Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat Talks to Secretary-General of League of Arab States, Amr Musa | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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[Asharq Al-Awsat] You exerted intensive efforts in Lebanon, yet the Lebanese crisis remains. Is there a prospect of a solution and what are the most prominent obstacles?

[Musa] There is, of course, a prospect of a solution and there is no need for despair. The important thing here is that we remain serious, busy, and active in dealing with the situation in Lebanon because this country is the weak link in the Arab chain and we do not want it to be exploited in these very harsh conditions in the Middle East and the Arab world, to be the stage for rivalry, or to play a political role for the benefit of regional or international parties and not for the benefit of Lebanon’s own stability.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the main obstacle in Lebanon now?

[Musa] There is more than one obstacle. If there was only one, we would have broken it. Firstly, I compared the situation in Lebanon to a four-storey building: A Lebanese storey where the Lebanese live, an Arab storey, a regional one, and an international storey. There is a lift going up and down between them and there is chaos. Hence, there is a four-angled Lebanese problem and all must be brought together to solve the problem. If three meet but not the fourth, then the problem will remain, whether we ignore the international stand without paying attention to it, leave the regional stand without trying to know about it, let the Arab stand remain divided over Lebanon, or leave the Lebanese leaders without bringing them together. The situation in Lebanon is complicated, this is true, but we can bring it together and understand it in this way.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But it is difficult to bring all these factors together and reach a consensus between all these parties?

[Musa] Yes, it is difficult but not impossible because such a situation is possible. Any other problem we solve has different aspects. If these parties show an interest, then it can be solved.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Various methods have been proposed for forming the government, such as the third percentages and the Arab initiative. What are the details of the method on which the Lebanese parties agree?

[Musa] All these details were in the past. Today we are talking about electing the president of the republic, agreement on a national unity government, and dealing with the Syrian-Lebanese relations. This is the framework for action. Regarding the president of the republic, there is agreement on one person, a consensus of opinions about one person. Since there is agreement, why do we not move him from being a candidate to being the president so that he can play his role and lead the process of agreement.

Within the framework of the overall agreement, it should not be exploited so as to delay the election. On the contrary, the initiative should be used to accelerate the election and the formation of the national unity government. Lebanon at this stage where it is divided, at this dangerous stage where there is a dangerous conflict, needs a national unity government.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But how can this government be formed?

[Musa] It is the president of the republic who forms it. We cannot form it but we can agree on its broad dimensions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can this agreement be concluded and what are your expectations?

[Musa] Herein comes the Arab initiative and our efforts.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is always the talk about the Syrian role in the Lebanese crisis. Some believe it is as an impediment and others as positive….

[Musa] I do not get involved in such talk because the impediment can be viewed from various angles and accusations can be made against many parties, including Lebanese ones. We now need to bring together, not divide and level accusations.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are saying there is agreement on the president but the focus is on the formula for the government over which there can be agreement. What is the latest in terms of the action to form this government?

[Musa] The government cannot be formed before the election. The constitution says the government is formed after the president is elected.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] When do you expect the presidency problem to be solved?

[Musa] At any moment, but this might not happen. I see now movement toward the president and believe it has to be stressed that a national unity government in which all the Lebanese parties really participate is a very important matter.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was there coordination between Lebanese Chamber of Deputies Speaker Nabih Birri and the Arab League [AL] in his recent moves to solve the crisis?

[Musa] Of course, I was with Speaker Birri (on Sunday)night. We met for a long time. Unfortunately, he arrived late on Sunday and I left very early (on Monday) to come to London. But we exchanged views in a detailed way. I talked before that with Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora and I was before this in Sharm al-Sheikh to meet the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz) and President Hosni Mubarak and before that I was in Syria and talked with President Bashar al-Assad.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the signs positive?

[Musa] The intentions are positive.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] And the signs are?

[Musa] We will see them later.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there now two parallel lines between Nabih Birri’s moves on one side and the AL ones on the other?

[Musa] No, it is one line.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You talked about inter-Arab relations in your speech before the Arab summit and said they have become a model of what relations should not be….

[Musa] Exactly. It should not be our system to place the responsibility on others. We are responsible for our mistakes in many matters and were late in taking important measures we should had taken and had allowed many disagreements and cracks. We are therefore responsible and shoulder much responsibility for what had happened. I never rule out the dangerous schemes from abroad but we are responsible and when we see dangerous schemes we should reject them and if one of them is good then we must accept it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You meet with Arab leaders frequently. Is there hope of overcoming this stage?

