Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – The rumble of Israeli war planes could be heard clearly in the sky and the bombs falling on the southern suburbs were shaking the foundations of the Grand Serai, the seat of the Lebanese government, when Asharq al Awsat met the country’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Siniora had met with the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, David Welsh, and spoken to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the phone. Lebanon’s Premier was not optimistic about the talks being held at the United Nations, between an Arab League delegation and western diplomats. He didn’t think “there is any progress to speak of”.
“There is no political progress. The [international] position is still centered on some points that have not yet been clarified and that are not in conformity with the Lebanese position, especially concerning the issue of [ Israel ’s] withdrawal from the regions that it has occupied lately and the issue of the Shebaa Farms.”
Q: What about the international force?
A: The issue revolves around finding a framework for it. There is a decision by the cabinet relating to the seven points and how to re-activate [the international UN force in southern Lebanon] UNIFIL after re-examining the way it functions and the scope of its mandate and the issues it is in charge of; there is no disagreement about its presence. The matter is supported by two Cabinet decisions; the first in the seven points and the other is the readiness to deploy 15 thousand Lebanese soldiers [in southern Lebanon] and to seek help of UNIFIL.
Q: Does the Israeli side still refuse the idea of placing the Shebaa Farms under international protection?
A: Until now, there has been no agreement on this issue.
Q: US Assistant Secretary Welsh’s visit occurred at the same time as the Israeli cabinet decided to widen its military operations in Lebanon. How do you explain this?
A: I don’t know if Welsh had prior knowledge of the decision. He seemed surprised when I informed him.
A: I don’t know if he was surprised or not but he told me he was surprised.
Q: What is your opinion of the Israeli decision? Is it a reflection of the failure of political negotiations?
A: This is one of the methods of Israeli pressure, at a time when we are resisting this aggression and the crime Israeli is committing. We are continuing the dialogue with the international community and we continue to hold the same stance which calls for a ceasefire. This position will not change.
Q: What are the horizons of a solution? The operation is entering its second month.
A: We are continuing and we are resisting and determined. As for any optimism, I can’t go into any expression that carries feelings. We are resisting and are supported by the people. The government knows what it wants and that is a ceasefire, liberation and controlling all Lebanese territory.
Q: What is the ceiling that Lebanon will accept for a solution?
A: I won’t tell the other negotiators what I now accept.
Q: To what extent are you insisting on the seven points?
A: They are the seven columns of wisdom.
Q: What if the Security Council issued a resolution that Lebanon did not agree with?
A: I don’t want to rush things.
Q: The Qatari foreign minister warned the UN Security Council of a civil war if the resolution is issued. Are you afraid of something similar?
A: I look at things from another angle. I say that we have a right and a cause we are following. I also say that, at the same time, we insist on national unity. I don’t want to look at things from a negative angle. These two points express the meaning better than a negative outlook.
Q: Does the government have guarantees that Hezbollah will agree to give up its weapons if the UN agrees on the seven points?
A: According to the seven points, the government will control all Lebanese territory and no other weapons will be deployed. This is what Hezbollah’s ministers have agreed to.
Q: But, Lebanese president Emile Lahoud has said that Hezbollah will not give up its weapons until a just and comprehensive peace is achieved in the Middle East.
A: A comprehensive and just peace all over the globe!
Q: In the Middle East?
A: We can add even more conditions. But, what I am saying has been agreed by the cabinet. The cabinet has to abide by these decisions and no other statement has the same effect.
Q: Can Lebanon withstand the continuation of this war for very long?
A: The government’s position is clear and we insist on it. These  points enjoy the support of the majority of Lebanese and the Arab position is also moving in this direction. Now, we have to continue resisting and helping each other, so as not to give the Israeli enemy a chance to tear us apart.
Q: What about the Arab role?
A: This war is not only being waged on Lebanon alone but on the Arabs as well. Lebanon is fighting on behalf of the Arabs as well. This is a fight that has been imposed on us. The Lebanese will remain in this fight until it ends. No blood is shed in diplomatic battles but they are no less fierce. There is no doubt that the stance of all Arab countries and especially Saudi Arabia is supportive of the Lebanon. I believe that the meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Beirut crystallized the Lebanese position and demonstrated that there is an Arab wide support of Lebanon. It showed the international community that Lebanon is not alone. Therefore, what I said in my statement was that Lebanon isn’t just targeted in this war but also all Arab countries