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Blair and Lebanon's PM Meet To Discuss Peace

Tony Blair and Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met to discuss peace efforts in the Middle East.

Lebanon model of "democracy, liberty and prosperity" - PM

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Read the press conference transcript

Mr Siniora:

Actually this visit was an opportunity for my government to give Mr Prime Minister Blair an explanation of where we stand today, particularly following the Israeli invasion. This invasion led to huge destruction and this in fact was the seventh incursion in recent times that were made against Lebanon. And we really had an opportunity to talk about the blatant violations that Israel is still committing to Resolution 1701. And in fact we mentioned so many things about the rights and demands of Lebanon, to have full Israeli withdrawal and to declare a permanent cease-fire, and to release the Lebanese detainees, with the release of the Israeli abducted soldiers; and they must hand over the maps of the landmines that were planted by Israel during the times it was occupying Lebanon, and still is denying to Lebanon.

We had a deal of discussion about the determination of Lebanon to build a strong state, a strong and liberal state, and we are taking all the necessary steps in order to make the state prevail. The Lebanese army is being deployed in the south and on the borders so that we can really build the ground so that the state becomes the sole authority and has complete monopoly of weapons in the country.

We in fact consider this visit also an occasion to relaunch from Lebanon the interest in our region which deserves peace and stability. I would like to say that this visit, while being the first by a British Prime Minister, is not the first encounter for me with Prime Minister Blair, with whom I had the opportunity of meeting several times during the past years and with whom I have kept in very close contact in relation with the situation in the region, as well as during the hostilities and the invasion during the last two months, and in which we discussed several aspects about the Palestinian issue which we consider to be the core issue in the region and in the Islamic world. And we consider that the support of the UK in favour of our just causes is of paramount importance. We think that Britain can play a positive role in reviving the peace process on all its tracks in the Middle East in a serious and determined way, to have a comprehensive, just and lasting peace that would put an end to the injustice and the suffering of our region, and that will set the basis for security and prosperity in many parts, and particularly in this part, of the world.

I would like to call upon Prime Minister Blair to play a positive role in this critical time to revive the peace process on all its tracks through the UN Security Council and in support of the Arab League initiative. Only by addressing the underlying causes can we guarantee peace and security for the Middle East. I want as well to call upon Mr Blair to help in two things in Lebanon. One in the reconstruction and the rebuilding of Lebanon, which suffered a great deal of damage, not only in this last invasion but during the past invasions that really affected our economy, our people, our political system throughout. We would really like to ask the Prime Minister to help us in the empowerment and the enhancement of our army and our internal security that can really contribute to the better ability of the army and internal security in controlling the security situation in the country. I would like to really emphasise to him here that this discussion that we had throughout, we had several rounds of discussion with the Ministers, with the representatives of the parliamentary committees, and it was very fruitful, very helpful, and I am really happy that this was an occasion for us to really discuss matters and to have direct contact with the facts on the ground.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends, I would like to introduce Mr Blair.

Tony Blair:

Thank you very much Mr Prime Minister. And before I talk about the Lebanon, could I just say on this particular day of the occasion of the anniversary of 11 September 2001 in which more British citizens lost their lives in a terrorist attack than at any point in time in history, I would like once again to repeat and express my condolence and sympathy to the families and all those who lost loved ones in that terrible attack on 11 September 2001.

Mr Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed for your kind welcome here, and it is a privilege to be the first Prime Minister to visit Lebanon, but obviously I visit it under very difficult circumstances. And I know it is some years since we first met, I think in the company of Prime Minister Hariri, but we have met many times since then and were, as you rightly say, in close contact over the past period of time, in particular through the crisis in Lebanon.

And I would also like to express my deep sympathy for you and for your country and for all those who lost members of their family, those that they loved, those that they knew during the recent crisis.

You are absolutely right in saying that what is important now is to see the full implementation of UN resolution 1701 that we all worked so hard to secure, because that is the way to make sure that Lebanon can rebuild itself in the way that you rightly have indicated. And I would really like to stress four things in response to the points that you have put to me today.

