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C. David Welch: BBC World Broadcast Interview

Excerpt from BBC World Broadcast Interview

C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs

Washington, DC
August 29, 2006

MS. : Hello. Welcome to BBC World -- BBC news extra here on BBC World. And coming up, we focus on attempts to end the Middle East crisis and what exactly should the role of the United States be. We'll be talking to the most senior U.S. diplomat for the region. And also a news extra: He was the first Arab writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. We will be looking back at the life of Naguib Mahfouz.

But first, it's a critical time for U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East with a focus on helping bringing about a lasting ceasefire in Lebanon, and confronting Iran's nuclear program. Our correspondent Jonathan Beale has been talking to the senior U.S. diplomat responsible for the region, David Welch. He began by asking the U.S. assistant secretary of State whether American support -- America supported Kofi Annan's call for Israel to lift its sea-and-air blockade on Lebanon.

MR. WELCH: The new international forces are being composed and deploying now, some of the other instruments passed in that resolution are being put into place. As those things happen, then Israel is going to begin withdrawing and will complete its withdrawal. When it's out, there will be a permanent ceasefire. At that point, there should be no blockade on Lebanon.

JONATHAN BEALE: So how long are we talking about then?

MR. WELCH: You know, in my judgment, it depends on the rapidity with which the new international forces and the Lebanese army can get in place to do their job.

MR. BEALE: And there is some confusion because Prime Minister Olmert had indicated that he wanted international peacekeepers on the border with Syria before that blockade was lifted, but international peacekeepers aren't going onto the border with Syria, are they?

MR. WELCH: Well, we don't know. There is a part in the resolution that suggests that this border has to be more carefully monitored. What is the reason for that? It's because frankly the sovereignty of Lebanon has been repeatedly violated by certain other parties, Syria and Iran in particular, to send weapons into Lebanon. We don't want to see that happen again here. And so in the resolution, there is an arms embargo and a call for it to be monitored and observed. So now – obligation of international law that countries should not send weapons into Lebanon.

If Lebanon requests it, there can be support from the international community through UNIFIL to help it enforce these measures in any part of Lebanon, including on the border with Syria. We think that is a good idea; we think that that should happen.

MR. BEALE: Isn't it time for the U.S. to talk to Syria, to talk to Damascus?

MR. WELCH: Sir, it's because we are serious that we treated the proper address for this discussion as Beirut and dealt with the Lebanese government on issues involving the sovereignty of Lebanon and the welfare and security of its people. The address for interference in Lebanon is definitely Damascus, and those are the issues we will take up with the Syrians.

MR. BEALE: Well, in that case, do you welcome Kofi Annan going to Damascus to talk to Syria?

MR. WELCH: You know, the secretary general represents the membership of the United Nations. We wish him well on his mission. We hope he's able to make some progress on these issues that we are discussing right now. It's going to be a tough discussion I imagine with the government in Damascus. Our own record with the Syrians of having these discussions is unfortunately not a very good one. They don't seem to listen to when we make suggestions about what ought to be done. That said, we have confidence in the secretary general and his leadership; we wish him well in this endeavor; and we do hope that the government of Damascus wakes up to its responsibilities.

MR. BEALE: Does it worry you that Syria, but also Iran, following the war in Lebanon, is sounding increasingly defiant?

MR. WELCH: I find it perplexing that these leaders in these countries would purport to speak for the people of another nation. We need to hear from the people of Lebanon about what they want. And most of them want safety and security, they want to have a sovereign and free country; they want to determine their future for themselves. For me, that means that these others should butt out.

MR. BEALE: But you can see that there is a strong note of defiance coming out of Tehran. For example, we have heard from President Ahmadinejad today saying that he does not -- well, challenging the authority of the U.N. Security Council.

MR. WELCH: Well, he might want to do that considering he is in trouble himself with the Security Council.

MR. BEALE: You are intent on -- if Iran does not suspend uranium activity that you will push for sanctions.

MR. WELCH: We are going to work this issue as effectively and as rapidly as we can because we consider their nuclear activity to be profoundly dangerous.

MR. BEALE: Sorry, what does that mean in the sense of as fast as you can?

MR. WELCH: We will take this issue up depending on their response. So far their response is inadequate.

MR. BEALE: But you are looking now at sanctions if Iran does not comply?

MR. WELCH: That is the next step, if necessary.

MR. BEALE: And isn't there an argument that you should start talking to Tehran? We have heard from, again, President Ahmadinejad saying it's time for a TV debate with the president of the United States.

MR. WELCH: You know, our president made a decision to support the European-led negotiations. We said we would join them if there were the right conditions, if the Iranians were serious about this. That offer remains open.

The rest of this – we're going to get in a public diplomacy game of, you know, who can put forward the better public gimmick. (Chuckles.) We are serious about our suggestions, and we hope that they are serious about answering them.

MR. BEALE: That is what you think this is -- it's a gimmick, is it?

MR. WELCH: Well, I mean, you can draw your own conclusion.

MS. : David Welch, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near-Eastern Affairs speaking to our correspondent, Jonathan Beale.

Released on September 1, 2006


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