New York, Asharq Al-Awsat- Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci is expecting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to announce the appointment of former US Ambassador Christopher Ross as his personal envoy to the Sahara to replace the Netherlands envoy Peter Van Valsom. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Asharq al-Awsat conducted with him in New York, the Algerian foreign minister expressed his belief that the fifth round of direct talks between Morocco and POLISARIO would be resumed before the end of this month. Medelci revealed in the interview, which was held at the UN headquarters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s [UNGA] 63rd session, that the Mediterranean Union project is still theoretical and in the process of being formed and said: “To this day, the Mediterranean Union does not have a budget and the EU’s budget until 2013 has not included the Mediterranean Union.” Regarding Algeria’s relations with Morocco, Minister Medelci described them as well and good and reported that the Western Sahara problem is the reason for the non-normalization of the two countries’ relations and also reported that the terrorist actions in Algeria are being financed from outside the country. He added that terrorism is feeding on the conflicts in the region and said reaching solutions to some of them might help solve the problem of terrorism.
Following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Algeria is a member of the Arab League’s [AL] ministerial committee tasked with following up on the Palestinian issue. What is this committee hoping for from the Quartet?
[Medelci] Our meeting here with the Quartet members (United States, Russia, EU, and the UN) is an opportunity for assessing what has happened after the Annapolis conference. This assessment is clear. There are hopes and aspirations and there are at the same time a number of complicated issues impeding the process. Among these issues is Israel’s unclear stand on the negotiations approach. More than that, the decisions taken after the Annapolis conference headed toward expanding the settlements and this problem prompted the Arab ministers to raise it at the UN Security Council [UNSC]. The aim is to send a dual message, first, by asserting that the Arabs are with peace and, second, we believe that the international community is not exercising its role toward peace by allowing Israel to continue with its behavior, especially as we take into account the fact that we have been expecting since the Annapolis conference what we believe to be an essential condition, namely, that peace is impossible with the settlements project, and what we noticed was the opposite. The Quartet meeting was held to discuss these issues and it was held in particular circumstances in view of the situation in Israel and the political one in the United States. In Israel, there is a change from one government to another while for the US administration; the situation needs to take shape after the results of the ballot boxes (during the presidential election next month). What we as an Arab ministerial committee are seeking under present conditions is a dialogue to ensure the continuation of the negotiations, either with the new Israeli government or the next US administration. We want to assert that continuation of the negotiations should not be at the expense of the Palestinians and their territorial integrity. The current stage witnessed relative improvement and we are satisfied with the situation following the agreement to stop fighting. We believe that the US role alone is not enough and it should be backed by the roles of the other parties so as to boost the peace process efforts. The Quartet represents these multi roles even though its role is not at the forefront. However, the other parties’ roles with that of the US one remain important so that we can force Israel to respect its obligations and those of the countries near to it. This is what we asserted to the US side in the difficult and intensive negotiations which US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conducted with Iraq before the participation in the Annapolis conference. We underlined the importance of taking into consideration the Arab initiative and halting the settlement activities. We want to revive these two matters once again.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Algeria is also a member of the ministerial committee following up the Darfur dossier. Did you meet with the UNSC members to delay a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir if the International Criminal Court [ICC] judges do issue it?
[Medelci] There is one point concerning the ICC, namely, issuing a warrant for the arrest of President Al-Bashir is unacceptable to the African group, the Arab and Islamic one, and even the nonaligned countries. It is unacceptable as a notion to all these groups because the trial of a head of a state by an international court is unacceptable in principle. The second point concerns the Darfur issue and its association with the UN. It needs mediation and this mediation should not be limited to the UN and the presence of international forces. This is not enough and comes within the purely military solutions. We stress the need for a political solution and here comes the role of the Arab initiative which the AL formulated in coordination with the State of Qatar. It was later enlarged to be joined by the African Union [AU] and became an Arab-African initiative. The ministerial committee held three meetings in New York and will continue its work to make a connection between the political solution for Darfur and the issue raised by the ICC. This means that it is impossible to reach a political solution while President Al-Bashir remains at the same time wanted by the ICC Prosecutor Luis Ocampo. This looks impossible. On the contrary, we consider President Al-Bashir the basis for the political solution and therefore it is important to resort to Article 16 in the ICC’s Rome statutes. We are demanding from the UNSC to take a decision postponing the issuance of the arrest warrant for one year. This is the starting point for the consultations we are holding with the UNSC members.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the outcome of your meetings with the UNSC members?
[Medelci] What we are seeking is to persuade all the parties to look at the Arab-African initiative. Around nine UNSC members are convincedof it but other parties have either reservations about it or reject it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] France laid down conditions for agreeing to postpone issuing the arrest warrant.
[Medelci] It seems to me that France has reservation about the initiative. But we started to feel during the past few days that it began to understand the connection between the political solution and the ICC. It is true that France’s stand is unofficial but it seems to me that it is acting to reach agreement among the UNSC members before submitting a draft resolution for postponing the issuance of the arrest warrant by the ICC.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] No decision has so far been made by the ICC to issue an arrest warrant.
[Medelci] A decision to issue a warrant for the arrest of President Al-Bashir might be taken two months from now. Since the case is now before the UNSC, we are trying to create a consensual atmosphere that accepts the Arab-African initiative. In order to act, we have formed a quadripartite committee that includes members from the AL, AU, and Qatar. We will come to the UNSC after a few weeks, God willing, and hope it will take a resolution suspending the decision of the ICC against Al-Bashir.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It seems that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is about to announce the appointment of a special envoy to the Sahara and former US Ambassador Christopher Ross is apparently the candidate for this post. Were the parties consulted about the choice of Ross?
