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Interview on Al-Jazeera's "Min Washington"

C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
Washington, DC
August 21, 2006


QUESTION: That was a report of Mohammed al-Allamifrom Washington, many questions, let me start with this following question that we asked at the beginning of this report with my guest in Washington, Ambassador David Welch. Mr. Welch, if we speak first about the goals that have been achieved so far; Washington supported clearly a ceasefire, however in the beginning your position was that you did not want a thing that was temporary, provisional and then the killing starts all over again and the problem is not resolved, Mr. Ambassador?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Mr. Murazi, thank you, it's good to be with you again and it's a pleasure to be on the program with friends of mine -- His Excellency Minister Ahmed Maher and Dr. Talhami. We supported Resolution 1701, which provides for a cessation of hostilities and sets certain conditions so that we can get to a permanent ceasefire. In order to obtain those conditions, the Secretary General is leading an effort with envoys in the region, the United States has lent its diplomatic weight, other countries are doing likewise including some of the Arab states that are friendly to peace in the area.

Resolution 1701 we think embodies the elements that would be necessary so that a ceasefire, once it's arrived at and conditioned on Israeli withdraw, would be a sustainable one with less risk from the dangers that we saw from the past situation. We think that with good intention and observation of these new rules by all members of the international community that the situation could be put back together again, so that Lebanon is protected in the future from those outside it who seek to interfere and certain parties inside it who would disturb the situation, and that the northern border of Israel would also be protected.

QUESTION: However are these issues -- Wasn't it possible to achieve these issues in the first week of the war? If the Arab people have accepted the French initiative why did we have a war for 31 days and thousands of Lebanese killed, a third of them are children? Why all this until the United States accept such results without a decisive win for Israel?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well actually it was not the United States that delayed anything, I think you have to go back to -- why did this incident even happen? One party decided for its own reasons that it would put its interests ahead of the interests of its country and of the people of Lebanon and launched an attack across an international frontier. After that the situation, regrettably, became very violent and the international community stepped in to take action. We were prepared for a cessation of hostilities just as soon as it was possible to put into place elements that would lead to a stable cease-fire. Agreement on that was arrived at just a week ago, not much more than that and everybody has been working since to try to keep this situation stable. This requires the deployment of new international forces to supplement the existing UNIFIL force. There is in place an arms embargo which obliges countries not to allow any weapons to go into Lebanon except to the government of Lebanon, and then there should be an area in the south that's free of all foreign forces and free of any armed groups. These are things that have to be put in place and everybody is working hard now to do that. We would have liked to have those elements in place from the very first day but it's not merely a matter of declaring something that you want but it's actually a question of doing it, and that's what we are trying to achieve now.

QUESTION: What hindered you achieving that Mr. Ambassador? In other terms, did you see the Arabs or the Lebanese government accepted such conditions, and they would not accept such conditions before…

What has changed sir?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I think what's changed is that all parties decided it was in their interests to stop the fighting, have a cessation of hostilities and try to get these elements that I described put in place. Now unfortunately I can't analyze the motives of the Hezbollahis, who as I said seemed to put their own interests ahead of those of Lebanon and the interests of the Lebanese people. So until they are willing to stop their infractions, then it was very difficult to control the situation. Happily now there is a cessation of hostilities, a very difficult and tense situation, trying to put in place the elements to keep it under control, that will in turn lead to the deployment of the international force and the Lebanese army down to the border and on the perimeters of Lebanon's other border, so that we can see more permanent conditions develop. As those forces deploy, then Israel will withdraw.

QUESTION: Regarding the decision of President Bush declaring on Monday that his pledge for U.S. support for reconstruction in Lebanon for $230 million, this came perhaps hours or less than a day after the meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers here in Cairo to discus the reconstruction, and also this decision came after the State Department said with a spokesman, expressed its concern that Iran or Hezbollah will reconstruct there and therefore the opportunity will be missed. Is the Arab party here helping the United States in accelerating the reconstruction as if the competition with Iran is still ongoing? And this is the Foreign Minister here in Cairo and the Arab League with Washington and Hezbollah with Iran in this competition for reconstruction.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, you're quite right, President Bush today announced the commitment of the United States to major new funding for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance and also to support the legitimate security services of Lebanon. These are very significant amounts of U.S. assistance moneys, over $230 million that have been pledged. We are grateful for the cooperation of others in the international community toward this end as well. I realize that certain countries in the Arab world have stepped forward to pledge assistance, I expect that other countries in the international community will do so. There is a conference that will be held at the end of the month in Stockholm, Sweden where everybody will get together to devote themselves to this.

