanon which they have pledged themselves to abide by to that policy. So what message is Hezbollah trying to deliver to the Lebanese people? Is it by not attaching any value to the power of law and order!!!. And how will Hezbollah manage to avoid more troubles in the near future? These are really stormy issues and would require a very strong will in order to navigate in these troubled waters in the right manner and to avoid having any accidents. So, this is the situation!!!
On the other hand, we yet have to close the windows from which those who want to cause more troubles to our country. In this regard, Lebanon did a great job at improving its security situation and in fighting terrorism. And let me assure you that all the Lebanese are in fact well united in this regard; they don't want terrorism, and they don't want to naturalize the status of the Palestinians or the Syrian refugees, They are all united in this regard as they do not need to undergo new sets of problems out of that. Actually, instead of using these issues to unite the Lebanese all together, there are some people who are constantly trying to create additional problems for themselves and for the country. Hence, they are converting an opportunity into a problem instead of converting a problem into an opportunity.
Question 8: Like you said, Lebanon is in a very difficult situation also economically because it is currently hosting more than a million of Syrian refugees. Some have started to return to areas, which are thought to be relatively safe, but the war is still not over and too many still remain in Lebanon. How much further can your country sustain this refugee population?
Answer: Well, definitely if you want to compare the size of Lebanon and its area to the immense number of hosted refugees in Lebanon, you’d realize that Lebanon has surpassed all the numbers or ratios that are available in any other country. Lebanon has received about 1.5 million of refugees between Syrians, Palestinians and Iraqis as well from other countries, which is more that 35% of its total population, and I honestly don't think any other country in the world has ever had anything similar to this. This is definitely causing a great and devastating problem to Lebanon. And Lebanon has to really seek the help of all its sister countries as well as the international community.
In fact, what Lebanon has been really receiving in terms of support is definitely not at all proportionate to what it really needs compared to the size of this exodus of Syrian refugees. And at the same time, Lebanon has to let's say, be able to continue serving these people in the best manner possible, and in the most humanely possible. Particularly that the situation in Syria is still not ready for finding an effective solution to the Syrian refugees to go back to their hometowns. In fact, we want them to leave sooner than you can imagine, but I mean that we definitely would never and cannot force them to leave and this problem has yet to be dealt with in the best way possible.
The return of the Syrian refugees has to be voluntary, humane and safe which means that there is an urgent need for some developments to take place to help them go back as soon as possible.
The current situation shall not last, it is only a matter of time until the situation in Syria gets safe enough for their return. These are people and not machines, and ultimately they are growing in a situation that is not conducive for their own future later on, or for their well-being.
To the contrary, these are people who are growing in a situation that could push any young person out of this group to take the wrong alternatives while seeking for justice and which in turn could result into violence, extremism and terrorism.
We really have to find a solution, and it is definitely not asking the international community to help Lebanon, so it can keep the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, since this is definitely something that we do not need at all times. That is why there should be an effort to find a permanent solution to end the war in Syria. This will be the solution for the Syrian refugees and for Lebanon.
We heard about the summit that took place in Istanbul and how the four countries have expressed their views.
In Istanbul Four world leaders of four countries: France, Turkey, Russia and Germany met in Istanbul in late October. Sadly, I say that nor the Syrian people, and none of the concerned Arab countries were represented.
It appears that they agreed as to the ultimate solution in Syria. In principle confirming the Geneva agreement and the Security Council resolution #2254 regarding the commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity of all Syria.
But it seems they did not agree as to their priorities. As for Russia it emphasized the aspect of fighting terrorism and the demilitarized Zone of “Idlib”, while Turkey wanted to emphasize the fight against the terrorists in the North of Syria, i.e. the Kurdish movement, while Germany wanted to emphasize the right of the Syrian people, in and outside Syria, of regaining self-determination and in a free election that will determine the future of Assad, and that there is no military solution to the Syrian crises. It seems that France made its position clear that there are two wars in Syria, one against terrorism and the other one being waged by the Syrian regime against its people.
