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Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East and Other Matters

Ambassador John R. Bolton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Remarks to the media following a Security Council Stakeout
New York City
August 21, 2006


Ambassador Bolton: Well, we've just finished a briefing on the report submitted by the Secretary General, as required by Resolution 1701, discussed a number of issues in connection with the resolution, and emphasized especially the need to get humanitarian assistance into southern Lebanon, the work that we've been doing. The president, of course, has just pledged an additional $200 million-plus package for reconstruction in addition to the $50 million that Secretary Rice had mentioned in her speech, of which we've already provided 24 million in humanitarian assistance. And we talked about the need to enhance UNIFIL, increase its troop deployment as soon as possible and the various efforts that are being made there. So this was a -- the report, as I say, that the resolution called for in seven days, submitted on Friday, discussed today, and we'll go from there. I have time just for a few questions.

Reporter: (Inaudible) there would be another resolution on rules of engagement, which is unusual. Can you explain this?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, I understood what he was saying was that the -- as we've always contemplated the disarming of Hezbollah, which was not specifically addressed in 1701, would have to be addressed, and that should be coming shortly. And I think the point is, obviously, our road map is the full implementation of Resolution 1559. If 1559 had been fully implemented, we probably wouldn't be here today. And that's why the return of security to southern Lebanon and preventing the re-supply of Hezbollah is so important.

Reporter: When would that be? And would that hold up deployment of the current contingents even more?

Ambassador Bolton: I don't think we have a particular view on time. There's no reason that it should hold up the deployment. Each country should be making its own decision, and the Secretariat, then, can coordinate their arrival in Lebanon.

Reporter: The Iranian leader has declared today that they will continue their program despite the Security Council resolution. Is there any comment?

Ambassador Bolton: None that I will give for the moment. What we're awaiting their definitive response and which is overdue by our lights, but the Security Council gave them until the 31st of August to complete the suspension of their uranium enrichment activity. So they still have a few days.

Reporter: Are you saying on this new resolution that you are already working on such a concept, such a resolution of disarming Hezbollah? Or are you - or is there possibly a timeframe given to the Lebanese government before you move on to a resolution? Can you explain that?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, Resolution 1701 itself expressly says that we would consider changes, enhancements to the mandate of the expanded UNIFIL, and obviously, one critical element of the political solution in Lebanon, contemplated fully by Resolution 1559, is that all of the armed militia groups would be disarmed. And so the question of dealing with Hezbollah, or whether they deal with themselves by becoming a real political party instead of a terrorist group, is obviously on the agenda. But there is no timetable.

Reporter: Just to follow up, Ambassador. There is an element in 1701, which uses sort of the Chapter 7 language in terms of the borders, when the Council says it decides. Is this -- can you interpret that for me in terms of the borders?

Ambassador Bolton: Right. We -- well, we --

Reporter: (Inaudible) more on that?

Ambassador Bolton: We think those provisions are binding on all UN member states. The resolution also says that the government of Lebanon can request assistance from UNIFIL to help secure the borders. We would certainly welcome such a request when UNIFIL is enhanced to give that assistance. Yes, ma'am.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Last week, Lakhdar Brahimi wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times, saying that we need to talk to the Hezbollah right now. And then he stressed in another article -- said that we need to talk the Syrians. Do you think it's about time to speak with the Hezbollah and the Syrians and also with the Iranians regarding Lebanon?

Ambassador Bolton: No. Yes, ma'am?

Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, there seems to be quite a number of questions about the rules of engagement, which appears to be holding up possible commitments, particularly from the Europeans. What's your understanding of whether there are going to be new clarifications to the rules of engagement? Are the rules of engagement that you got over the weekend and that governments have been studying from the Department of Peacekeeping acceptable? Could you give us a sense of where this stands?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, the concept of operations in a draft rules of engagement were distributed to 70 plus countries, I think, on Friday, and many of the potential troop contributors were very much involved in helping to draft the concept of operations in rules of engagement. The fact is that we should keep our eye focused on the objective, which is that the combined efforts of the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL in southern Lebanon should result in the government of Israel being able to withdraw and no security vacuum being created by these parallel operations, no security vacuum into which Hezbollah can re-infiltrate.

