| Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri asserted Wednesday that the parliamentary majority achieved outstanding gains, namely establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to prove into the assassination of martyr President Rafic Hariri, winning a landslide victory over the opposition in June 7, 2009 Parliamentary elections, forcing the permanent withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon.
In an interview with French newspaper 'Le Monde” Hariri called on all political forces in the country to preserve and reinforce those remarkable accomplishments in the interests of the citizens and homeland.
PM Hariri said the incumbent government included in its policy statement the civil and humanitarian rights of Palestinians refugees, stressing ‘that policymakers decided in the national dialogue table highlighted the necessity of disarming Palestinians outside refugee camps.
The number of Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon is currently 422,188, or an estimated 10 per cent of the population of Lebanon. Those face specific problems. They do not have social and civil rights, and have very limited access to the government's public health or educational facilities and no access to public social services in addition to being prohibited by law from working in more than 70 trades and professions.
Hariri said he is confident that the government will launch a fully-fledged reform workshop in all state's institutions, especially since all its members are adamantly committed to Paris 3 donor conference, however expressed buoyancy in the capabilities of Minister of Telecommunication Charbel Nahas in making noteworthy improvement to the ministry.
The Premier recalled the Lebanese – Syrian turbulent relations that marred the previous phase. 'We have found a common ground for the interests of Lebanon and Syria,” Hariri pointed, however said he supports launching direct dialogue with Iran as well to forge bilateral ties based on openness.
Hariri also said Tel Aviv is unwilling to resume the peace process in the region, and denounced the ongoing Israeli violations to Lebanon sovereignty especially the airspace.
He criticized the Israeli enemy for considering Beirut's southern suburbs and the south as a different entity and not as part of Lebanon.
Q: it took five months of negotiations to form your government, is it a rough start?
Saad Hariri: it is a chance to provide stability and calm in Lebanon. This period of discussion allowed us to start dialogue with other groups like Hizbullah and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun, whom we did not communicate with before. It is essential to unite in order to present an economic reform agenda, and rebuild institutions and invest in the Lebanese Army and police.
What have we achieved during the past five years? After the assassination of my father (Rafic Hariri on February 14-2005) Syria withdrew from Lebanon and we were finally able to launch diplomatic relations between the two countries. This could seem simple or normal, but it is unprecedented. Second, we achieved an International Tribunal for Lebanon which is undertaking its responsibilities. Third, we won the parliamentary elections. We must protect and consolidate these achievements.
Q: Now and after the government has started its work, it seems that the course of administrative appointment is impeded. Is the national unity starting to show its limits?
Saad Hariri: No. You will see in the near future that the unity government will make several reforms. The appointments have always been a problematic matter in Lebanon. But for the first time, we are setting a mechanism to appoint qualified personnel. There is consensus in the government concerning this mechanism. The Lebanese media outlets talk about tension regarding this issue, but in the matter of fact, we honestly discussed this matter during the sessions of the Council of Ministers and there is no domination in decision.
Q: You talked about the Syrian and Saudi positive effect?
Saad Hariri: the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz launched an Arabic reconciliation when no one wanted to believe the news. It helped us to achieve some calm and stability. And Syria moved in this context. I had to be an example, not as Saad Hariri, but as Prime Minister of all Lebanese.
Q: How was your meeting with Bashar Al-Assad?
Saad Hariri: Churchill once said: 'You need courage to stand up and talk, but you also need it to sit down and listen” this was my situation. President Bashar and I honestly discussed all subjects. Our relation witnessed tension previously, but we believe that we found a common ground for the interest of Lebanon and Syria. But since these relations were very tough during the past five years, it is essential to maintain calm and patience to move forward.
Q: Did President Al-Assad address Saad Hariri in person?
Saad Hariri: No. He personally showed attention to my accompanying delegation between scheduled events. Example: while drafting the joint statement which said the representatives of Saad Hariri, President Al-Assad modified the word himself and replaced it with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Q: regarding the International Tribunal, aren't you worried concerning the resignations that recently took place?
Saad Hariri: If I had to be worried, I would've been so since a very long time. This tribunal is composed of many people and it is normal that some of them quit, especially for higher posts. Many rumors are fabricated in Lebanon about the International Tribunal, but those who follow up the history of international justice realize that we have a chance to achieve the aspired results. In fact, we managed to launch the international tribunal within a period of four years only, while other tribunals such as Yugoslavia had to wait for seven years before reaching the decision to launch it.
Q: How do you evaluate the current dangers on the Lebanese-Israeli front?
Saad Hariri: we fear an Israeli intervention. Last week, Israeli airplanes violated the Lebanese air space 25 times in one day. In Israel, they think that when they attack the South, they are not attacking Lebanon as a whole, or when they bombard the Southern Suburbs of Beirut city (Hizbullah stronghold) this does not concern Lebanon. This is ridiculous. What did the Israelis do in 2006? Each area in Lebanon was destroyed. Wasn't that an aggression against Lebanon?
Q: Dispute began in 2006 after Hizbullah's attack?
Saad Hariri: was it a sufficient reason to destroy Lebanon? Israel could use any pretext, but it doesn't need any.
Israel does nothing for the peace process. And I believe that Israel is not interested in the peace process. More than 50 states approved on the peace initiative that was launched in Lebanon (during the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002). More than 50 states announced that it supports peace, and what is Israel doing? It does not want peace. Israelis do not want to move forward with Palestinians nor with the Syrians, and they refuse the Arab initiative. What would they do then?