The first is that you can be assured that Great Britain will play its full part in reconstruction. We will commit over £40 million this year, but we stand ready to do more, and as you know we have already indicated that we will help particularly in the reconstruction of the bridges that are so important, and I know some have already been identified that we will provide support and help for.

Secondly, there is the Lebanese armed forces, their crucial role in the country and our support in helping make sure that it is the Lebanese armed forces that are in control of all parts of the Lebanon. We again will work with you in terms of training, in terms of equipment, in terms of any help that we can give, and as you know I am committing further resource for that today as well.

Thirdly, it is of course important, as you indicated, that we deal with the issues to do with prisoners and of course to do with the Shebaa farms, and again there is a process that is set out in UN Resolution 1701 that we should address.

But I wanted to lay particular emphasis, as I think you did, on the fourth aspect of our discussion together, and that is on the Israel-Palestine conflict. I think it is important, as I have been saying these past two days, that we do everything that we can to re-energise that process, to give ourselves the best chance of achieving a lasting comprehensive settlement of that issue, with two states living side by side in peace together. I believe that it can be done, and furthermore I commit myself for the remainder of my time in office to do everything I can to bring that about. It is I believe of huge importance, of course primarily to Israelis and to Palestinians, but also as we can see to the whole of the region and indeed to the world.

You indicated earlier that part of the rebuilding was not just in respect of the recent conflict, but earlier conflicts as well. You were reminding me earlier that over the past 30 - 40 years there have been some 7 conflicts in the Lebanon. But before all that began, Lebanon, a little bit larger than the Republic of Ireland in terms of population but roughly the same, Lebanon and the Republic of Ireland in the 1970s were about the same GDP per head. Today I think you said it was a quarter or one-tenth.

Mr Sinoria:

One-tenth of Ireland.

Tony Blair:

One-tenth of Ireland today. That is the consequence of the conflicts of the past few years, it is also the consequence frankly of Lebanon being used by people for the resolution of all sorts of different issues that aren't really to do with the future of the Lebanese people. And I hope out of what we can now do, out of what has been a tragic and terrible time, we can rebuild in a way that gives not just lasting peace here in the Lebanon and lasting peace in the region, but where we see Lebanon once again for what it is and can be, which is a model for the whole of this region, of democracy, of liberty and of prosperity. I know that is what you want for your people, and Prime Minister I can assure you whatever the difficulties, and indeed the differences, we will stand ready to be your partner in that endeavour.

INTERRUPTION FROM AUDIENCE

Inaudible.

Mr Siniria:

We are in a democracy. I would like to really say in here that we respect all sorts of expressions, and I would like to say a few words in Arabic in this regard. We respect all forms of expression, we are a democracy. I am grateful we can all express ourselves - that is so important. Such action should be in our minds, and we should express ourselves peacefully when the need arises, freely. Personally I will make sure that each Lebanese can always speak freely however they see fit, but within the law.

Question:

(Interpretation inaudible)

Mr Siniora:

(Interpretation inaudible)

Question:

Mr Blair please, I would like to ask this question, but I would like to ask it in Arabic. How do you see situation in the Lebanese streets today and how do you explain the British Air Force helping ship arms to Israel?

Tony Blair:

Well actually first of all I should just point out to you that there have not actually been transports of weapons for many weeks. But that is not really the point I think, the point I think is this, and let me be very frank with you because you have just seen a demonstration by somebody who is opposed to my visit and opposed to my policy. The most important thing that we believed that we could do throughout the entirety of the crisis was to work to get a United Nations resolution. That was in the end the only possibility of stopping the conflict. And we worked hard, and in the contacts I had with your Prime Minister we worked very hard to secure that resolution and eventually we did, and then afterwards to lift the blockade which was lifted just a few days before I came here.

The most important thing for the future now is that we stand with you and rebuild, but we won't be able to do that unless we deal with the root causes of what has happened. And if we don't deal with those root causes then innocent people will continue to die, and that is what we can do, and we will do that, we will do our level best to do it. And the reason that I wanted to come here was not because I am not aware that there are people who deeply object to the policy that we had, but I wanted to come because I wanted to hear from the Prime Minister, face to face, of how we could help for the future, and that is what we will do.