So the issue is really how effectively UNIFIL can assist the government of Lebanon as it deploys south and as Israel turns over various sectors in the southern part of the country, as it has already turned over very substantial portions of the territory south of the Litani. I don't doubt that there will be other discussions on the rules of engagement, and you will recall the original American position was we wanted a very robust, multinational force, not even under -- possibly even under UN command. The government of Lebanon made it clear they did not want a multinational force. They did not want a Chapter 7 mandate. They wanted pretty much what Resolution 1701 provides. So those are the circumstances in which we're operating, and that was known to all of the co-sponsors of the resolution at the time it was adopted.

Reporter: Could I just do a quick follow-up? The Jerusalem Post reported today that the Secretary General was going to announce some new rules of engagement that would allow the UN peacekeepers to shoot Hezbollah fighters. I wondered whether that was in the rules of engagement that you have seen.

Ambassador Bolton: I haven't seen that, but I'm always eager to read additional press stories and find out what I should know. Talal?

Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, as you have been briefed, I suppose, this morning by DPKO, Department of Peacekeeping Operation - after listening to them, how confident are you the UN will be able to come up with the numbers they need?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, I think it's still a work in progress. I think that's the best I can say. I don't think there's any doubt in our mind of the urgency of the deployment of the full, enhanced UNIFIL as soon as possible. And the United States has been working very vigorously at all levels to help encourage and facilitate that deployment. So the timing here remains critical. There's no question about it.

Reporter: What is your reaction to the report that Iran has turned away nuclear inspectors today?

Ambassador Bolton: Nothing surprises me about the way Iran treats its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it's been violating for many years now in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. I haven't heard that report, but they've done it before. They've obstructed the work of the IAEA repeatedly in Iran. They've concealed things from the IAEA inspectors. They falsified data. They've destroyed facilities. So more obstructionism doesn't surprise me at all. Yes, sir?

Reporter: Ambassador, in the beginning of this resolution, 1701, there was so much thrust, including the U.S. efforts, to stop the violence or to get a cease-fire. The whole world saw what happened; it ceased, or almost. Suddenly everybody is hesitant to send troops. Why? What is exactly the explanation to that? And also, could you comment on some last reports now coming up, right now, Kofi Annan going very soon to Syria? Could you comment or deny?

Ambassador Bolton: I think we've been told the Secretary General plans to travel to the region to follow up to the Roed-Larsen/Nambiar mission that's there now. So his exact itinerary, I suppose, will be announced by the Secretariat.

In terms of why countries are reluctant to provide peacekeepers, it's obviously a very dangerous situation. The cease-fire is quite fragile. And I think they want to be -- countries that are trying to take this decision want to be sure that their troops will have the maximum opportunity to defend themselves. That's one of the reasons why we had sought and others sought a very robust mandate for the force and why this may still remain to be worked out.

Reporter: A follow up, sir. (Inaudible) against eventual attacks from Hezbollah, is this what you mean, exactly, would Hezbollah be drawn -- certain phases in the future. Are you concerned from Hezbollah attacks eventually in the future if things get out of hand militarily?

Ambassador Bolton: I think as long as Hezbollah fighters remained armed in the south or elsewhere in the country, whether the arms are visible or are hidden under mattresses, the international peacekeeping force -- and the Lebanese armed forces, while we're on the subject -- will be vulnerable if Hezbollah orders additional attacks. And I think that's very much on the minds of the troop contributors and I think that's understandable. Yes, sir?