I think that what happened right after the cessation of hostilities with the statements coming from Hezbollah was they realized that the destruction that their reckless actions had brought upon Lebanon and injury to the economic interests of Lebanon, so they had to come out quickly and make statements about trying to do something about that. We'll see whether those statements translate into anything on the ground. The critical effort here though has to be to support the people of Lebanon, the government of Lebanon in rebuilding the country and restoring some economic vitality and life after a very difficult summer.

QUESTION: Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, had a very strong speech for those who did not support Hezbollah, who is deemed the winner, and that the resistance has not been wiped out and Israel wasn't able to finish Hezbollah. Would Syria have an opportunity to try to get support of Washington? Washington is trying to get sort of support for implementation of 1701, or to stop any weapons or ammunitions to Hezbollah. We have heard that Israel at the outset was preparing for this renegotiation with Syria and then the Prime Minister denied that Israel is ready for this. In Washington are you ready for a new phase, turning a new chapter with Syria in coordination in Lebanon?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Resolution 1701 is to protect Lebanon, its government and its people. It's to help Lebanon extend its sovereignty and authority over all its territory. Syria is obliged to implement and observe Resolution 1701, so it's not a question of asking Syria to do so. Nor is it a question of negotiating with Damascus for it to follow the obligations it has under international law. These things have been written in previous resolutions too -- 1559 and 1680.

I heard the speech from President Assad the other day and it's not my style, Mr. Murazi, to make reflections on the words of presidents, but one can look at the content of the words. I found them irresponsible under the circumstances. Now is the time for everyone to unite behind helping Lebanon and not to create further ways in which to disturb the situation there.

QUESTION: The Arab foreign ministers meeting here in Cairo said with a spokesman (inaudible) Amr Moussa who had said and declared that before at the beginning of the war back in Cairo he said, he declared the peace process dead. Then he said and he clarified that the peace process through the United States, without calling you by name, but he said that this peace process is over because this sponsor has been biased with Israel and that they will have recourse to the Security Council to move forward the peace process. Washington's position here is clear, that they don't want this to go to the United Nations. What are you gonna do if the Arabs did so, if they go to the Security Council to move forward the peace process without you, without Washington?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well the United Nations is available as a path and as a venue to anyone who seeks to use it. The United Nations has taken decisions with respect to the conflict generally and to this situation in particular, and I hope that Secretary General Amr Moussa would agree with me that it's important to see those resolutions observed, not to pick and choose from them as to which ones should be observed. In terms of where we go in the future, I think all of us would agree that the situation in the region deserves special attention, including in particular the Palestinian-Israeli issue. We've been making every effort to get that moving along on the right path. Unfortunately in these conflicts it bears remembering that there are two parties frequently, and both sides have to have an interest in moving ahead, both sides have to be equally committed to peace, both sides have to (inaudible) violence as a means to pursue their ends and when agreements or commitments are made, all sides should observe them. Unfortunately we have a situation with respect to the Palestinian government under the current Prime Minister where it would not appear that they're prepared to observe those conditions of the international community. I would hope that there is some transformation on the part of that leadership that would bring them into a position where they can embrace the conditions of the international community.

QUESTION: Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador. Even if you're running out of time if you can say, sum it up, you think that it's not useful to say that the Arab countries who will go and have recourse to the Security Council and lead a peace process without the acceptance of Washington and Israel is that what you mean?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well we don't veto anybody's decisions as to what path they seek to pursue, the question is what is the most productive and efficient path. This would mean that the parties all have to address the purposes of any effort. Again as I said you can't deal with a situation where one of the parties is divided on the issue of whether to pursue peace. You can't deal with a situation like you see in Lebanon where you have one party internally that isn't committed to supporting the government in its decisions and its actions. And you can't have a situation, broadly speaking across the region, where one or two countries, and I think everybody knows the ones I'm referring to but in case it's not clear, Syria and Iran, whose commitment to regional peace and stability seems sorely lacking. What we have here is a very dangerous and volatile context throughout the region where a number of people with good intentions are trying to figure out the way ahead, and I include in those the member states of the Arab League whom you mentioned just now, and need to see that that path is clear, but that means clear of interference from Syria and Iran also.

QUESTION: Ambassador David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity and speaking to us in this first segment of "Min Washington" presented this day from Cairo. Thank you very much to you sir.


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