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Bolton Briefing on Burma, Lebanon & Other Matters

Briefing on Burma, Lebanon and Other Matters

Ambassador John R. Bolton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Remarks in the Security Council
New York City
November 27, 2006


Ambassador Bolton: Let me just say we've had an important debate in the Security Council on the question of Burma, having listened to a report by Undersecretary-General Gambari of his recent visit, his second this year. Based on the lack of performance by the government of Burma on any of the key issues that we see, I informed the other members of the council that we will be seeking a resolution on Burma. We want to consult with other governments on the precise text.

But obviously, the problems that the policies the government has been pursuing contribute to -- continue to contribute to instability in the region and, therefore, in our view constitute a threat to international peace and security. And these include the continuing flow of internally displaced persons and refugees across Burma's international borders; over a million now, Burmese citizens, in other countries. The Security Council, as far back as Resolution 688, made it clear that refugee flows can constitute a threat to international peace and security.

But in addition to that, the government of Burma has not done the necessary to curb trafficking in narcotics, in illicit drugs, in trafficking in persons. And its own internal policies have enhanced the likelihood of the transmission of dangerous and highly contagious diseases across international borders, diseases like HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

So for all of these reasons, we think it's clear the government needs more than just visits by Undersecretary-General Gambari, it needs to be told that concrete performance is necessary. And that's why we're going to be moving toward a resolution. That's one reason that we took the predicate step of putting Burma on the Security Council's agenda some months ago. And so we'll be proceeding here in the next several days to present a draft resolution for the council that will call on the Burmese government to comply with, in fact, some of the commitments it's made, but its obligations to reduce this downward spiral of its performance that constitutes a threat to international peace and security.

Reporter: Ambassador, do you have any plans for Lebanon, is this --

Ambassador Bolton: Burma. We're on Burma first.

Reporter: Burma first. Would this resolution include sanctions? Is that a possibility? I mean, what would be the aim of the resolution, even if you don't want to tell us all of the details? And then I actually wanted to ask your comments on two other things.

Ambassador Bolton: Right. Well, I don't contemplate that this first resolution would include sanctions. I think what it will do is lay out what we expect Burma's performance to be. As I said in the council this morning, it's important not to emphasize form over substance, not emphasizing meetings rather than concrete changes in Burmese policy. And I think the resolution will focus on those elements of the government's policies that do threaten stability in the region and more broadly.

Reporter: (Inaudible)

Ambassador Bolton: Burma.

Reporter: Staying on Burma?

Ambassador Bolton: Burma first.

Reporter: Do you have any reason to think that the other council members, specifically some of the permanent council members, will go along with this resolution? And what kind of timing are you looking at?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, some council members didn't go along with the idea that Burma did constitute a threat to international peace and security. We had a procedural vote on the question of putting it on the agenda, where our view prevailed. And I think when we put a text of a resolution forward, then governments, permanent or otherwise, will have to consider how they're going to approach it. But our judgment is that what's required at this point is a resolution, and so we'll be proceeding, and obviously, we'll consult with all the governments in hopes of getting maximum support for it.

Reporter: (inaudible)

Ambassador Bolton: Within the next few days or weeks.

Reporter: When you say threat to international security, you're talking about a Chapter VII resolution. And just to go beyond, I mean, many countries --

Ambassador Bolton: No, no, no. No, no, no. This is the jurisdiction of the council. The council deals with breaches of or threats to international peace and security, not --

Reporter: (inaudible) -- resolution.

Ambassador Bolton: Well, not a sanctions resolution at this point.

Reporter: Okay. Just to go beyond this, just to understand, I mean, many countries do have an AIDS issue and there are citizens of those countries going to other countries and so forth. So in this case you talk about threat to regional peace, as well. Could you just specify a little bit more what is the threat beyond, as it were, the spread of disease? I mean, is there a sense that these refugee flows are going to lead to conflict or war or anything like that?

Ambassador Bolton: I think that the risk that refugee flows can pose to regional peace and security, as I say, was demonstrated by Resolution 688. There are over a million Burmese outside their country's borders now. And given the pervasive lack of economic development in Burma and the neighboring regions, this is a problem that imposes considerable burdens on the bordering countries. And I think the risks associated with trafficking in illicit narcotics, trafficking in persons are also well known, not to mention the threat that the council's addressed before posed by the transmission of dangerous disease like HIV/AIDS.

So I think it's all of these things, and it is the -- not simply the internal manifestation of these polices but their external consequences. There are consequences external to Burma that make it appropriate for the council to act.

Reporter: On Lebanon --

Ambassador Bolton: One more on Burma.

Reporter: Did you hear anything in Gambari's briefing that sort of would come under heading of recent developments, either on the positive or negative thinking? Or was it just a sort of continuation of policies that haven't really changed?

Ambassador Bolton: I heard a lot more of the same, lot of rhetoric by the government of Burma, not any substantial performance. Okay? Burma?

Reporter: No, on Lebanon, please.

Ambassador Bolton: Okay. Burma?

Reporter: No, Lebanon.

Ambassador Bolton: No. All right. Lebanon. She asked first.

Reporter: Okay. Ambassador, I have not asked you questions for a while, so mine is a bit detailed at this point.

Ambassador Bolton: So it'll be long --

Reporter: Yeah.

Ambassador Bolton: -- and complex.

Reporter: Yeah. So in the aftermath of the Lebanese government's approval, what are the next steps as far as you see them? Are they supposed to be a signature between the United Nations and the Lebanese government first, and then it goes to the Parliament for ratification? Or is the president of the republic's position changed that -- has it changed that?

