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    Nassib Lahoud in Washington DC: The support we seek is a support for values and the institutions of Lebanon

    DRM President, Minister Nassib Lahoud delivered the intorductory speech at the Aspen Institute conference on “Lebanon: The Swing State of a New Levant“, held in Washington DC. The conference was chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and co-organized by the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation.

    On the 14th of March 2005, 1.5 million Lebanese (virtually half of Lebanon’s population) went to the streets and peacefully brought down the pro-Syrian government. This government was replaced with a neutral government that supervised the parliamentary elections, which were held in May-June of the same year.

    These elections, the first with Lebanon free of any foreign military presence, resulted in a parliament with a clear majority for the March 14 alliance.

    The extraordinary determination of the Lebanese people in their quest for sovereignty and ending the Syrian hegemony was strongly matched by unanimous support of the international community.

    The United States, Europe and the United Nations came in support of the Lebanese people with a series of UN Resolutions, designed to protect Lebanon in its quest for sovereignty, democracy and peace.

    Earlier in February 2005 the brutal assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a highly popular Lebanese leader, caused the adoption of the Security Council Resolution 1595. An International Investigation Commission was established and subsequently an international Tribunal under Resolution 1757.

    The purpose of these resolutions was to investigate and bring to justice the murderers of Rafik Hariri and the perpetrators of subsequent connected assassinations of other leaders of the March 14 movement.

    This signaled the will of the international community to

    (1) close the dark and violent chapters of Lebanese history,

    (2) not allow political crimes to remain unpunished, and

    (3) give hope to people all over the world, suffering from dictatorship and political crime.

    The international community resumed its efforts in the summer of 2006, and ended the July war by issuing UN resolution 1701. This resolution ordered the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanese territories, and required Lebanon and Israel to work out a permanent ceasefire that would restore the 1949 truce accord.

    It also mandated the U.N. Secretary General to seek a diplomatic solution to the Shebaa Farms, a territory partly Syrian partly Lebanese and wholly occupied by Israel, through a UN supervised border demarcation of the area. Furthermore, it banned the entry of illegal arms to Lebanon.

    Under Resolution 1701, Lebanon deployed its army in southern Lebanon alongside a 15000 strong UN peacekeeping force.

    Clearly, Resolution 1701 is a large-spectrum stabilizing framework. It aims to lead Lebanon and Israel back to the truce agreement of 1949, pending a comprehensive regional peace agreement, in the context of a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    This resolution was accepted by all Lebanese parties, including Hezbollah, and it is part and parcel of the ministerial declaration agreed upon by the present national unity government.

    Continuous backing of these resolutions by the US and the international community makes a strong contribution to the stability of the Lebanese-Israeli border and helps diffuse regional tensions.

    Revitalizing the peace process at the regional level would certainly create a healthy and positive environment. In this regard, the Arab peace initiative proposed by King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and adopted unanimously by all Arab States constitutes a strong and realistic basis for a comprehensive settlement.

    The Obama administration is strongly urged to move quickly with a new comprehensive initiative for lasting peace in the Middle East, it should be aimed at the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese tracks.

    ***

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    (Back to Lebanon now), a few issues need to be addressed: The Lebanese-Syrian relations, the future of Hezbollah, the role of the Lebanese army, the Doha agreement and the 2009 parliamentary elections.

    1- The Lebanese-Syrian Relations

    After decades of reluctance, Syria agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon. Given the problematic past, this is a quiet positive development and a direct result of an initiative by President Sarkozy of France. Syria committed to an exchange of ambassadors by the end of this year. But of course this is not the only outstanding issue between the two neighboring countries.

    Syria’s cooperation is required for the demarcation of the Lebanese-Syrian borders, including the “Shebaa farms”, for border control in accordance with resolution 1701, for settling the issue of Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons, for disarming pro-Syrian Palestinian groups outside the refugee camps and for reviewing the imbalanced bilateral agreements signed when Lebanon was under Syrian hegemony.

    In short, Syria would be expected to give up its ancestral hegemonic ambitions and deal with Lebanon as a truly sovereign state.

    These issues were raised during a recent summit meeting between President Suleiman and President Bashar al-Assad, and mentioned in a joined statement. So far, no concrete progress has been registered in any of these issues.

    Any international rapprochement with Syria should go hand in hand with a serious change of behavior by Syria in Lebanon.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    Indirect talks are being held between Syria and Israel under Turkish auspices. We hope that this process will lead to ending the occupation of the Golan Heights and the establishment of a just peace between Syria and Israel.

    The international community and mainly the United States are strongly expected not to allow Lebanon’s sovereignty to be put in jeopardy at these talks.