Hence, it seems that there is some progress that was achieved in this summit, but not yet enough to trigger a clear move and on solid grounds, towards a solution. In my opinion, there should be a determined effort towards that objective particularly as more than one party and specifically the Syrian regime and probably Iran are still betting on a military solution.
In this regard, I believe that all concerned parties should give the matter a deeper and real forward thinking to come up with real solutions.
In my opinion, Syria has become a playground rather than what it used to be in the past as a regional player. Moreover, the players are getting more and more tired and really feeling the weight of fatigue, and exhaustion whether economically, politically, socially, and militarily.
Moreover, and at the same time, all players are realizing that there are two other factors that are emerging:
First, the greater risks of further deterioration and more destruction, more refugees and more spread of extremism and terrorism across international borders.
And the second at the same time realizing the importance of future benefits and common interest particularly that are arising from the prospect of the reconstruction of Syria which does not seem at all that it will become a reality if there is no clear determined position and commitment among all concerned towards peace.
The four countries are still disagreeing on their own priorities; this doesn't help in finding a solution. I believe that all the players in the region are getting tired and really looking for something that can be done in order to have a joint concerted and acceptable effort among all the concerned and all players in finding a real solution. Otherwise, this is going to add up towards furthering risks which in turn will make all concerned parties to avoid taking the necessary action and no to deal positively with the emerging opportunities that may develop if peace appears to be achievable. This is in the interest of all the Syrians on the one hand and the interests of all the neighboring countries and in the interest of the world at large as well.
In my opinion, this can trigger another important growth phenomenon, not only in the region, but in Europe and elsewhere as well. So we have to take extra care and really avoid the risks that are ahead of us, and at the same time, we need to try to seize the emerging opportunities that can serve the common interests of all concerned through finding a solution to the problem in Syria. This will help Lebanon, because as long as the situation in Syria is left unresolved, Lebanon is definitely subject to more suffering and economic deterioration.
Question 9: Last time we spoke you said that Assad should step down. Five years on, and even the Western leaders who were first adamant about toppling him, now recognize that no political solution is possible in Syria without Assad. What about you? What do you think today?
Answer: Well, let me tell you something, I would like to be very frank with you. I have to draw an example from my background in the field of finance as they say that the manager who drove his company towards bankruptcy can't be appointed to be in charge of reforming the company or in charge of the bankruptcy proceedings. Effectively, President Assad has not been able to manage the problems of Syria. He actually could have avoided the whole problem all together, when it erupted because he lacks the real vision, the wisdom and the thorough thinking as he was unable to embrace his own people, and since then he has been responsible for the destruction of most parts in Syria and for the death of over five-hundred-thousand people and over two million injured, and about fifty-percent of the Syrian people at least are refugees in within Syria and outside Syria.
Besides that, who is going to rebuild Syria? You think that Assad can really create the confidence that is necessary among all the donor countries to really help in rebuilding Syria? I don't think that. Actually, we do not want to take any revenge from anybody on that. To the contrary, I believe that we have to really come to terms on one important fact which is that there is no military solution in Syria. This has been really the most important conclusion that we have to understand and to work accordingly. Secondly, we have to really listen to the Syrians, the person who really drove half of his population outside their homes, how can he really rebuild Syria? How can he embrace back all the Syrians? This is impossible; I mean Syria has become a playground for all the countries that are interfering and contributing to what is happening in Syria. And I believe that nobody can actually could trust him in leading the reconstruction process. Let's not waste our time and effort, let's try to find a way, a nice way out of this situation without really creating further problems, and try to really help Syria so it can embrace all its people as a civil state that recognizes all of its components rather than forcing the Syrian people to leave their country and to be refugees elsewhere and within Syria. This is not helpful; this doesn't really lead anywhere.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Mr. Siniora, thank you very much for this interview. Thank you for your thoughts and your insight on the situation in your country and around it. It was great having you on our program.
We were talking to Fuad Siniora, former Lebanese Prime Minister, discussing the situation in Lebanon and its complex political tensions.