[Musa] Yes, there is hope and it is important that we should go past this stage for the sake of the common interest.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a call for an Arab foreign ministers’ meeting to discuss the Lebanese crisis and is there any use from such a meeting?

[Musa] There is no official demand so far and not (hold the meeting) now.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] When will the time be suitable for holding it?

[Musa] First, there is a date for electing the president of the republic on 22 April. Second, there are Lebanese proposals and realignment between the Lebanese political forces. In addition, there is the question of Syrian-Lebanese relations and both sides should be ready for us to talk about this. A meeting for the sake of a meeting, no. But in principle, it is important to hold a ministerial meeting, not just because of Lebanon but also because of Annapolis.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you felt a Syrian willingness to improve relations?

[Musa] Yes, of course and the opposite is true. President Bashar al-Assad’s speech and the statements of the majority and others in Lebanon [indicate] there is a conviction that the Syrian-Lebanese relationship is fundamental and principal for this region’s stability.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] On to Iraq. Was it possible to remedy the situation so that Iraq would not express reservations about the summit’s final statement?

[Musa] It would have been possible had they sat with us. There was an issue that came quickly regarding the statement. Iraq’s situation is complicated and there are different viewpoints in it but all of them concern how we can help Iraq and the new Iraq. The old Iraq is finished. So what is the new Iraq. It should be an Arab Iraq and Iraq should be allowed to play its principal role in the Arab world and not accept the present divisions like Sunnis, Shiites, and militias. We should get rid of all these things. Such talk is not right and it is my opinion that this talk is a big step backward. Iraq should be to all its citizens and this is the road to the future.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is always the focus on Iraq’s Arab identity and this is what the Iraqi constitution stipulates….

[Musa] Of course Arab. I was part of those who drafted this clause….

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the Iraqis believe there is an Arab absence. Do you accept this reproach?

[Musa] We accept this reproach. The issue is one of security, no more no less. People are afraid to go after what happened to Egypt’s ambassador, two members in the Algerian Embassy, and others from the Emirates Embassy. There is a message…, yet the AL has an office there…. It is a matter of time.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Apart from the representation, is there is enough Arab support for the Iraqi Government?

[Musa] The word enough is relative. On the 22ndof this month we meet in Kuwait, Iraq’s neighboring countries, Egypt, the AL, the Islamic Conference, the United Nations, and European countries. Therefore action is being done. This will not be the first meeting. There was one in Damascus the day before yesterday and before it in Sharm al-Sheikh and so on.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are fears that the Arab absence, especially in representation and contacts with the Iraqis, have left the way open before Iran?

[Musa] No, no, no, absolutely not true. There were ambassadors. There is no connection with Iran’s presence. The latter has certain clear interests and we too have interests, not at the expense of Iraq, partitioning it, or dealing with its wealth, but to embrace Iraq. If there are also legitimate interests, then there is no objection to talk about how to defend these interests but within the framework of Iraq’s sovereignty and not behind its back.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] And what are these interests?

[Musa] This is a big issue and now is not the time to go into it. But the Arab world does of course have interests. Iraq is not just part of it but a major country in it, a country that founded its order.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You played some years ago a role in the Iraqi reconciliation issue but this role did not continue. Why?

[Musa] Because there are those who refuse the reconciliation to be Arab.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You mean from Iraqi parties or foreign ones?

[Musa] Parties that could be more regional and international than Iraq. But this has to be overcome because Iraq will remain part of the Arab region and the latter has its say in this. Its role is to embrace Iraq, not drive it. But there was a time in Iraq where it was not possible to help it, the years 2003 and 2004, the time of the American invasion and the intensive American presence. How could the Arabs be present? Participate in the foreign forces? No, that was impossible. We wanted to understand where to go and where Iraq was going.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] And now?

[Musa] It is necessary. There is absolutely no escaping the fact that there should be an effective and principal Arab role in Iraq and that Iraq should have an effective and principal role in the Arab world and both of them in the Middle East issues.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are fears of the Iranian spread in the region, whether in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, or elsewhere. Do you fear this spread?