We are afraid that the Israelis might be starting a new conflict as they succeeded to do in the past. In 1982, after the attempt to assassinate their ambassador in London, they invaded Lebanon. I do not wish for this struggle, but I think that that the Israelis are squeezed; Israel is talking about division between Fatah and Hamas movements. Let they give Mahmoud Abbas their approval for a solution based on the principle of the two states, where East Jerusalem is Palestine's capital, and followed by the return of refugees. Then Mahmoud Abbas would be able to sign this agreement and organize a public referendum. He will win victory over Hamas and the whole world. But there is no political party in Israel that backs him. The divisions are in Israel not Palestine.
Q: PM Siniora was committed for better situations for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Do you intend to commit to this policy and how?
Saad Hariri: we included the ministerial statement with an article related to the Palestinians that guarantees their human and public rights. We seriously deal with this project, because if we did not address this matter, dangerous problems will arise inside camps, during a period of six months to a year.
Q: what about the Palestinian arms outside camps?
Saad Hariri: Fouad Siniora's government took a decision regarding this matter, and the national dialogue table took a decision too. We will remove these arms.
Q: have you thought of means to do so?
Saad Hariri: we will discuss that with all Palestinian political factions. This situation must stop and the Lebanese government will extend its authority over all Lebanese areas without exception.
Q: Lebanon has special relations with Iran, specifically the Shiite community. To what extent does the Iranian policy affect the Lebanese political situation?
Saad Hariri: Lebanon has special relations with the Iranian Islamic Republic since more than 20 years. These relations should fall within the interest of Lebanon, but must be organized on the level of the Lebanese and the Iranian government. We must improve these relations to reach understanding between the two countries on the basis of equality.
Q: Does this means that the reality contradict with what you said?
Saad Hariri: our relations with Iran were complicated during the past four or five years. We must start dialogue with Iran and be open toward our ties.
Q: will the sanctions imposed on Iran by international community, negatively reflect on Lebanon?
Saad Hariri: No. If these sanctions see light one day, it would be based on an international decision.
Q: Being a member of the UN Security Council starting from this year, Lebanon should have a position regarding this matter.
Saad Hariri: Lebanon represents Arabic states at the UN Council as well. When this issue is proposed, and only then, we will take our decision according to Lebanon's interest. Each state has the right to take a decision in light of its own interest. This is legitimate.
The Lebanese position is very clear. We are against nuclear weapons in the region. Israel possesses Nuclear weapons and we refuse that. On the other hand, we support civil nuclear energy, which every state has the right to acquire. UAE signed an agreement with South Korea, Jordan is discussing it with France, but I assure you that Lebanon will never possess civil nuclear energy, do not worry.
Q: how are the relations between Lebanon and the United States after including the Lebanese compatriots on the lists of dangerous travelers, and after the Congress decided to ban the broadcast of the Manar channel (Hizbullah official channel) in the United States?
Saad Hariri: United States believes in freedom, freedom of expression, while at the same time it prevents the broadcasting of a television channel? This decision is incompatible with the principle of freedom. As for the issue of inspecting Lebanese travelers at airports, this decision contradicts with Obama's speech in Cairo. We will not accept this. Lebanese are not terrorists. The best doctors in the U.S. are Lebanese, there are scientists of Lebanese origins in America, France and Europe…are they terrorists too? They are being categorized according to their nationality and religion, and Lebanese today means 'terrorist”.
Q: is Hizbullah's presence (which U.S considers as terrorist organization) in the Lebanese government impeding the dialogue with the US regarding the military aids you demand for the Lebanese army?
Saad Hariri: there is a party in Lebanon named Hizbullah, which participates in the government, and we will explain for the whole world the importance of equipping our army. Before the assassination of my father, Syria was occupying Lebanon. By then, Lebanese army and security apparels were dominated by its regime, and since five years, we've been taking on our shoulders the responsibility for re-organizing the army and security.
During the Nahr Al-Bared battles, we had no appropriate equipment to fight terrorism. We had no aerial backup, except some Puma helicopters, and the last five days of the fierce battle, the soldiers carried a 1000 kg bomb with their hands to place it on the helicopter before launching it. But the Americans helped us, and so did the French. The relations between France and Lebanon are strong during the term of Nicolas Sarkuzi as they were with President Jack Chirac.
Q: Paris 3 agreement which was signed in January 2007 and extended in December 2009 aimed to help Lebanon manage its debt. These agreements include a series of reforms. Do they still exist?
Saad Hariri: Yes, these reforms are essential. We are committed to all items stipulated in Paris 3.
Q: there are two economic visions, one liberal and another directed. Could they both exist inside the government?
Saad Hariri: No. when some talk about privatization of telecoms, this is not to doubt the credibility of the sector, but to know whether to privatize the entire capital or labor as in other countries, such as South Africa, Saudi Arabia or France, where the government retained a share. There are different methods of privatization.
In a government that includes a great number of political groups, contradicting view necessarily exist. I held a series of meetings with Minister of Telecommunication (Charbel Nahas who severely criticizes privatization) and I got to know him well, and he turned to be non-sectarian, and you will be surprised with what he will do to his ministry.
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