Upon his return from Khartoum after his important tour of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, Dr Mustafa Osman Ismail, advisor to the Sudanese president, gave his second exclusive interview to Asharq Al-Awsat. He referred to the background, events, and methods carried out in the capitals of the mentioned countries in alleviating the tension between Syria and Lebanon. He also refers to the need for cooperation with the international commission of inquiry to establish the truth about the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. Osman stated that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Algeria, and the Arab League have supported his mission immensely.
He warned against the imposing of sanctions on Syria, saying that they would lead to further violence in the region endangering the security and stability of the entire region.
Following is Mustafa Osman”s interview with Asharq Al-Awsat:
Q) How does Sudan regard the situation in Syria and Lebanon?
A) A while ago, President Omar Al-Bashir received a written message from Syrian President Bashar Asad in which he explained the developments that have taken place between Syria and the international commission investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, and also explained the tension that exists between Syria and Lebanon. After President Bashar Asad”s speech at Damascus University, in which he attacked the Lebanese prime minister, Omar al-Bashir received a verbal message from Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora through our ambassador in Beirut, which touched on the same subject. The president asked me to take action on the matter, and in accordance with specific directives a plan was formed and was based on the following:
First: Action should be Sudanese and supported by Arab participation.
Second: Action should not be confined to Syria and Lebanon only but should include Syria and Iraq as the issue is intertwined, and that the exacerbation of the situation is centered on Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Third: The action or the initiative – call it what you like – should aim to achieve the following:
1. Establish and find out who are the killers of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and seek to remove the obstacles in the way of the international commission of inquiry. That is a demand that everyone is making, whether in Syria, Lebanon, or elsewhere. The assassination was a disaster in every sense of the word. Establishing what happened in a professional and legal manner serves everyone”s interests.
2. Endeavor that the incident will provide a pretext to others to target Syria or Arab national security to use it in their schemes or other agenda.
3. Contain the deterioration in Syrian-Lebanese relations as a result of Hariri”s assassination, and indeed seek to improve and develop those relations, bearing in mind that normalizing them will eliminate many of the Syrian suspicions toward the international commission of inquiry, and that will facilitate the latter”s task in reaching the truth. The Syrian military presence in Lebanon had positive aspects, such as stopping the civil war as well as aother aspects. However, undoubtedly there were mistakes and negative aspects that must be acknowledged and tackled courageously.
4. Tackling the tense situation between Syria and Iraq is in the interest of the two countries and in the interest of security and stability in Iraq and the region, and expedites the departure of foreign forces from Iraq. It also enhances the chances of success of the Iraqi National reconciliation conference, which is scheduled to be held, in Baghdad in March 2006, which was emphasized at the preparatory conference that was held in Cairo.
5. Activate the Arab situation in support of Syria to enable it to regain its occupied territory and lift the isolation that some quarters want to impose on Syria, and not to leave Syria alone in the face of those complicated regional and international conditions.
Q) Why should Sudan alone bear the burden of that task?
A) As I have said, such a move is in response to contacts between those in the two countries, and is being carried out with the encouragement of the Arab League represented by its (rotational) presidency and its secretary general, Amr Musa.
Sudan”s security and stability are linked with the security and stability of the Arab homeland. Moreover, Sudan will take over (from Algeria) the leadership of the Arab summit in March 2006. Sudan is anxious to create favorable conditions for a successful summit. We recall that the last Arab summit held in Khartoum (in November 1967) after the defeat of 5 June 1967, was called the summit of the three no”s. Sudan is now a member of the trilateral committee (the Arab Troika) which is charged with implementing the resolutions and recommendations of the summit. It includes Algeria, Tunisia, and Sudan. Whether the initiative succeeds or not, Sudanese action should be evident in view of Sudan”s interest in Arab affairs and
its solidarity with its brothers. Sudanese moves may be channeled into other moves that could be more successful, or it could instigate other initiatives that are ultimately successful.
Q) In the present complicated regional and Arab circumstances, do you not expect obstacles that would prevent you from continuing with the move?
A) Certainly, we took all that into consideration. Before making any moves, in the memorandum I submitted to President Al-Bashir, the summit”s presidency, Algeria, and to the Arab League Secretary General, Amr Musa, I referred to a number of obstacles, which include:
A. The disastrous assassination of (former) Prime Minister Hariri has created a bitterness that is difficult to overcome, especially among his immediate kith and kin, as well as among all sectors of the Lebanese people. Prime Minister Hariri meant a great deal to them. Moreover, Rafik Hariri was an important figure regionally and internationally.