    2- The Lebanese Army

    Earlier this year, the Lebanese army was targeted by Fateh el Islam, a terrorist group based in Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp. A number of officers and soldiers were murdered in cold blood. The Lebanese government ordered the army to bring Fateh el Islam to justice. Fateh el Islam resisted and the army successfully stormed the camp after evacuating the civilian population. The army suffered high casualties (more than 150 officers and soldiers died). The number would have undoubtedly been lower had the army been properly equipped and prepared for such demanding types of battles and missions. In this respect, the recent decision by the United States to increase its military support for the Lebanese army matches this need and is a welcomed development.

    A strong and efficient Lebanese army is vital for Lebanon and essential for regional stability. It is also crucial for implementing international resolutions, fighting terrorism, exercising border control and maintaining internal security.

    3- Hezbollah

    The weapons of Hezbollah are at the center of major political controversy in Lebanon. Hezbollah has played a central role in liberating South Lebanon from Israeli occupation and still commands strong support within the Shia community.

    From a sovereign and democratic Lebanese perspective, two objectives are essential:

    One: All weapons in Lebanon should be in the sole possession of the Lebanese army and security forces.

    Two: Deciding on war and peace should be the sole responsibility of the Lebanese government.

    In the pursuit of these objectives, a gradual and consensual mechanism must be developed aiming to integrate the military capabilities of Hezbollah within the framework of the Lebanese armed forces, leaving Hezbollah to continue solely as a political organization.

    This demand does not, by any means, aim to marginalize the large segment of the Lebanese population that supports Hezbollah or to undermine their political and social rights. A strong, sovereign and stable Lebanese state is the only framework for real inclusion of all citizens in the national reconciliation process.

    These are issues that are currently being addressed by the national dialogue conference convened under the chairmanship of President Michel Suleiman.

    4- The Doha Agreement

    On May 7, 2008, Hezbollah militarily stormed Beirut and some other regions, prompting Arab intervention that led to the national dialogue conference to be convened in Doha, Qatar.

    An agreement was reached by the Lebanese parties in Doha, which led to:

    • 1) The commitment to never again resort to force to resolve political differences

    • 2) The election of Michel Suleiman as a consensual president of the republic

    • 3) The formation of a national unity government, under the able premiership of Fouad Siniora

    • 4) The holding of the parliamentary elections in the spring of 2009, as they become due, under an electoral law agreed by all.

    Although being a stabilizing factor, a national unity government nonetheless makes decision making more laborious, and governance much more difficult. Nonetheless, the election of Michel Suleiman filled the vacuum at the highest level of the State apparatus and endowed Lebanon with a wise president, respected at both national and international levels.

    5- The 2009 Parliamentary Elections

    The electoral law agreed upon in Doha is not perfect by any means but it has the advantage of being accepted by all parties. However, it is found lacking as to the empowerment of women or the emergence of secular movements.

    The law is based on small and medium constituencies. It has ended the gross gerrymandering that was practiced during the Syrian hegemony. Some reforms managed to see the light, while other reforms, such as the expatriate voting were approved but their application was deferred for logistic reasons till the elections of 2013.

    ***

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    During the last four years, Lebanon has achieved a lot in terms of sovereignty, freedom, justice, democracy, state building, fighting terrorism and abiding by international law. However, there is still much to be done namely in terms of protecting civil peace and national unity; integrating Hezbollah’s weapons within the Lebanese State and under its command; establishing balanced relations with Syria, and achieving a sustainable truce with Israel pending a comprehensive peace settlement.

    Lebanon’s agenda is not a mere expression of national and democratic aspirations. It is in full accordance with international law, human rights, and the quest for peace and stability in the Middle East. These values have earned Lebanon the international support and solidarity.

    This solidarity was multi-partisan and deeply rooted in the democratic nations that lent support. The United States Administration was at the forefront of this effort. Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, continuously and steadily showed the same support for Lebanon.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    Lebanon’s fight for Independence, Democracy and Peace, still deserve full support.

    The support we seek is not a support for a camp, for a faction, for a coalition. The support we seek is a support for values, for the democratic process and the institutions of Lebanon.

    Respecting Lebanon sovereignty, its constitution, holding elections on time, law enforcement, free and fair judiciary system, abiding by international law… These are fundamental principles that need real support, regardless of who is in power in Beirut and in Washington DC. My country is looking forward to such a principle-based and process-oriented relationship between American and Lebanese institutions, which would undoubtedly meet the aspirations of the Lebanese people for freedom, prosperity and independence.

    4 responses to “Nassib Lahoud in Washington DC: The support we seek is a support for values and the institutions of Lebanon”

    1. Bodhi says:

      A statesman-like attempt at a speech turned out bland while lacking substance.

      It would be more satisfying to have boiled down a 2000 word wa3za to a single short sentence:

      allow the lebanese army to arm itself credibly in order to garner the capacity to defend all its people.

      anyway..

    2. AGM says:

      …when prejudgment and cynicism hide substance…

    3. Bodhi says:

      or when bias magnifies them :)

      we could discuss this point by point if you like. I believe there are five overall ones in the speech.

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