Question:

Mr Siniora called upon Great Britain to play a positive role in relaunching the peace process. Do think you can play such a positive role, especially after you supported the Israeli invasion that has killed more than 1,000 civilians?

Tony Blair:

Well let me again express my deep condolences both to those in Lebanon who lost their lives, and those in Israel too. But let me just say one thing very clearly to you, which is one of the reasons why it is important we do play a role. If we end up, and I know this is a difficult thing to say but let me just say it to you all the same, if we end up with a solution to Israel and Palestine, there will be two signatures on the final status agreement - one will be Palestinian and the other will be Israeli. And therefore we are not going to resolve this conflict between Israel and Palestine except on a just basis, which means two states living side by side in peace and by accepting that each state has the right to exist. So when that agreement is finally negotiated, as I hope it will be, and I will do my utmost to make sure it is, then those who are able to play a part in it will be those who are able to bring both sides to the table.

Question:

Prime Minister Blair first of all, you have seen a demonstrator who says that you should feel a sense of shame. Do you feel shamed, do you feel regret, or do you think that people simply didn't understand the role that Britain was playing during that war? And if I could ask Prime Minister Siniora, many people clearly here in the Arab world, as well as back at home in the UK, will be very surprised that you have someone standing next to you who supported that war by Israel, and they wonder whether you don't think that if he had called for an immediate cease-fire, the deaths and destruction in Lebanon would have been restricted ...

Tony Blair:

Well, first of all let me just state again. There never was going to be a cessation unless it was done on the basis of a United Nations resolution. That is the reality, that is what I worked for throughout. And you know I suppose in my position, particularly over the past few years, I have got used to demonstrations in my own country and demonstrations elsewhere as well, so I suppose some demonstrations here kind of make me feel at home. But I tell you what I find when I talk to people, not the people who necessarily shout the loudest or demonstrate the most, but for example, the people I have just met now, members of the Cabinet putting their feelings to me in a very strong way. You see people in a situation like this can do one of two things, they can either come and simply tell everyone what they want to have happened, or they can try and make it happen.

And rightly or wrongly, and I am not obviously the best person to make a judgment about this, my view throughout the entire crisis was that the best thing for us to do was to work to get the United Nations resolution, because I could have gone out there and called for it all to stop - it wasn't going to stop before there was a UN resolution that had a framework within which it could stop, and in which the real problems could be dealt with. And frankly, the best chance for Lebanon now is the implementation of Resolution 1701 - and indeed if that resolution is properly implemented, that is also the best chance for Israel. So in the end you make a choice in these things, but I believe that the role we can play in this will be judged in time to come, in particular if in relation to those things where we need the support and active consent of others - in particular in relation to Palestine - Britain plays a role. That is what I intend to do.

Mr Siniora:

Well, just to take the second part of your question. As you know, Lebanon is a democracy, like the UK it is a democracy, and so we have to learn to listen to the comments, to the criticism of all concerned and I really sympathise with each one of them. And actually I don't know whether you have heard what I have said in Arabic and the comment when I said that I really look with pride towards my countrymen who really went on demonstrations, and the sit-in today, and they expressed their views, they were deploring the UK position in the war, I respect their right to express their view. On the other hand I would like to say that we want to really, at the same time, see how we can really benefit from the positions of all that can serve our cause. We have to understand the complexities of the, let's say the position of various countries, without really agreeing with all the positions of the UK.

But I just want to say that during the war I have been in continuous contact with Prime Minister Blair and I think he had certain contributions and certain aspects that reduced - reduced - the damage that might or could have been inflicted on Lebanon. On the other hand we looked at the thing in a very, let's say constructive manner, we expressed our point of view very clearly, our position, and we really think now in terms of the future that there is a very important role to be played by the UK along the four lines that His Excellency has already indicated, and I believe we have to encourage him, but at the same time we still have our position. This is a democracy, this is the real freedom of expressing one's point of view, you would like to have people to agree 100% with you, but if it doesn't at least you have to be pragmatic and see what you can get out of that. I believe that along these four lines I think it will be a great thing to achieve.

