Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat Interviews Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the probable reflections of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh on the Arab League initiative, and on the mission of the secretary general in Lebanon?

[Moussa] First of all, the assassinations, whatever the victims might be, and wherever they might take place, ought to be stopped. There are political disputes, there are personal disputes, and there are intellectual disputes, but they cannot be settled through assassinations.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the assassination of Mughniyeh could have been committed by domestic elements, or that the culprit, as Hezbollah says, could be Israel, and will that affect the Lebanese dossier?

[Moussa] I do not have any information in this respect. What I understand is that there will be an announcement about the preliminary assessment of this. Let us wait and see. We take into consideration the accusations leveled at foreign sides away from the Arab world with regard to this assassination; if this is the situation, then this will have no impact on the Lebanese situation itself, or on the Arab situation itself.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But if Hezbollah were to decide to reply to the foreign sides, which it claims to have carried out the assassination, do you not think that this would lead to complications in the Arab dossier?

[Moussa] This would lead to other complications. We have to wait for the preliminary results of the investigation. However, what I would like to emphasize is that the situation in Lebanon, the domestic situation needs a solution, and any other complications do not have organic relations to this issue, and should not be used as a justification to influence or hinder the Lebanese arena or the Arab summit.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that your visit to Beirut will take place on time, and that there is no postponement of the election of the Lebanese president?

[Moussa] Yes, my visit to Beirut will take place on its scheduled time, and there is no postponement of the announced date for the election of the Lebanese president. We need to conclude this issue in order to focus on the preparations for the Arab summit.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is also said that during your visit to Lebanon, there was a telephone contact between you and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora, and that you said to him that you would not meet with anyone else, but after that you met the 8 March group?

[Moussa] This is inaccurate, and not true. Before I went to Lebanon I had contacts with all. I contacted Gen Awn, Sheikh Saad al-Hariri, Speaker Nabih Birri, and Prime Minister Al-Siniora. These contacts were to prepare for the quadripartite meeting. I went to Lebanon on the basis that we have agreed on the quadripartite meeting, and even on its time and its venue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have been talking about the possibility of a compromise solution. What are the features of this solution?

[Moussa] I have submitted an idea, as a participant in the seat tempts to facilitate the issue, namely to form the government according to the ratio “13+10+7,” 13 for the majority, 10 for the opposition, and 7 for the president. However, the discussion still is open, and the Arab initiative here is working to achieve an accord of opinions between the opposition and the majority.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that there are US efforts to hinder the success of the Arab initiative?

[Moussa] The fact is that no one from the US side has expressed any demands to me, and they have not insisted on anything; the contacts from the US side are restricted to requesting to be put in the picture, and to assess the situation. However, I read today (yesterday) a statement by a US official attacking the Arab initiative in Lebanon, and announcing that they do not support it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the issue of the international tribunal on the assassination of Al-Hariri, do you think it is a hindering agenda on the Lebanese domestic arena?

[Moussa] Naturally, the issue of the tribunal represents disturbance, or a specific problem. Some are afraid that the tribunal would be politicized; this is met with suspicion by some Lebanese sides, and also some regional sides. However, it is premature to discuss this issue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are reports saying that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contacted the leader of the Future bloc at the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies, Saad al-Hariri, after his agreement with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and made him withdraw from this agreement, namely the proposal about the quotas between the majority and the opposition?

[Moussa] What I can say is that the French diplomacy completely supports the Arab initiative, does not conflict with it, does not contradict it, and does not interfere in any way that hinders it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is an insistence on excluding the story of the international tribunal on the basis that it is a completely different issue; however, it is the issue that is obstructing everything. Is there a possibility to establish disengagement between the international tribunal and the Arab initiative?

[Moussa] No, there is no engagement, because the international tribunal has nothing to do with the Arab initiative. The tribunal is an issue related to a resolution by the UN Security Council, while the Arab initiative has a different status. Perhaps the question refers to the regional or foreign influences. Naturally we have to consider these influences from a position of suspicion in the tribunal and its role with regard to Syria and the opposition in Lebanon. However, my assessment is that this issue should be considered at a later time, and that stabilizing the situation will create a different atmosphere in which the tribunal can work without attempts to politicize it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the Arab summit be held on its scheduled time, and what are your expectations of the level of representation at this summit?

[Moussa] Yes, it will be held on its scheduled time, and I think that the level of representation will be the same as usual, and that this summit will solve many problems.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] As an Arab League secretary general, you have come at a time when there are many dilemmas, and there are divisions, fragmentation, and a very difficult situation. Now in particular there are legitimacy dilemmas, legitimacy dilemmas in Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia, Comoros, and Sudan, and other potential or probable legitimacy dilemmas. How do you deal with the legitimacy crisis?

[Moussa] First of all, I disagree with you over the claim that these are legitimacy crises.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the crisis between Fatah and Hamas is not a legitimacy crisis following the elections in which Hamas won?

[Moussa] No, no, this is a major political crisis and not a legitimacy crisis. There are major political crises, first in Palestine and then between Palestine and Israel, in Lebanon, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in Iraq. All these are extremely major problems. They are political, security, and strategic problems that include legitimacy and other elements, but they are not legitimacy crises.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why do not the Arab solutions succeed in settling many of these dossiers that still are open and could explode in many Arab countries?

[Moussa] This is a good question. But you should say why have not all the international efforts succeeded? There are problems in many regions, and they also have not been resolved; on the contrary, they could blowup, for example, there is Kosovo.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] I do not see a reason to condemn the international community because it has not solved the Arab problems, perhaps because it benefits from these problems. However, the Arab regional system is required to settle these dossiers. Why has it failed to do so?

[Moussa] If there is a failure, there are two issues. The first issue is that the complex international life has made many problems continue to exist. This is also because the international order has become disturbed as a result of the unrealistic policies adopted by the superpowers. This means that we are confronting international policies and overwhelming currents, which make the solutions more difficult. However, this does not mean that we have not taken steps for instance in Darfur.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Well, you have talked about the responsibility of the other for the failure of our efforts to close these dossiers. Are human rights and political reform in the Arab world included in the vision of the Arab League of the national security?

[Moussa] Political reform is part of the existing problems in the Arab world. If you go back to the Tunis summit, you will realize that we discussed this issue with Palestine, Iraq, and others. There is a very important document that says that reform and modernization in the Arab world have become two fundamental issues. There is a plan that ought to be followed, and in which we talk about education, health, reforming the institutions, democracy, and transparency. In a nutshell, these problems cannot be solved overnight, but they need long time. For instance, there is the issue of Lebanon in which we are progressing step by step. There is the dealing with the Darfur problem in which there is progress. Also there is Iraq.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are Iraqi elites who say that the situation has deteriorated in the extreme, and that the efforts are not fruitful; they talk about placing Iraq under international mandate?

[Moussa] I tell you that there are overwhelming currents that obstruct our way. For five years we have been working in Iraq, and we know the difficulties. The way to solve this is not to introduce a solution, but it is to bring the Iraqis closer together. What we have to assess is whether or not we can solve the problems. In my opinion, we can solve the problems. Whether or not we succeed in achieving a solution, the Arab action ought to be present. We are trying, but we also have to succeed. However, you have to agree with me that the Arab League has tried to solve all these problems. If you say that we have not succeeded, or we have only achieved partial success here or there, I would agree with you on this, but I do not think that we have reached the end of the road of the action of the Arab League.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Which will reach the end of the road first: is it the Arab League or is it the explosion?

[Moussa] We have to win this race. We have to reach a solution and a settlement before the explosion.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The international tribunal is scheduled to be held in May. There are those who think that the date of the international tribunal will be accompanied by an explosion?

[Moussa] I believe that the issue of the international tribunal will be influenced by the developments of the situation in Lebanon. We are in a race, and we are adjusting the situation so that it does not get out of our hand. Therefore, we are stepping up our speed of action in Lebanon, we are following up closely the situation in Palestine, and we are close to the developments in Iraq, Sudan and in other countries.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do all the Arab sides understand that the efforts for an Arab settlement are in a race with the explosion?

[Moussa] I believe that we all are trying to prevent the explosion, i.e. to prevent the deterioration.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have said that the international policies are the ones that hinder the solution to our problems. However, we always find the Arab League calling on the United Nations, the International Quartet, and the United States to shoulder their responsibilities, but we do not mention what we are doing in exchange?

[Moussa] Let us talk about this through the situation in Lebanon and in Palestine. In Lebanon the two situations are intertwined, and there is an Arab initiative, which we hope will succeed. In Palestine, the Arab League has been behind the revival of the peace process; we will assess the situation after Annapolis soon, and I will submit a report about this to the Arab summit. We consider that no progress has been achieved, and there is even deterioration. With regard to the issue of the settlements, which is a principal issue, it was stressed that the settlements should be stopped, but this has not happened. I see that the Annapolis track is threatened by failure. The first assessment will be during the summit. There is a Russian proposal to review the situation, and if it is not done, we will discuss convening an official Arab meeting to assess the situation. We will not keep silent over turning the peace process into mere meetings; we must have results. President Bush has promised us a solution in 2008, and so far we have not seen any progress.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us sit in Bush’s chair, and in Israel’s chair, and let us ask: Where is the partner; I cannot find a Palestinian Government with which to conduct a dialogue?

[Moussa] You sit in their place, not me. First of all, President Abu-Mazin is constitutionally and politically authorized to negotiate, and if there is progress in the negotiations, there will be a huge change on the ground. However, this will not happen if the negotiations take place with the situation in Gaza as it is, with starvation and siege, and with life in the West Bank being difficult to the extent that makes the student not go to his school, the worker not go to his work, and the farmer not go to his field. The reason is that on this basis the question is: over what are we negotiating? Israel does not want to show any progress.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Now Fatah Movement could be exposed to a major split, and there is a split between the “dismissed” government and the presidency, as one of them controls the West Bank and the other controls Gaza. With whom should Israel and the United States negotiate?

[Moussa] With Abu-Mazin. These splits about which you talk and this tense situation between Hamas and Fatah are all nurtured by the Israeli stance toward the peace process. If the siege on Gaza is eased, if the barricades in the West Bank are eased, if the building of settlements is stopped, and if the settlements are removed, all these measures can lead to a great deal of openness in the issue. However, that does not mean at all that the Palestinian divisions are not a factor. They are a grave factor, and they diminish the credibility.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the Arab league have a plan to deal with this dilemma?

[Moussa] The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia tried to solve this problem through a national unity government. Egypt has tried, and still is trying to bring the Palestinians closer together, to calm the situation down, and to open gaps in the wall between the Palestinians. This is an Arab action we support.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does not the Arab League have a vision in dependent from the Saudi role and the Egyptian role?

[Moussa] If at any moment we find that the Arab League should make additional intervention, it will intervene. Naturally this does not prevent me from holding meetings with Khalid Mishal, meetings with Hamas’s representatives, and meetings with the representatives of the Palestinian Authority [PA]. So far, we have not succeeded in this, but we are trying.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] When do you think will the time be suitable for anadditional intervention?

[Moussa] By God, at any moment?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there specific conditions?

[Moussa] We do not set conditions. The fact is that time is slipping by. The Palestinians are the losers as long as they are divided. In the history of the Palestinian issue, it has never happened that the Arab world, which is the backbone of support of the issue, started to draw up question and exclamation marks. The Palestinians ought to understand this, and ought to understand that reconciliation is a necessary issue to protect the Palestinian interests. They are doing this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the past few days, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki participated in Mughniyeh’s funeral in Beirut. Today, there are Iranian investigators in Damascus participating in the investigations, and there are Iranian officials meeting Hamas leaders in Syria to discuss the situation in Gaza. It seems from these headlines that Iran is present in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and in issues at the heart of the Arab national security. In your opinion, what has allowed Iran to jump into these places? Is it a vacuum in the Arab regional system? Is it a malfunction in this system?

[Moussa] There is no doubt that some malfunction has occurred in this Arab system. What we have to achieve is to rectify this malfunction and to close these gaps. However, Iran is a country of the region, and is not an alien or an enemy country. We should not look at Iran as an enemy country. However, the gate to understanding is an Arab-Iranian dialogue, which has not yet taken place.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the Arab League undertaking to sponsor a dialogue of this type?

[Musa] I always call for this. Again in this interview I say that we must have an Arab-Iranian dialogue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what are the headlines of this dialogue?

[Moussa] Regional security. There are western interests, and also there are Iranian interests. The dialogue ought to work toward ensuring that these interests are not contradictory. Some of these could be solved. Iran is not on its own in this region to decide the policies alone, and so are we; we are not on our own.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why has not anyone paid attention to your call for an Arab-Iranian dialogue?

[Moussa] There are obstacles.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Such as?

[Moussa] There are many obstacles. The list of problems could be very extensive. The success of the dialogue requires us to prepare for it successfully, according to a plan through which we reach a solution or accord over the many existing problems, for instance over the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are committed to the Arab initiative, but Iran is not bound by this. With regard to Iraq, Iraq is an Arab country and a founding member of the Arab League, and is committed to the Arab League Charter and resolutions. Any solution in Iraq should not disregard this fact. There are Iranian interests, but there also are Arab interests, and I do not think that these interests should be contradictory; these interests should be capable of coexistence, provided that this is decided by the Iraqis. With regard to Lebanon, the issue is an Arab one, but there are Iranian interests. In Palestine, the issue is basically an Arab one, but we should not forget that with regard to Jerusalem and other parts it is an Islamic issue. No one objects to Iran having a regional policy, but we, the Arabs, also ought to have a regional policy. Therefore, the gate is the dialogue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there is a vacuum that needs to be filled?

[Moussa] The vacuum is not absolute. The Arab world is getting active. There is action. What I am talking about is an Arab regional strategy. The Arabs are present in various ratios in Lebanon and Palestine.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is a regional power behind the storming of the borders between Egypt and Gaza. There are accusations saying that Syria is perhaps behind this in order to distract Egypt?

[Moussa] The analyses can say what they want, but the base of the situation is the campaign of starvation, darkness, and disablement waged against the population of Gaza. From a humanitarian viewpoint, this could not at all be allowed to continue, and it is not allowed that the starvation of people should be restored again in Gaza.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are you doing so that Gaza is not starved?

[Moussa] Let us talk about what happened. What happened was that the people in Gaza exploded, and the Egyptian policy to let them enter was wise. After that we can say that borders are borders, but the brethren in Gaza should not be starved. If this were to happen again, the humanitarian Egyptian commitment and the Egyptian commitment to our brethren in Gaza would not allow their starvation. Therefore, if they were deprived of something, then I would give it to them in an organized way to be agreed.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can the Arab League help?

[Moussa] We are helping. First of all, during the siege hundreds of millions of dollars entered officially through the Arab League, and also food, clothes, and medicines entered through Arab coordination and accounts that were opened here; however, we were not able to break the siege. This is an extremely grave siege, and hence all we call for is a cessation of this siege.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the secretary general’s agenda for the Arab summit?

[Moussa] All those with problems ought to be present at this summit.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Syrians have said that any efforts to transfer the summit are not allowed?

[Moussa] There is no talk about this. The summit will be in Damascus.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Arab public opinion always says that the Arab summits are futile?

[Moussa] The Arab summits work to achieve qualitative transformations in many of the problems from which the Arab countries suffer. This summit is facing huge problems.