And in that case, would there be Plan B, Chapter VII resolution, if that cannot happen? And lastly, there is a Syrian letter, if you don't mind telling use your action to it and whether you are worried about further assassinations.

Ambassador Bolton: Yeah. The question of how the government of Lebanon proceeds to undertake its own constitutional procedures is really a matter for that government to decided. And when they have finished those procedures, then we can move to the question of signature and so on. But this is something that's now in the hands of the government of Lebanon, and as I say, we await their response.

I think that the danger that the White House forecast of Iranian and Syrian interference in Lebanon forecast some weeks ago remains very much on our minds. And I think it'll be the subject of discussions on the president's trip. Certainly when he goes to the region, this could well be a decisive point in Lebanon's history and hopefully its progress toward a freely elected and democratic government and a stable situation. And if it -- if that's unsuccessful there, it will obviously have dramatically negative consequences for the region as a whole.

So we're following it very carefully and want to do everything we can to support the democratically elected forces in the government of Lebanon.

Reporter: Syrian letter -- can you give us your reaction to the Syrian letter, in which the said that basically they don't see a purpose of a tribunal before the investigation is set up, and that they will not cooperate, basically. The bottom-line answer is --

Ambassador Bolton: Yeah. Well, that's certainly nothing new from Syria. They haven't cooperated adequately from the beginning. And if I were in their shoes, I guess I'd worry even more about establishing a tribunal than the investigation. So no surprises there from Syria, as usual.

Reporter: Yeah. We know that the opposition, especially Hezbollah and Amal, have made a statement over the weekend stating that they are not against the international tribunal and they support that. Don't you think that a national unity government in Lebanon is a prerequisite here for the stability of Lebanon to prevent any change or any coup that may happen, since the current government is illegitimate, does not represent the people? And we have seen that, and we are expecting an escalation this week in Lebanon in order to change the situation there.

Ambassador Bolton: Well, if Hezbollah and Amal support the establishment of the tribunal -- which they signaled when they agreed to the negotiators and agreed to the process -- then presumably they can express that by voting in favor of the agreement in parliament, where it will then receive -- will receive an overwhelming vote.

I mean, this is -- we are doing nothing more than was forecast, really, from the beginning of the process beginning with Resolution 1595 and other resolutions, so it should come as no surprise to anybody. This has been negotiated between the lawyers for the secretariat acting on behalf of the Security Council and senior jurisprudents from Lebanon, very well-respected individuals. I think it's a very straightforward agreement, and the statute creating the tribunal is very straightforward. So I would hope that all the various confessional elements within Lebanon would agree to this.

Reporter: There are many in Lebanon, Mr. Ambassador, skeptical about the possibility of ratifying the agreement with the United Nations because of dilly-dallying of Nabih Berri, the speaker of the parliament, to call the parliament into session because of the president's bias to Syria.

In the absence of ratifying it, there are -- many are speaking about the possibility of the Security Council moving and issuing a resolution to Chapter VII. Is this at all a possibility, taking in consideration that Lebanon requested for a tribunal in the first place?

Ambassador Bolton: Yeah. Well, I'd rather not speculate on what might or might not happen if the government of Lebanon is prevented one way or another from following its own constitutional procedures. We have done what was required of the Security Council, to put this back in the government's court in Beirut, and the cabinet has now approved the draft agreement and the statute establishing the tribunal. As I understand it, it awaits the president's decision; if he does not decide within, you know, a 15-day period, then it's -- the government may submit it to the parliament, and the parliament has the authority to ratify with a simple majority. So I think -- as I said, I'd rather not speculate about what else might be out there. We'll wait and see if this doesn't play out inside Lebanon.

Let me just take one more.

Reporter: On Somalia. What's the U.S. trying to accomplish in the council? The State Department last week said that something is going on here and that the U.S. is trying to push either -- you know, some position, IGAD in, or could you speak to what the U.S. position is on Somalia?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, we're still in consultation on the situation, and at this point, I'd rather not comment publicly. But we're very actively, I think, making progress, and I would hope within a couple days might have something that we are prepared to say publicly.

Reporter: And on the terror alert that the U.S. gave in the region recently, now the Somalis say that the letter from Sheikh Aweys was a forgery -- that it was based on -- was a forgery. (Inaudible) -- something to that?

Ambassador Bolton: I really haven't -- I have nothing really to add to that point.

Reporter: (inaudible) -- following up on Iran, Ambassador, another meeting. You don't know anything --

Ambassador Bolton: Don't have any data on that. I said one more question here; I'm violating my rule. One more question.

Reporter: Did you come away with any feeling from Mr. Gambari's briefing about Aung San Suu Kyi? And my -- the other question I was going to ask you was whether you had any reaction at all to the inquiry in Australia on oil-for-food. Do you think this should -- these kinds of things should be encouraged?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, we're quite concerned about Aung San Suu Kyi's physical condition, and I think it's part of the responsibility of the government of Burma, which has put her under house arrest these last several years, to make sure that -- we think, obviously, she should be released from house arrest, but at a minimum, they have to make sure that she is not denied appropriate humanitarian assistance.

So that remains a very high priority, and I think we're worried on her behalf as long as she remains under house arrest. That's the unacceptable point; it's not the subsets of that, it's the whole point of the detention.

And in the case of the Australian inquiry, I am not entirely familiar with the details of it, but certainly that's the sort of inquiry that we welcome. I'd have to withhold further comment until I've had a chance to review it then.

Okay? Thanks a lot.

Released on November 27, 2006


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