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Situation in the Middle East, Iran, and Other Matters

Ambassador John R. Bolton , U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Remarks at a Security Council Stakeout
New York City
July 20, 2006

Ambassador Bolton: I just wanted to make one comment and then maybe just answer a few questions. I was very struck by the Secretary General's answer to a question that had been raised by a number of delegations in the private consultations about why the team was vetoed by Syria from going to Damascus. It's quite clear that that's what happened. Secretary General made a very strong statement that he has to decide who will represent him, and it's not for the government of Syria or anyone else to veto that representation. But it raises a question, not just the process question of why the team couldn't visit Damascus under acceptable conditions, but when Syria is finally going to get serious about its responsibilities under resolution 1559, and stop it's support for Hezbollah and other armed militias in Lebanon. I don't think there's any question, but that Syria along with Iran is a principle supporter of Hezbollah. It has rejected many critical elements of resolution 1559, and now we find that it has not indicated even a willingness to speak with the Secretary General's mission. So, it's hard to understand without having the Nambiar team meet with the Syrian government, how we're going to get a complete picture of what the possibilities are. So the Syrian veto really extends objectively not just to the visit of the team, but the Syrian veto in effect now applies to all of our collective efforts to get an international solution. So, I mean, we know that the root cause here of the present conflict is Hezbollah's terrorist acts supported by Iran and Syria, but now I think we see more clearly the role Syria has, and has been playing in frustrating efforts to bring this to a resolution.

Reporter: Were you discouraged by what appears to be maybe a little bit of a lack of backbone on the half of the UN and Secretary General enforcing this issue in getting to Syria to see President Assad?

Ambassador Bolton: I think that it was reasonable to have the team back here to meet with the Security Council, because of the Secretary General's own involvement, I think this will be helpful to the Council, but I don't see how the Council can be fully informed or the UN can play a full roll if a major party to this conflict, Syria, just isn't even interested in talking. This is a pretty serious matter. I mean I know it probably looks like it's a process question: well, the team didn't get in or they objected to a particular person. But it does raise a more profound question: how one gets Syrian involvement and commitment. Let's be clear. What's really important here is commitment to a solution if they won't talk to the representatives of a Secretary General. Now when and to what extent he demands a visit, I wouldn't want to speculate on now, but I don't see how you get that complete picture unless the Secretary General or his representatives hear in detail from the Syrians how their going to abide by 1559, by the obligations they already have under that, successor resolutions including the Brammertz investigation of the Hariri assassination, and how they are going to be involved in terminating their support for Hezbollah's terrorist activities.

Reporter: Has the Secretary General himself been in touch with President Assad since President Bush raised that.

Ambassador Bolton: I don't know the answer to that question. I don't believe he addressed it in the meeting. If the team is going to continue, then clearly it has to have access to all of the governments involved or the UN's role, the Secretary General's role will be limited and perhaps in a very significant way.

Reporter: The news for the last 48 hours from the Middle East, it is more and more apparent now that many in the Middle East, Lebanese and others, are accusing the U.S. and the Security Council of being the obstacle to a real ceasefire immediately because that's what they need. Could you explain in a couple words what is really your position about this?

Ambassador Bolton: Well look, I think we could have a cessation of hostilities immediately if Hezbollah would stop terrorizing innocent civilians and give up the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. So that to the extent this crisis continues, the cause is Hezbollah. How you get a ceasefire between one entity, which is a government of a democratically elected state on the one hand, and another entity on the other which is a terrorist gang, no one has yet explained. The government of Israel, everybody says, has the right to exercise the right of self-defense, which even if there are criticisms of Israeli actions by some, they recognize the fundamental right to self-defense. That's a legitimate right. Are there any activities that Hezbollah engages in, militarily that are legitimate? I don't think so. All of it's activities are terrorist and all of them are illegitimate, so I don't see the balance or the parallelism between the two sides and therefore I think it's a very fundamental question: how a terrorist group agrees to a ceasefire. You know in a democratically elected government, the theory is that the people ultimately can hold the government accountable when it does something and doesn't live up to it. How do you hold a terrorist group accountable? Who runs the terrorist group? Who makes the commitment that a terrorist group will abide by a ceasefire? What does a terrorist group think a ceasefire is? These are - you can use the words "cessation of hostilities" or "truce" or 'ceasefire". Nobody has yet explained how a terrorist group and a democratic state come to a mutual ceasefire.

