Cairo, Asharq al-Awsat- In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo, Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa revealed new details of his meetings at the UN and UNSC, regarding the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands. He criticized Israel’s role in obstructing and hindering the work of the UNSC and described as a ‘mirage’ the talk about efforts to establish a Palestinian state, because nothing has been achieved on any of the fundamental issues. He criticized making the change of administration in the United States and Israel a pretext for obstructing the peace process and refused any talk about an alternative to the Arab peace initiative, which emphasized the importance of establishing a Palestinian state. Amr Musa also talked about regional cooperation with Turkey and Iran, and the Syrian/Lebanese relations which he said are on the right track. He lauded the achievements in Lebanon, but admitted that danger is still there. He talked about the complexities of the Sudanese problems, Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s [prosecutor of the International Criminal Court] memorandum, southern Sudan, Darfur, and comprehensive peace in Sudan. He revealed news of an Arab tour he will undertake that includes Syria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have the UN General Assembly sessions become merely festive occasions to register Arab positions that are disregarded by international decision makers, despite all the challenges the region is facing? How long shall we continue to go to the UN, talk and comeback with no achievements?
[Musa] In my view, we cannot exclude the UN role from the issue of peace in the Middle East because the UN has an important role to play. A number of states supporting Israel want the UN excluded, but we should not weaken the role of the UN, because all other ‘reference’ bodies concerned have been proven to be backing Israel either openly or secretly and that has played a role in obstructing the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict. One reason for that obstruction was the exclusion of the United Nations. We know that the UN is in the grip of some parties that prevent it from functioning in accordance with the UN Charter. We also know that the role of the UNSC, the main body responsible for the preservation of international peace and security, has been obstructed for reasons that are well known. But this should not make us fall into a trap and convince ourselves that there is no use in going to the UNSC and the UN has no role to play, as such an attitude would make us lose an important forum for the discussion of issues, if not their solution. This is what we did at the last UN session when we insisted on convening a meeting of the UNSC on the level of foreign ministers, to discuss the issue of Israeli settlements, despite the objection of many states. In fact the meeting was held to resurrect and make the issue of Israeli settlements a UNSC issue. We avoided the demand for a resolution by the UNSC at this stage, because we knew in advance that the wording of the resolution would be watered down and even then might not be adopted. But even if we had managed to push for a vote, which was doubtful, the resolution would have been vetoed. That is why we thought the decision-making stage might come later, because the last September [ 2008] meeting was planned by the Arab group to resubmit the issue for discussion at the UN.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] That was so despite the negativity in terms of not coming up with a new position?
[Musa] This plan was decided upon by the Arab League at ministerial level, to also put the case to the UNSC at ministerial level. The issue was discussed at a meeting of the Arab group chaired by Saudi Arabia. In my capacity as secretary general of the Arab League, I met the president of the UNSC four times; three were attended by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, while the fourth was one to one. We insisted on a meeting of the UNSC to be held not later than 26 September 2008, at ministerial level, to discuss the issue of the building of Israeli settlements. There were objections by some permanent members of the council, as well as pressure on non-permanent members to reject the convening of the UNSC. The discussion with the president of the UNSC, who is the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, was useful and effective and I would like to thank him, because he was convinced by our viewpoint and did not yield to pressure; on the contrary, he tried to skirt round it and held more than one unofficial meeting with a view to having the meeting held officially. The majority of council members was in favor of holding the meeting, despite objections from the United States and perhaps two other countries. Had the council not met, there would have been questions about its role; we therefore think that convening the UNSC was a positive step forward because, despite objections from Israel and its supporters, the Council was convened on the day we wanted, 26 September 2008, which is the last day of the week where high-ranking officials, including foreign ministers, meet at the UN. The meeting was attended by 11 foreign ministers and three other delegations representing the five continents, to discuss only the issue of Israeli settlements.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the opposite Israeli view and its supporters who wanted to obstruct the meeting?
[Musa] There was a meeting for the international Quartet on the same day, which is the body in charge of this issue. We objected on the grounds that while the Quartet is concerned with this issue, the desire to confine discussions relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Quartet cannot do away with the competence of the Security Council. We succeeded in this regard.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the UNSC only confined itself to expressing extreme anxiety at the continued building of settlements?
[Musa] The president of the UNSC reflected to public opinion, the extreme anxiety felt by the majority of members of the council regarding the issue of settlements. This is an important political and diplomatic message.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did the UN and UNSC members react to the dangers of the situation in the Middle East?
[Musa] They reacted extremely well. They are now conscious of the dangers posed by the issue of settlements and of keeping the situation, as it is at present, in the form of discussions by the Quartet or behind closed doors without translating it into real action to stop the building of settlements. I focused in my speech at the UNSC meeting on three points. First, those settlements are continuing at a very dangerous rate. During that week alone there were 12 settlements being expanded or on tender, or being built east and west of the separation wall. Second, I clearly explained that there is no peace process, that the negotiations have produced nothing, that Israel is continuing the building of settlements on Palestinian land; and that there is no international movement to rescue the situation. Third and more importantly, I said that while talking about peace, which was no more than a game, the Palestinian state has become a mirage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why has the Palestinian state become a mirage?