Reporter: Ambassador, one of the components of disarming Hezbollah is Syria and Iran. Do you have any comment on what you would expect from them in the context of what you're trying to achieve here?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, what they should do -- I don't expect anything in particular from Syria and Iran. But what they should do is follow the obligations of the resolution and not provide arms to Hezbollah or other armed groups inside Lebanon, and that's consistent with 1559; that's an obligation they've routinely broken, but it's an obligation they should comply with now.

Reporter: Would there be any mention in this new resolution that you're trying to draft here that would obligate them to that?

Ambassador Bolton:: Well, I think they are obligated now under the terms of 1701 not to supply arms into Lebanon without the consent of the government of Lebanon. I think that's clear from various provisions in1701. So they're already under that obligation. Yes, ma'am.

Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, do you -- Malaysia and Indonesia are considered moderate Muslim countries. Do you consider it counterproductive the statement that came -- that Olmert made saying that they did not want to have any peacekeeping forces from countries that do not have diplomatic ties?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, it's a long-standing custom in UN peacekeeping that the parties have to agree on who the troop contributors will be, and the Israeli position, seems to me, to be a pretty straightforward one, that countries that don't even recognize the state of Israel can't be counted upon to fulfill the impartial role that we look for in the enhanced UNIFIL. We've done some quick research and so don't take these figures as absolutely in concrete, but we think something like 161 governments around the world recognize Israel; something like 126 recognize Lebanon. So those two don't overlap entirely, but if you sort out how many countries recognize both Lebanon and Israel, it's a very substantial number of countries. We ought to be able to find troops to enhance UNIFIL from countries that recognize both Lebanon and Israel.

Reporter: When you were renegotiating 1701 with the French, did you find objections to the mandate that you're hearing now?

Ambassador Bolton: My what a question. I think the concern that we all had was that the mandate be sufficiently robust, that working with the government of Lebanon, the enhanced UNIFIL could help create those conditions of security in southern Lebanon that would give Israel confidence that Hezbollah was not going to come and fill in the vacuum, thus, facilitating the withdrawal. So I think that element was there throughout.

Reporter: Just one more question, if you don't mind.

Ambassador Bolton: You used to be over there. How did you get over there?

Reporter: (Inaudible) So you said a little earlier in an answer to a question that, no to talks with Hezbollah and no to talks with Syria. Now, what would you -- how would feel about the secretary (inaudible) --

Ambassador Bolton: And Iran.

Reporter: -- organization going to Syria at this time? Is this something that you do not support, that you have a problem with because you stand against talks with Syria and Hezbollah?

Ambassador Bolton: I don't think his travel schedule is fixed, so I don't want to comment on the hypothetical at this point.

Reporter: Ambassador, is there a new resolution being looked at right now, as President Bush just said one hour ago in Washington, DC?

Ambassador Bolton: Absolutely. We've been thinking about it. We knew that although our preference would have been to have taken care of all of these issues in one resolution, we knew, because of the difficulties and complexities involved, that more than one resolution would be required. And the issue of disarming Hezbollah, which is central not just to resolution of the current conflict but central to the implementation of 1559, was going to have to be addressed if not in this first resolution, in due course. So that's one of the elements we're working on.

Reporter: (Inaudible) need to be taken care of before the initial force can be deployed?

Ambassador Bolton: No, I think the initial force can be deployed now, but it's obviously closely linked, and we want the disarming of Hezbollah to be accomplished rapidly so that the democratically elected government of Lebanon can establish full control over it's territory. Last question.

Reporter: I'm sorry. But how can you deploy a force and then think of its mandate afterwards? I mean --

Ambassador Bolton: Because you can expand its mandate. And again, there's a provision of 1701 that expressly says we will consider adapting or expanding the mandate.

Reporter: But most countries are objecting to disarming Hezbollah, and leaving it to the Lebanese people through a dialogue.

Ambassador Bolton: Well, that's one possible way to do it. It hasn't happened that way yet. But fundamentally this is about implementing 1559, and that is, having all elements of Lebanese society return to a peaceful political debate in a democratic context is the measure of success. Okay? Thanks.

Released on August 21, 2006

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