[Musa] States are interests and Iran is a state in the region. We do not deny this or can deny it. It has certain interests and aspirations in the region. The important thing is that these interests should be in harmony with the interests of other and this requires a serious Arab-Iranian dialogue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you calling for such a dialogue?

[Musa] I called for it in the past and call for it again.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you fear the militarization of the Iranian nuclear program?

[Musa] The official reports from all the American intelligence services say there is not an Iranian military nuclear program. There is not a single report from the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] which says there is a military program. The reports come from where (other than from these). We heard in the past about many reports which contained many false information but we have two reports from two important parties, American intelligence or the IAEA. We are opposed to any military program and therefore are opposed to the Israeli military program too. We cannot digest, understand, or deal with the talk about the Iranian program’s danger and not the danger of the Israeli military one. If we want to talk about the nuclear situation in the region, then we must talk about both. Really, the talk is about the Israeli nuclear program because there is not so far talk about the Iranian military nuclear program.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us move to Palestine. Where has the dialogue between Fatah and Hamas reached?

[Musa] It should be done. To have “Palestinians” is something unacceptable and will not be acceptable. It is one Palestine and all of us back one Palestine and do not accept two Palestines. If there is going to be two Palestines, then there will not be a solution and they will lose Jerusalem and the refugees’ rights and lose all their territories. They must sit down together and failing to do so places on them big responsibilities in terms of their cause’s future and they will become responsible for its failure and loss. But this is only one side of the coin. On the other side is the Israeli stand which does not want peace at all, if not having fingers in the existing disagreements.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there were Arab efforts, either from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or from Yemen, to bring the two sides together….

[Musa] We have not yet reached the main stage for this issue despite the grateful efforts, either from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or Egypt.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the AL’s responsibility toward the blockaded Gaza and its sons?

[Musa] Our responsibility is great. We transferred hundreds of millions of dollars during this blockade and the AL transferred them officially to the people of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority [PA] in Ramallah. We have reports proving that the PA transferred a lot of funds to pay the Gaza salaries. But all this is not enough.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Hamas and Jihad movements hinted at a possible breach of Egypt’s borders again….

[Musa] It is not right to say or do this. These existing borders should be respected. Egypt too is trying to meet the Gazans’ needs under the blockade and is sending much aid. If they need to cross the borders, they have to ask and these borders will not be closed in their faces. Everything should be done in an orderly way on the basis that they are brothers and not enemies to warrant talking about breaching. There is a difference between the two.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there worthwhile results from the “Annapolis” meeting?

[Musa] No, unfortunately. It is obvious it is on its way to failure.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there any use from the Moscow meeting?

[Musa] This is a meeting of assessment. It is important so that we can tell them: Come, we met in Annapolis and 60 countries were there. Five months have passed and what have you done? We have not seen anything, have not done anything, and have not written papers or anything.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that a Palestinian state cannot be established before the end of the year as the US administration is saying?

[Musa] Will it be just a declaration on a paper? Where is the removal of the settlements and the clearing of the ground? Where are the borders and the Jerusalem and refuges issues? Is it just the word state. Are we being duped. I do not see anything on the ground or on the table leading to this. It is obvious that Annapolis did not lead to the required result and there is therefore a question mark about the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state by the end of the year. There must be a different political movement.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us move to an issue of direct concern to all the people, the rise of food prices around the world. Are there Arab plans for dealing with the people’s needs?

[Musa] There is now a plan. We are now talking about planting wheat and food in the Arab fertile lands, like in Sudan. There are many joint projects and there is awareness. Of course, the food problem has become a principal one in countries where is much poverty and very large populations. This is a very huge challenge which we should not ignore.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a comprehensive Arab plan for facing this challenge?

[Musa] The economic development summit will be held in Kuwait during the first 10 days of January, God willing, and it will deal with this issue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some believe that the AL focuses strongly on some issues like Lebanon and does not have an effective role in other issues like the Sahara, Somalia, and Darfur ones. Why?

[Musa] We paid attention to the Darfur issue and the AL was the first to take up this issue. We are working with the African Union and the United Nations and also in the north-south issue. In Somalia too, we backed it until the president and parliament speaker were elected and a government formed. We are still working with it.

We are paying attention to these issues but there are some issues which make the newspapers’ headlines and others which do not. My interest in the Horn of Africa is the same as my interest in the Arab world and I understand completely the value of the Arab-African link and in particular the Horn of Africa under the present conditions.