Question:

But unfortunately as you know it is not just a question of democracy or free speech, it is a question of loss of life, and the perception among many of the people demonstrating here today is that there has been, to use the word, an asymmetric loss of life, whether it is here in Lebanon compared to Israel, whether it is in Afghanistan, whether it is in Iraq, or whether it is in the conflict with the Palestinians. What do you say to those people who say, despite all your good intentions, the fact of your friendship with the United States, and indeed with Israel, allowed this disproportionate killing to go on. So effectively as the demonstrators were saying, you do have the blood of predominantly Muslims on your hands.

Tony Blair:

Yes, but Adam in the end you have got to make a judgment about this. First of all, I think what the Prime Minister was just saying a moment or two ago is absolutely right. The fact is that it is a great sign of democracy that you have people with different points of view. All I would say to you guys is, don't disenfranchise those who take a different point of view, who actually believe that we can and should play a constructive role because the Prime Minister has just indicated to you what he believes that role can be, and also what we tried to do during the course of the conflict. And don't, in taking what people quite legitimately are able to say, and have a right to say, simply put to one side the other point of view.

But look in the end you have got to work out what the best role for my country to play is, and I have taken the decision, rightly or wrongly since we are actually speaking on the day of the anniversary of September 11, I have taken the view, and I still take the view, that we should be in a strong alliance with the United States of America. But I also tell you this, that none of the things that we are talking about today, in particular in relation to Israel and Palestine, none of the things that we want to see, the two state solution, the two countries living side by side in peace, can be achieved without America and Israel. So sometimes, in order to make sure that we make that progress, there have to be people who are able to talk to all sides and get something done. Now it is not always a very easy role to play, I can assure you of that, but actually in the end I think it is the right role.

Question:

Prime Minister, as you have seen today feelings do run very high though. Do you have any regret at all about the position you took up at the start?

Tony Blair:

Look feelings run high, of course feelings run high, innocent people have lost their lives here. This country that was on its way, having become a strong democracy, on its way to being a model for the region has been set back many years. Of course feelings run high. The question is what can we do, because this conflict was never going to end unless it ended with a United Nations resolution, and it may - if we don't implement that resolution and bring wider peace to the Middle East, such conflicts will happen again. This is not the first time Lebanon has been in conflict, and the tragedy is 7 conflicts in 30 years of one sort or another, none of those are conflicts in which the Lebanese people wanted to be the victim, in each of these conflicts the Lebanese people have been the victim. Now in the end I am here to get things done. You know I could have been out there calling for an end to the conflict without a UN resolution. It wasn't going to end. So it might have reduced the demonstration, it wouldn't have contributed anything to getting things done. I believe there is a way out of the problems of the Middle East, but it can only be done if we are prepared to put in the political work and commitment to get a resolution of the underlying disputes. If we don't do that, then as people here know better than any other people in the region, conflict will come again and innocent victims again will suffer.

Mr Siniora:

I want to really add to what His Excellency has been saying. Yes, actually in this part of the world and in all the Muslim world there is a high degree of resentment and a high degree of feeling of humiliation, and there is a feeling in these communities as if we are sons of a lesser God, that our miseries are not being looked at properly and effectively in the way that can lead towards real solutions. I again would like to really emphasise the future, because we cannot change the past. It doesn't mean that we are giving a certificate of, let's say a good certificate for the past, no, let's look at the future, let's see what we can do. In terms of Lebanon I think we have expressed our views and I think we have heard very good comments from His Excellency Mr Blair regarding the grievances of Lebanon, particularly in matters that have to do with the Shebaa farms and the maps for the land mines and the withdrawal from all the occupied territories and the detainees.

On the other hand, the real challenge and the test for all concerned, for all peace loving nations, for all those who want to find solutions for long lasting problems, I think the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict is something which we should direct all our attention and efforts towards finding a real solution. And this is why we believe that Mr Blair can play a role and with all other countries that can really save the world, save the countries and direct all the attention for the benefit of the population, not leaving these countries or the world to go into a process that will lead towards further confrontation between countries, between civilisations, between religions. I believe that this is an opportunity and this will be a test for all the western world and the responsible world to move strongly towards a long lasting, just and comprehensive peace ...

ENDS

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