New York Asharq Al-Awsat- Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa talks to Asharq Al-Awsat about the elusive Middle East Peace Process, the crisis in Darfur and the escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington. The following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You have come to the United Nations to push forward a number of important issues relating to the Middle East, foremost of which is the Palestine question, based on the pertinent Security Council resolutions. You declared earlier that the peace process is dead. The (Security) Council convened amid Arab disagreements, and it failed to reach a resolution or even issue a presidential statement. Does this mean that the initiative failed before it saw the light?
(Musa) First, the mere convocation of the Security Council sent a clear message from the Arabs that given the fact that the peace process failed through mediation efforts, it must return to the United Nations, the Security Council, and the International community so as to officially inform them that the peace process has stopped, that it has retreated, that the international community must shoulder its responsibilities, and that the Security Council in particular must safeguard international security and peace and face the threats to international security and peace. We came to the Security Council based on a decision made by the Arab League Ministerial Council. The Arabs spoke with one voice, and presented their clear demands. The Council convened at a high ministerial level with everyone’s participation and at the level of foreign ministers, particularly those of the permanent members. We believe that this indicates progress, a necessary and important step, and a clear message that the international community must take part in resolving this issue. We had wanted the Council to issue a resolution or a presidential statement, but it transpired that some forces in the Security Council were satisfied at this stage with the convocation on of the Council. In fact, some parties were against the convocation of the Council in the first place. The mere convocation of the Council sent a symbolic message. We realized that the issuance of a resolution or a statement would subject the issue to a great deal of negotiations and concessions, and that we might end up with a worthless statement. Therefore, we decided to settle for the convocation of the Council, the strength of the symbolic message it sent, and the deliberations that took place during the meeting. It is important to draw attention to the Quartet meeting (the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations) that preceded the Security Council meeting, during which the Quartet decided to hold regular meetings, and to invite the Arab parties and countries to inform them that there is a clear intention to activate the (peace) process.
Consequently, we believe that our initiative has reflected a unified Arab stand and an international position in support of the need to resolve the Palestine question, which has not been discussed at the Security Council for the past fifteen years, but has recently returned to the arena of international events.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about Arab disagreements on the road map and the nature of the initiative that aims to revive the (need to implement) Security Council resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict?
(Musa) The truth is that there were no disagreements. The person who spoke on our behalf was the Bahraini foreign minister. When (Palestinian) President Mahmoud Abbas spoke, and who confirmed that the Bahraini foreign minister spoke on our behalf; he saluted him and thanked him. The main disagreement was on whether or not a statement would be issued. There were differences of opinion. I do not see (any party) moving away from the Arab initiative, and I do not believe that disagreements indicate divisions, even though there are many opinions that have been expressed by the European Union.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In his statement, the Bahraini foreign minister talked about the need to establish clear mechanisms to activate the peace process. In your opinion, what are these mechanisms?
(Musa) There are several visions. Through official meetings, the Bahraini foreign minister informed us that the Quartet will activate its mechanisms and its action, and that the current halt and stalemate in its activities will end. We are closely monitoring the situation. The issue might require another step on our behalf. We will discuss this issue when we return — God willing. Of course, this issue will be discussed at the ministerial level.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is it possible to say that the road map is dead?
(Musa) We cannot under any circumstances ignore or cancel any of the proposed documents regarding the Palestine question and the Arab-Israeli conflict as of Security Council Resolution 242 issued in November 1967. All proposed documents remain valid. The important issue is for the (concerned) parties to have the political will, and for the Israelis in particular to have the will to honor their commitments.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Resolution 1701 was issued. There is consensus that the resolution must be implemented and that all regional countries, including Syria and Iran, must honor their commitments. In his speech in which he criticized Arab leaderships, Nasrallah stressed that he rejects the elimination of (Hezbollah’s) weapons.
(Musa) The position on the issue of eliminating Hezbollah’s weapons will be part of the comprehensive Lebanese position within the framework of which this issue will be settled. We have nothing to say about this issue.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There is talk about the existence of an opportunity to revive some negotiations tracks with Israel in the wake of the recent Israeli war against Lebanon. Do you believe that there is such an opportunity at present?