[Musa] Because the demographic and geographical changes that are taking place make it difficult to establish a state in the real sense. Where would we establish the state? What is being marketed is a mirage, because there will come a point where we will find that there is no use talking about establishing a state, that there is no Palestinian state and we have to think of alternatives. The first alternative that comes to mind is the one state solution where all citizens are equal. Then we have to start dealing with the problems facing this idea, such as racial and religious discrimination and discrimination between citizens.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the Arab League is not going to adopt such an alternative?
[Musa] The Arab League is still with the approach presented in the Arab peace initiative, which is the establishment of a Palestinian state. But if the state is not established now, if the settlements that prevent establishing the state are not removed and the building of settlements not stopped completely, and if the roadblocks that hinder the movement of goods and persons are not removed, then the issue will need to be reassessed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the transitional stage in government in both the United States and Israel affect the situation in the Middle East and prevent progress in the peace process? Are the results of the peace process going to be preserved so that we do not start again from square one?
[Musa] There are no results worth mentioning. Where are they? My view is that Israel’s attitude, the building of settlements, and the failure of negotiations, are not results of the transitional stage of administration in Israel and the United States; they preceded that by a long period of time, and it is not because of the transition that the peace process stumbled.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there any promises of serious moves toward peace by the new administrations in the US and Israel?
[Musa] The new administration is another issue. Every time we stopped and hoped a new US administration would move, it always ended up with the same nothing and a continuous mirage; exactly as happened under the present US Administration.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Arab responsibility toward the Palestinians?
[Musa] The issue here is clear; Egypt is mediating for reconciliation among the Palestinians and we are awaiting the results of this mediation. When it is over, perhaps sometime in November 2008, the Arab League will be informed of the results and a meeting of Arab foreign ministers will be held to look into the results of the mediation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You met with the UN secretary general one to one at the UN, and then you were joined by Sudanese Vice President Ali Othman Taha, to discuss the dangers and ramifications of Moreno-Ocampo’s memorandum?
[Musa] Not only this, the Arab Committee also held a meeting; then, the meeting was expanded to include the African states and it was decided to add to the Arab committee, some African states, particularly, Nigeria, where the Abuja negotiations were held; South Africa, which is an effective state in Africa; Burkina Faso, which is a member of the UN Security Council; Tanzania, which heads the Summit of African Unity; and Senegal, representing the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC]. Thus, we have a committee that includes a number of African states, a number of Arab states and a three-member chair, comprising the Qatari prime minister, the president of the African Commission, the and secretary general of the Arab League. We met to discuss the details of implementing the package solution that was reached. The working paper presented by the Arab League was the basis for discussion on how to proceed and was unanimously approved.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it the same package agreed between the Arab League and the Sudanese Government?
[Musa] The working paper included all the provisions of the Arab initiative and the package agreed with the Sudanese Government. We began by visiting the committee which met recently in Sudan and included the Qatari Minister of State Ahmad al-Mahmud; Ambassador [Ahmad] Bin Helli, assistant secretary general for political affairs at the Arab League; and Ramadan al-Amamira, the African Commissioner of the Peace and Security Council.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a time-limit for the meetings of the Arab Committee mediating the dialogue between the Sudanese Government and Sudanese rebel movements in Qatar?
[Musa] Certainly there is a time-limit. They have from now to the end of this year or perhaps next January. We should have by then finished all our attempts and we will then report to the Security Council.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Despite all this intensive Afro-Arab activity to contain the crisis in Darfur, diplomatic corridors are talking of three months, after which a warrant to arrest President Omar al-Bashir will be issued, and then enter into the thick and thin of the Sudanese dangers. What is your view of this?
[Musa] We do not have any information in this regard. The important thing is the issue of Darfur as a whole. We are activating the movement for a political solution to the problem; the ICC move to try the individuals accused of ‘burning the peace’ in Darfur; and, we are trying to remedy the political regional relations with neighboring countries, the UN and its forces. All these are moving at the same time. The Sudanese Government has informed me of a number of important steps it has taken, including: the formation of Sudanese courts to try the accused, and Sudan’s acceptance of the presence of the Arab League, the UN and the Organization of African Unity, as observers in these courts. On Monday [20 October] the Sudanese Government will submit amendments to the Sudanese criminal law as stipulated in the package solution, and thus treat as crimes, all the acts regarded as crimes by the basic documents of the ICC, which the Arab League has approved. Moreover, the public prosecutor concerned with the issue of Darfur has begun his investigations and will submit his findings to the Sudanese courts. The accused have been detained, including Koshib [not further identified], regarded as one of the main individuals wanted for trial. All international bodies concerned have been informed of this, including the UN and the Security Council.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some Sudanese officials have said that they would deal with the ICC, but only indirectly. What does this mean?