[Medelci] As you know, news of Ambassador Ross’s appointment appeared few weeks ago in the media. According to my information, the appointment decision will be announced very soon, within the few next days. I believe he will be the one announcing his appointment as the special envoy to the Western Sahara. A special envoy needs to be appointed soon so as to resume the fifth round of direct negotiations between Morocco and POLISARIO.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Arab Maghreb Union’s [AMU] foreign ministers were supposed to meet with the Mediterranean Union’s foreign ministers but the meeting was not held. Was there a reason for that?
[Medelci] The meeting was cancelled because it was not planned and because some members were not present. The meeting was not planned to behold on the sidelines of the UNGA session and the idea for holding it was spontaneous. But it did not happen and we were unable to bring together all the members. There is however coordination, especially by the Arabs who are Mediterranean Union members.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The AMU countries attached particular importance to the meeting with the Mediterranean Union. What were they expecting from this meeting which they considered important?
[Medelci] What the AMU wants from the Mediterranean Union countries is proper cooperation and not the political discourse and return to the known problems. What we wanted from that meeting was the qualitative move that comes through concrete projects reflecting the aspiration of the Mediterranean Sea basin’s countries to develop the region. We found that we did not have the resources to meet such a determination quickly. We are still clearly waiting for the EU to determine new resources and capabilities for this big project. To this day, the Mediterranean Union does not have a budget and the EU’s budget until 2013 has not included the Mediterranean Union. On these bases, we believe that the Union project is moving gradually and theoretically only.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see Algeria’s relationship with Morocco?
[Medelci] Our relations with Morocco are good and there are no problems, apart from Morocco’s stand on the Western Sahara issue, which does not appear encouraging for solving the problems between Algeria and Morocco. To us, the issue is simple, that is, we are acting on the basis of the UNSC resolutions which underline the principle of self-determination and enabling the Sahraoui people to choose either option A or option B. As it is obvious, POLISARIO is ready to enter into negotiations on these bases but the problem is the Moroccans’ insistence on their choice (self-rule), which in their view is nonnegotiable. The problem between us is Morocco’s insistence on solving the Sahara problem within the self-rule framework. I believe this insistence is the cause of the problem between Algeria and Morocco. We are hoping for positive stands in the coming days, God willing. We encourage every party, whoever it is, to reach a solution as long as this allows the Sahraouis to make their own decision freely in implementation of international law and UNSC resolutions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some UNSC countries support the Moroccan proposal for self-rule, specifically the United States and France. Why the insistence on the UN’s plan for a referendum?
[Medelci] These countries’ stand as UNSC members is inconsistent with the UNSC resolutions. What I mean is that they make a resolution and then take another stand outside the UNSC. These inconsistencies seems tome to be very dangerous.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not think that the UN’s plan for referendum in the Sahara has reached a dead end?
[Medelci] This confirms there is not a mechanism for the Sahara issue capable of solving the problems. It is part of the problems that have not been solved, among them for example the Middle East and Palestine issue about which many resolutions were taken at the UNSC level that are clear but not implemented. The same applies to the Western Sahara problem.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you expecting a round of negotiations between Morocco and POLISARIO in the near future?
[Medelci] We are expecting a next round after the UN secretary general announces the appointment of his new envoy who will make a tour of the region to consult all the parties concerned with the conflict. We are hoping that the fifth round of talks will start before the end of the year.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Following the attack on the UN offices in Algeria in December 2007, a UN report presented by former Foreign Minster Lakhdar Brahimi concluded that the UN has stopped being neutral in the view of some people. Do you agree with this conclusion?
[Medelci] We helped this committee and gave it information and it prepared a report in which we did not have a hand. The UN used at the same time the criteria for which it is responsible. I believe the UN should review its security arrangements after this report, especially in places and locations for which it is responsible. It might need new UNGA resolutions to finance the new security measures for protecting its locations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Lakhdar Brahimi mentioned in his report that there is almost popular support for these attacks since the UN has stopped being neutral. Do you agree with this assessment that there is popular discontent with the UN in Algeria?
[Medelci] I believe this is a wrong image because the UN represents all its member states. It seems to me that the UN image among the masses is not understood as it should be. Even the UN secretary general felt this and he is now working on a strategy to clarify the UN image.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The national reconciliation plan proposed by President Abdelziz Bouteflika has not succeeded so far since the armed groups continue to carry out their operations in the country. Can we say that the reconciliation plan has failed?
[Medelci] I believe national reconciliation gave everyone the chance to join society and return to their families. We recorded the return to their families of thousands who had taken up arms and were given their full rights. As to some incidents in Algeria, their element is in our opinion non-Algerian and the elements which carried them out were financed by parties outside Algeria. We believe that terrorism is not internal and despite our solution of internal terrorism, the problem is outside Algeria and an international one.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you talking about the presence of Al-Qaeda in Algeria?
[Medelci] I am not saying that the Al-Qaeda organization is present in Algeria but is present in various parts of the world. It is targeting other targets in the world in the same way it is targeting Algeria. Algeria is one of these targets. What we need is to reach a radical solution and this might come from the political solutions of some conflicts in our region, like the Middle East problems and Iraq and Afghanistan ones. We believe that these problems are part of the reasons that feed and continue to feed terrorism in the world. We therefore think it is not possible to reach a final solution for the terrorism question without a solution for these political problems in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan.