Press Releases

    21 September 2005

    Transcript of Press Conference on Lebanon, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, High-Level Government Officials at United Nations Headquarters, 19 September 2005

    (Delayed for technical reasons, issued on 20 September.)

    The Secretary-General:  Representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the European Union, the Russian Federation, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Nations and the World Bank met today at United Nations Headquarters with Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora.

    We gathered to demonstrate our support for and commitment to the new Government of Lebanon as it works to reaffirm Lebanon's sovereignty, engage in vital reforms, and strengthen Lebanon's democratic institutions.

    We discussed the new Government's plans for political, economic, and institutional reforms in Lebanon to promote stability in Lebanon and in the region as a whole.  We welcomed the Government of Lebanon's response to the Lebanese people's calls for reform.  Lebanon's reform programme priorities will set the stage for international assistance.  We underscored both the urgent need to implement home-grown reforms and our commitment to supporting these initiatives for the future of Lebanon.

    We welcomed the effective and swift responses of the Lebanese judicial system and security authorities to the requests of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC), and expressed our strong support for the Commission's efforts to disclose fully the truth about the terrorist assassination of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and for bringing the perpetrators to justice.

    The international community remains steadfast in its determination to ensure that outside actors end all interference in the domestic affairs of Lebanon, and invites all parties within Lebanon to commit themselves to peaceful political reform and regional stability, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1559.  We call on all regional States to respect fully the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon and the sole authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout its territory.

    Finally, we pledged to work together, and to reach out to others who want to support Lebanon, to hold an international conference before the end of the year 2005.

    I now call on the Prime Minister to say a few words.  Mr. Prime Minister, you have the floor.

    Fuad Siniora, Prime Minister of Lebanon:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  At the outset, I would like to thank all the participants in this exceptional meeting.  The core group meeting was called for by friends of Lebanon to explore the ways in which they can support the reform programme of the Lebanese Government.  During the meeting, we had the opportunity to outline our economic and political programme of reform.  I am very delighted by the positive response that we received from all the participants.  This is the beginning of a process that will lead to the convening of the international conference to support Lebanon before the end of this year, in Beirut.

    Today, Lebanon is at the threshold of a new dawn.  With the goodwill and support of the international community and the determination of the Lebanese people, we have a real chance of achieving our goals.  By achieving those goals, we will be finally fulfilling the vision of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in which I was closely involved over the past 13 years.

    Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends of Lebanon, we really look forward to welcoming all of you in Beirut, where we can share together the rebirth of the new Lebanon.  Thank you very much.

    The Secretary-General:  Condi?

    Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State:  Secretary-General, Prime Minister, it is very good to be here among so many friends of Lebanon.  This gathering, I think, sends a powerful signal to the world that the international community is devoted and committed to the future of a peaceful, prosperous, democratic and sovereign Lebanon.

    The international community has, in many ways, never been more united, from the passage of resolution 1559 (2004), through its implementation, through our joint condemnation of the horrific murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and on our support for the Commission of Mr. Mehlis that there can be a full and complete investigation so that the perpetrators of that terrible crime can be brought to justice.

    Mr. Prime Minister, the people of the world have been enormously inspired by the Cedar Revolution, and we remain inspired by the Lebanese people as they struggle toward a better future, but now in a context of political freedom.  And we call upon all, in the region and around the world, to continue to support a free and sovereign Lebanon that can build a better future for its people and can do so in an absence -- in which there is no outside interference but, rather, in which the people of Lebanon can express their free will.

    Thank you very much for your leadership.  We all look forward to working with you.  And we indeed look forward to seeing you again in Beirut.

    The Secretary-General:  Philippe?

    Philippe Douste-Blazy, Foreign Minister of France (interpretation from French):  I would like to thank the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who has just contributed to the outcome of the core group of the friends of Lebanon the support of his moral authority.  This meeting is important because it is a milestone on the way to the independence, democracy and sovereignty of Lebanon.  I should like to emphasize the remarkable determination for reform of the Prime Minister of Lebanon and his Government following the democratic elections -- which Lebanon had not known for a very long time.  The programme that he has presented to us is based, on the one hand, on a deepening of democracy and, on the other, on the involvement of all political forces of Lebanon.

    We are fully prepared to support, in due course, the reform efforts of the Government of Prime Minister Siniora.  Today, he presented to us an ambitious political and economic programme.  Lebanon can count on our help to the extent that it specifies its priorities, as well as the timetable and the modalities for their implementation.

    Furthermore, we hope that others will join in the effort.  The exchange we have had today and the declaration we have adopted are very encouraging in that regard.  Lebanon can count on France.

    Finally, let me say, Mr. Secretary-General, that we are ready, together with the Lebanese authorities, to prepare for the international conference that will move forward with the plan of action for the Lebanese Government and that will mobilize the necessary international support.

    France will stand side by side with Lebanon in this endeavour.

    The Secretary-General:  Thank you.  Jack?

    Jack Straw, Foreign Minister, United Kingdom:  Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Prime Minister, I endorse what my colleagues have said.  The circumstances which led to the passing of 1559 were terrible:  the assassination of Rafik Hariri.  We owe it to his memory and the memory of so many other people who have been killed in Lebanon, or have lost their lives or their livelihoods, to ensure that there is a democratic Lebanon and one which is fully sovereign within its borders.

    Like all of us, I was very depressed after the assassination of Mr. Hariri.  I now have good hope about the future of this country, and I also believe that the work, Sir, that you, Mr. Secretary-General, have led on behalf of the Security Council, shows what can be achieved by the United Nations when the international community is as united and determined as it has been.

    And this morning's meeting shows that members of the Security Council and leading members of the United Nations in the Arab world are absolutely united in ensuring that resolutions 1559 and 1595 are fully implemented and that a better, brighter more democratic, more prosperous future for the people of Lebanon is secured.  Thank you very much.

    The Secretary-General:  Thank you, Jack.  Ahmed?

    Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Foreign Minister, Egypt (interpretation from Arabic):  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  I would like to reaffirm that Egypt, as it participates in this gathering and in this conference, as I said during the meeting, is working on achieving success in order to take Lebanon to a stable situation that would fulfil the aspirations of all the Lebanese people and would grant them stability and prosperity.

    We will work with the people of Lebanon and with the Government of Lebanon in order to achieve this goal, which will undoubtedly have its impact and repercussions on the regional situation and stability in the area.

    Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.

    The Secretary-General:  Prince Saud?

    Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia (interpretation from Arabic):  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  It is not odd for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to take part in a meeting dedicated to helping Lebanon.  It has always stood by Lebanon, every time, in dealing with any crisis that arises.

    The evil hands that assassinated Rafik al-Hariri were targeting -- or wanted to keep Lebanon in the instability that it experienced; but the outcome was the opposite.  A new Lebanon arose, a stronger Lebanon, one that enjoys stability and prosperity.

    We are happy to take part in this work, and today we have heard the programme outlined by Prime Minister Siniora.  It is a programme that we support, and we will back it with all our ability.  Thank you.

    The Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Fini?

    Gianfranco Fini, Foreign Minister, Italy (interpretation from Italian):  Italy is a country with an ancient traditional relationship of friendship with Lebanon.  We have a consolidated economic and trade relationship.  We are involved in guaranteeing that the process of peace, sovereignty and democracy for that much-suffering country is successful.  For this reason, we stand alongside Prime Minister Siniora and are convinced that the international community must be aware that the stability of Lebanon has an enormous effect on the entire Middle East region.  So, to work towards peace and sovereignty in Lebanon means helping the entire Middle East to live in better conditions.

    The Secretary-General:  Thank you.

    Spokesman for Secretary-General:  Before we open up for questions, I did want to mention that also participating in the meeting were the European Union's High Representative, Javier Solana; the European Commissioner for External Relations, Ms. Benita Ferraro-Waldner; and the President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz.

    The first question goes to the United Nations Correspondents Association, Jim Wurst.

    Question:  Excellencies, I would like to welcome you on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association.  In all of your discussions, you have not mentioned anything about funding.  Now, I understand that will probably be the subject of the international conference, but you must be able to have some idea of the kind of money which you are trying to raise, where it is coming from, benchmarks or conditionalities for the release of the funds.  Could one of you -- whoever feels qualified to answer that -- could you please elaborate a bit on that?

    The Secretary-General:  I think you heard the Prime Minister indicate that we are going to have a pledging conference, where this morning we all agreed to participate, and I appeal to international partners to participate.  I think it would be a bit premature -- I don't know if the Prime Minister agrees with me -- to put a dollar figure on this now.  But the Prime Minister may want to add something.

    Mr. Siniora:  Well, I agree with you, Mr. Secretary-General.  I mean, in the coming few weeks, there will be ample dialogue that is going to take place between the representative of Lebanon, as well as the various countries and international organizations, in which we are going to really talk more in detail about our programme or our requirements for the coming period and the various specific programmes that we will undertake in the coming period.  So, I think this question -- we may request that it may be delayed until the next meeting, and then we will answer you there.

    Question (interpretation from Arabic):  What form of aid is going to be extended to Lebanon?

    Mr. Siniora:  This is going to be really discussed during the coming few weeks, so I think it is premature to get into the details of the nature, the size, the period.  These are specific matters that I think will be the subject matter of the coming few weeks; and I think I may ask your patience for some time until we will discuss these matters; and then we will handle them next time, when we get together in Beirut.

    Question:  Secretary, Mr. Prime Minister, what do you think should be done if the Mehlis Commission, as expected, implicates senior Lebanese security officers and Syria says, "Well, it's a Lebanese matter"?

    Mr. Siniora:  Well, as you know, Mehlis has already issued the partial indictment for four of the senior officers of the intelligence.  And the Lebanese judicial system has already looked thoroughly into this matter and really acted in accordance with the Lebanese judicial system, and has already taken the decision to arrest.

    Now what will come out of the Mehlis report, we will look into the matter then.  But I can really tell you clearly that the Lebanese -- all the Lebanese -- are really seeking the truth, no matter how long it takes and no matter which personalities it is going to touch and implicate.  We want the truth so that everybody will learn a lesson:  not to commit such crimes in future.  It is not only [a matter] of penalizing those who really committed this crime but to give a lesson so that [such acts are] not committed once more.  So it is too early now to tell you what -- who is going to be implicated and what is going to be done.  I assure you that we are going to, in this respect, observe the laws -- the respective laws that should be really observed then.

    Ms. Rice:  I would completely associate myself with what the Prime Minister has said.  This is an international investigation that needs to be taken seriously.  The chips will fall where they may, but, obviously, we are not going to try to prejudge what Mr. Mehlis will find.  I would just say that everyone needs to cooperate, and cooperate fully.  And there has been a call for Syria to cooperate, and I think that -- hope that Syria will cooperate fully.

    Question:  Madam Secretary:  President Bush, according to President Talibani of Iraq, told him that the United States is not after a regime change in Syria.  There is a lot of talk about the readiness by the United States to strike a deal with Syria.  How true is this direction?

    And, for the Foreign Minister of France also:  Paris has received some high-ranking Syrian officials in the last week or so -- Asif Shawqat, a relative of President Bashar Al-Assad, is one of them.  Are you receiving any messages from the President of Syria to strike a deal, to find a way out of the situation?

    Ms. Rice:  We are interested in only the following with Syria:  first of all, that there be full and complete cooperation with the Mehlis investigation and that the truth be found -- whatever that truth is; secondly, that Syria would fully and completely remain true to the letter and the spirit of resolution 1559, which means that their forces should be out, but so also should any remaining intelligence personnel, because Lebanon has to be free of foreign interference.  

    This is an issue of national sovereignty for Lebanon, and Syria must respect the national sovereignty of Lebanon.

    Third, it is clear that Syria needs to get on the right side of the events that are going on the Middle East.  That means to cut off the routes that insurgents are using to use Syrian territory to penetrate into Iraq and to kill innocent Iraqis.  That means to close off support to Palestinian rejectionists, who are the single biggest threat to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, and, again, to make certain that nothing is being done to interfere in the affairs of Lebanon.  This is a Lebanese matter now.  Lebanon is now in a position to have politics between Lebanese. It needs to be that way.  That is what we are talking about with Syria.  That is the issue.

    Mr. Douste-Blazy (interpretation from French):  Indeed, to reply to your question:  first of all, what seems to us the most important with respect to Syria is there be no interference by any country with another country, in this case Lebanon.  We have always been in favour of respect for a country's sovereignty and independence and, therefore, believe that there should be no interference, neither militarily nor with regard to intelligence.

    With regard to the Mehlis Commission, I believe that this is a criminal investigation being carried out by a professional, highly qualified judge, who must continue to work in full independence.  All parties must accept his conclusions at the appropriate time.  But we have no comments to make while the investigation is proceeding, nor shall we prejudge its conclusions.  I believe that the Ministers of the Core Group have reaffirmed today their full support to the Mehlis Commission.  I would end by saying that it seems to us important to implement resolution 1559.  This is a high priority:  to complete the investigation of the assassination of Mr. Rafik Hariri.

    Question:  Dr. Rice, you have always talked about the implementation of resolution 1559, but what if Lebanon cannot on its own disarm Hizbollah and the Palestinians?  Will the international community help, and is it a condition for Lebanon to receive economic assistance?

    Ms. Rice:  I believe that the Lebanese Government fully intends to live up to its obligations under resolution 1559.  I have talked with the Prime Minister.  I have been in Beirut.  I know that this is a Government that wants to make a new start based on the resolution that gave Lebanon an opportunity for a new start.

    Lebanon is in the context now -- the political context in Lebanon now is different, and this must be a political arrangement, it must be a political dialogue between Lebanese, and we are prepared to see that take place.  It goes without saying, I believe, that it is eventually the case that no democracy can exist if there are some within, particularly within the Government, who try and maintain an option of violence.  There has to be one authority, and there has to be one Lebanese security force that reports to that authority.  And I am certain that that is well understood internationally, well understood in Lebanon, but we are at the beginning of a process, and we are going to support the Lebanese Government as they move forward.

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