[Musa] There are points of detail to this issue, which has been discussed at a special meeting by the Arab justice ministers. There were contacts with the ICC regarding the role of the UN Security Council and Article 16 of the Rome Statute of the ICC; the manner of presenting the issue at the Security Council through the Organization of African Unity, the UN, the Arab League and other states concerned.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Following the meeting of Arab justice ministers and your visit to Sudan, are there any procedures in place to end the state of apprehension expecting the worst for Sudan, if no solution was reached?
[Musa] The important thing is to put the agreed legal and judicial part of the package into action. The decision of the Arab justice ministers is clear, in that the matter should be taken as a whole, that no one should obstruct any of the files relative to the solution of the crisis, and that the political and judicial action should not lead to any considerable disturbance of the situation in Sudan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you going to visit Darfur during your visit to Sudan?
[Musa] My visit will be to Khartoum to participate in the ‘Sudanese People’s Conference,’ which is working to solve the problem and launch the reconciliation process in Sudan, calm the situation, support the situation in Darfur and the issue of comprehensive peace in Sudan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Despite all you have said to assure Arab public opinion, fears for Sudan still exist. Even greater is the fear that while you are occupied with the Moreno-Ocampo memorandum, plans would be underway to partition Sudan?
[Musa] We are not occupied by the Moreno-Ocampo memorandum alone; we are occupied by the whole issue of Sudan; its unity, security, stability and development. President Omar al-Bashir will inaugurate the Sudanese People’s Conference, all Sudanese vice-presidents, leaders of the opposition and tribal leaders will be attending the conference, which is a good thing and will confront any such conspiracies aimed at secession or partition of Sudan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Even though military cargoes were delivered over three days from Ethiopia to Southern Sudan?
[Musa] These issues need to be followed up and I am not in a position to confirm the nature of these issues. All sort of news comes out of Sudan, but we are dealing with the events and the situation; it is Sudan that we are trying to rescue, so that there can be no chance for the return of conflict, and there be time for clearing the aftermath of the crisis.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The first meeting of the Arab-Turkish Forum has been held in Turkey, what are the preliminary results of this meeting?
[Musa] The meeting was to inaugurate the work of the forum, which includes political, economic and cultural fields of cooperation. In the political field, we talked about the Middle East, present and future, and Turkey as an effective country and friend. We are coming to that friendship. On the economic level, we have noticed that economic and trade activities between the Arabs and Turkey have increased since the forum was established and reached 22 billion dollars. The Arab world has become the third largest trade partner with Turkey after the United States and the EU. We are approaching the level of trade between Turkey and the EU whereby the Arab world might become Turkey’s second largest trade partner in the near future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are we shortly going to see an Arab-Iranian cooperation forum similar to that with Turkey?
[Musa] My view, which I expressed more than once, is that there should be an Arab-Iranian dialogue in which all files that would restore relations to a new and promising level are discussed. We need to talk calmly with Iran, which is an important state on matters relating to the stability and security of the region.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see the present situation in Lebanon?
[Musa] Many steps have been taken and carried out within the framework of the Arab initiative for Lebanon and the Doha accord, such as the reconciliation among the various group leaders, the efforts being made for reconciliation among Christian groups, which should be encouraged and supported, as well as the various attempts at reconciliation between the Future Trend and Hezbollah, and the exchange of views and improvement of the atmosphere between Walid Jumblatt and Hezbollah. Thus, many good things are done in Lebanon which has suffered enough and should not be made to suffer more. Lebanon is for all Lebanese and is not yet out of danger. The danger is still there because regional dangers reflect on Lebanon. Therefore we should immunize Lebanon against many regional developments that might affect its stability.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Whenever Lebanon comes close to stability, explosive operations are carried out here and there, I mean in Syria and Lebanon. What is your explanation for that?
[Musa] There is too much talk, often said without consideration. The reality is that much progress has been achieved in relations between Syria and Lebanon. It started with a meeting between the Syrian and Lebanese presidents, and this is one of the positive moves toward putting relations between the two countries on the right track. Such a development renders the parties capable of dealing with any issues that might cause doubt or disturbances. We hope to succeed in all this.As for the explosions, they must be condemned, whether they take place in Lebanon, Syria or any Arab state, because they lead to instability, terrorize Arab populations, and cause many casualties.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]] Do you have any plans to visit Syria shortly?
[Musa] I intend to visit Syria next month [November] for consultation and follow up of the many problems of the Arab world, in addition to many other activities of the Arab League in Syria. Syria still has the presidency of the Arab Summit.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Finally, what about the Arab-Arab situation?
[Musa] The Arab situation is not pleasing; but I’ll keep up efforts to make it pleasing, no matter how long it takes.