Reporter: Can you address the op-ed by Voinovich today in the Washington Post?

Ambassador Bolton: I spoke to Senator Voinovich last night. He called me and we eventually got back to each other at about 8:30 and he informed me that he was going to be having this op-ed and I certainly expressed my appreciation. As he says in his piece, he and I have had a lot of conversations over the past year. Right after President Bush appointed me, Senator Voinovich called and said "look you know I opposed your nomination but UN reform is very important to me and I want to continue to work with you." And I thought at the time that must have been a hard call for Senator Voinovich to make but we are interested in UN reform and I felt that if he were prepared to work with me, I was prepared to work with him. I've valued his assistance, he interested in a wide range of other issues in foreign policy, the Balkans and the Middle East to name two. We've been in quite regular touch over the course of the past year. He's been up to New York, as you know, I've visited him in Washington, we've talked on the phone and obviously I'm very glad he's come to this decision and I certainly welcome his support.

Reporter: The Israeli Ambassador has basically said regarding the length of military activities "it will take as long as it will take." Is this a statement that the United States would back up?

Ambassador Bolton: The statement that I made in the consultations was we want something that leads to a sustainable long-term cessation of hostilities consistent with the foundation for peace. That means that there is an important sequence of events here. There are important political pre-conditions. Nobody wants anything other than a long-term cessation of hostilities but it has to be done the right way or you risk finding yourself exactly back in the situation we were before the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers. That's not good for the people of Israel; perhaps even more importantly it's not good for the people of Lebanon. We're in an unfortunate situation, but the cause is Hezbollah. The cause is Hezbollah.

Reporter: What tools does the UN have and what tools do you think it should use to exercise pressure on Syria regarding this crisis?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, I think and we've said this repeatedly at all levels of the U.S. government that we hope one positive outcome from this crisis will be the full implementation of 1559. President Bush has spoken about protecting the fragile democracy in Lebanon and I think that building up the institutions of the government of Lebanon, and now particularly the Lebanese armed forces so that they can assume full sovereign control over all Lebanese territory is critical. And we want to work with the government of Lebanon. I'm sure this is something Secretary Rice has spent a considerable amount of time thinking about, how we can turn this into something positive.

Reporter: On Iran sir, you had a meeting this morning, a couple things about that. What do you think the prospects are for getting that adopted this week, which you said you wanted? What's your reaction to the Russian proposed amendments? Do you sense their effort to sort of peddle back a little bit from St. Petersburg and sort of dial back from the commitment they made there?

Ambassador Bolton: I'm certainly thinking of how I'm going to answer the question, how is it you didn't succeed in getting you instructions fulfilled of getting the resolution this week, it's now Thursday, I'm not quite sure how we're going to get this done by Friday but creative minds may yet find a way through. I think we did have a discussion this morning that brought us a little bit forward. We're going to have an experts meeting this afternoon among the Perm 5 and Germany to consider two important parts of the resolution and then we'll meet again tomorrow. So it's obviously we've got the crisis in the Middle East that we are addressing at the same time but I'm hoping that we'll continue to make progress. One more.

Reporter: On the Russian proposals (inaudible) those proposed amendments. What were your thoughts on them? They appeared to significantly weaken the proposal that had been put forward earlier by yourselves and France and Britain.

Ambassador Bolton: Well we'll see if the United States can play a bridging role between the European Union and the Russians and see if we can't help resolve this and get a Resolution that's satisfactory to all of us.

Released on July 20, 2006

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