(Musa) We are here for this purpose. The decision that we made after we felt that the peace process failed was issued on 15 July; that is three days after the (Israeli) invasion of Lebanon. Such an invasion and destruction were not expected. Nevertheless, some people talked about the peace process despite the fact that it retreated several months and even more than a year ago. We stress the need to revive the dead peace process. It must be revived based on all resolutions, the principle of land for peace, and any existing proposals.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the commitments that Resolution 1701 stipulates regarding Syria and Iran?
(Musa) The resolution stipulates commitments (that must be honored) by Israel as well. The issue concerns the reciprocal implementation by all parties. No particular party to the exclusion of others must be required to implement the resolution.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There is pressure on the Sudanese Government to accept Security Council Resolution 1706 stipulating the deployment of international forces affiliated with the United Nations in Darfur. Is the Arab League exerting similar pressure on Khartoum?
(Musa) The Sudanese issue is given the same priority as the Palestinian issue. Discussions in this regard have reached two important points. The first point concerns the extent of strengthening and extending the mandate of the African force to maintain peace from September until the end of the year. The second point is that the Sudanese Government has requested support for the African force. We are acting on this basis. Consequently, we believe that these two points will activate many issues in the coming three months. During these months, we could talk about a deal in agreement with the Sudanese Government and based on what is agreed upon by the United Nations and the African Union to reach a solution to the crisis in Darfur. Therefore, I believe there are windows of opportunity in this regard. The important thing is to not make hasty decisions before agreement on them is reached. The coming three months are a suitable timeframe to reach a comprehensive understanding between the Sudanese Government, regional organizations, and the United Nations. Based on this, we can take action.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing difficulties with regard to forming a Palestinian national unity government with the Hamas Movement in light of the conditions set by the United States and Israel for the resumption of the negotiations. Does the failure to form a (national unity) government mean that the current stalemate will continue?
(Musa) It is very important that no disagreements among the Palestinians take place, especially between Hamas and Fatah. It is also important to form a national unity government, and to reach a solution to the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I support the idea of forming a national unity government, which has become a necessity. I believe that the purpose of forming a Palestinian unity government is to renew its commitment to the Arab initiative, nothing else.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about recognizing Israel?
(Musa) The Arab initiative is enough to show good intentions if the other party shows good intentions. The Arab initiative is a political initiative based on a vision for the future and on examining all possibilities for achieving just and comprehensive peace.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Iranian president believes that the current crisis with the United States and the West over his nuclear program has political dimensions due to the conflict between Tehran and Washington, and that this disagreement has no legal basis. How do Arabs perceive this crisis?
(Musa) Our position on this issue is clear. I stress that we in the Middle East do not need a military nuclear program, neither now nor in the future. However, the right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes and the right to acquire knowledge and to advance in this field is the right of all member countries of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. On this basis, Iran has the right to use all forms of nuclear power for peaceful purposes so long as it is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is subject to monitoring by the IAEA. The talk about possible Iranian nuclear weapons is uncertain so far. The lack of talk about Israel’s nuclear weapons, however, represents an absurd and unserious policy that does not serve the interest of the region, but serves the policies of some big countries. It is in our interest to establish a region free of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons. This applies to Iran, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and all countries in the region from the east to the west.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are you truly convinced about Iran’s intentions and that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only?
(Musa) The issue is not whether you or I are convinced. The IAEA is the one that determines this issue for us and for others. The IAEA is the organ that monitors all these issues. Any agreement will be reached within the framework of the IAEA.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) It is obvious that the United States is seeking to escalate the situation with Iran by threatening to impose sanctions, and to further escalate the situation so as to adopt other measures?
(Musa) At present, we are not talking about sanctions but rather about negotiations. We must raise the issue in order to embark on negotiations because they are the only sound path that could lead to rendering the region free of weapons of mass destruction, implementing the Non-Proliferation Treaty, presenting all assurances to the IAEA and preventing (the establishment of) any military program now or in the future.