B. The Western states” forceful entry into the investigations. Some of those states may have their own agenda. Syria was targeted prior to Hariri”s assassination. It is accused by the West of supporting the resistance in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. We have followed the Syria Accountability Act that was passed by the US Congress. Also, Israel is trying to impose an unfair settlement for the occupied Syrian territory in the Golan Heights. All of those parties found a pretext in Rafik Hariri”s assassination to put into effect their covert and overt plans.
C. The weakness of the Arab will in general, in collective Arab work, let alone in such a complex case such as this one whose momentum from the very beginning continued to accelerate toward internationalization.
D. The great doubts that Syria harbored towards the international commission of inquiry, to the extent that Syrians were convinced that their country was being targeted rather than wanting to know the truth about who killed Hariri, however much Syria cooperates with the international commission of inquiry.
Q) What is the plan or mechanism you have adopted to overcome those obstacles?
A) First, we are completely convinced that the Arabs must make moves. The situation in Iraq now is a vivid example that reflects the sharp aspects of foreign intervention when there is Arab weakness. What are the options available? There are two options: One is that Syria cooperates with the international commission of inquiry so as to establish the truth about who killed Hariri, and that is what we are seeking to achieve, and then Syrian national security is targeted, and that is what we reject and what the Lebanese also reject. The second option is that Syria refuses to cooperate with the international commission of inquiry, and the UN Security Council imposes sanctions on Syria, with those sanctions escalating in a way similar to what happened in Iraq. Definitely, the negative impact of the sanctions will not be confined to Syria alone, as Lebanon will be the first to suffer as a result. Moreover, neither the Lebanese people nor the Arab peoples will stand idly by as they see the Syrian people suffer from the sanctions, thus leading to further violence in the region. The security and stability of the entire region will be undermined, and no one will be spared.
What is required is to find out who killed Prime Minister Hariri without using that as a pretext to target Syria. Establishing the truth calls for the cooperation of everyone, including Syria. In order to cooperate, Syria needs guarantees. In order to provide such guarantees we need Arab moves to achieve the objectives I mentioned in the beginning.
Q) What is the role of the Arab League and the Arab summit leadership with regard to overcoming the obstacles?
A) Their role is essential and vital. Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa has regional and international contacts, especially with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and others. The chairman of the Arab summit, (Algerian) President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has regional and international contacts, especially with France and the United States. Algeria is also a (non-permanent) member of the UN Security Council. We also wager on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its close ties with the states in the region, particularly Lebanon, and the close relationship between the late Rafik Hariri and the Kingdom”s leaders, as well Saudi Arabia”s relationship with France and the United States. We wager on Egypt and the role it always undertook with regard to Arab causes and on the close relationship between Egypt and Syria, and between President Hosni Mubarak and the Syrian leaders since the era of the late president Hafez Asad. Sudan had benefited from that relationship during tense Sudanese-Egyptian relations. There is also Egypt”s regional and international role, and Egypt has in the past, made efforts in that context that are appreciated. All the Arab states have an important role to play and their participation is required — especially the participation of the states neighboring Syria, such as Jordan. The participation of Qatar, which will become a UNSC member as of January 2006, is also required.
Q) Was an Arab cover secured before you made your move?
A) While I was participating in the preparatory meeting for the Iraqi National reconciliation conference in Cairo, I talked with the brothers in Egypt. I also spoke to the Arab League Secretary General, (Algerian Minister of State and personal representative of the Head of State) Abdelaziz Belkhedem who represented President Abdelaziz Bouteflika at the meeting”s opening session, (Saudi Foreign Minister) Prince Saud Faisal, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa, and Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh. I held those meetings before traveling to Syria and Lebanon and met with their leaders.
Q) Did they welcome your mission?
A) Certainly, who would refuse to putting one”s house in order? Some of them offered to do all they can to ensure the national mission”s success, and they confirmed that in practice when we began our move. Our meeting in Jordan will deal with the results of our visits to Syria and Lebanon and the discussions we held with the leaders of the two countries and the consequences of Hariri”s assassination for every Lebanese home.