The U.S. and France have delivered the strongest international message yet that Syria is unwelcome in Lebanon.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier held a joint news conference in London on Tuesday, the text of which is here :
- FOREIGN MINISTER BARNIER – The Lebanese want to be masters of their own fate, and we, in France, we encouraged this because in France nothing, we can never be indifferent to what is happening in Lebanon, and our way of encouraging this is to repeat what is included in the document which we co-sponsored with the United States. We want the complete implementation of Resolution 1559. We also want the truth, we want the truth to know who is responsible for the death of Rafik Hariri, and we also want all the foreign military troops to be withdrawn from Lebanon, and also the organization of true, genuine elections in this country …
SECRETARY RICE – the Lebanese people are beginning to express their aspirations for democracy, their aspirations that they be able to carry out their political aspirations without foreign interference. This is something that we support very much. Resolution 1559, which was co-sponsored by France and the United States within the UN Security Council, calls very firmly for free elections, free and fair elections to take place in Lebanon, for foreign forces, both troops and intelligence forces, to withdraw and for the Lebanese people to be able to conduct their affairs, Lebanese for Lebanon, and not with foreign interference, and this is something on which we agreed very much.
….the Syrians have a very clear view of what needs to be done. They know what is required in Resolution 1559, it should be recognized. But at this point in time, we have a circumstance in which on several fronts, whether it is Iraqi insurgents who are being supported on Syrian territory and causing the kind of hideous attacks that we had yesterday against the Iraqi people; or support for terrorists who are trying to frustrate the Palestinian/Israeli peace; or, keeping foreign interference in Lebanese affairs that the Syrians are out of step with where the region is going and out of step with the aspirations of the people of the Middle East.
The important thing is that Resolution 1559 is very clear that foreign interference should not be carried out. We will focus very much, I think also, on what we can help the Lebanese to do. That means support for free and fair elections, that means election observers if necessary, monitoring if necessary, and as we see how the Lebanese will move forward, I think we have to look at what can be done in terms of helping them to stabilize the situation should that become necessary …
FOREIGN MINISTER BARNIER – This is a resolution of the international community as a whole. It is a very clear resolution and it stands alone, and there can be absolutely no excuse to postpone this implementation or not implement it at all. This resolution demands the withdrawal of all military forces in [Lebanon]. This is something which is supported by the international community at large and is to be done under the framework, in the framework of the United Nations under Mr. Larsen, and this particularly at a time when the Lebanese people are expressing their intention, to once again become the masters of their own fate.
Note the emphasis on the U.N. and the “international community as a whole”: ie, “This isn’t something we disagree with the Americans about – we are unified and there is no playing one against the other this time. Get with the program.”
Condi’s line about Syria being “out of step” with the rest of the Middle East was powerful and unambiguous as well: ie, “With democracy popping its little head up all over the region, relativism will no longer apply here. You will be expected to behave like a civilized nation, not cause harm — or even allow harm to be caused from within your purview — to your your neighbors, including Israel, you pondscum.”
Bush reinforced these assertions today:
- “Both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria, ‘You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish,” Bush said during an appearance at a community college in Maryland
….The world, Bush said, “is speaking with one voice when it comes to making sure that democracy has a chance to flourish in Lebanon.”
….The Bush administration also on Tuesday blamed terrorists based in Syria for last week’s deadly suicide attack in Israel.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Syria was home base for the terrorist attack in Israel that rocked the latest efforts for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We do have firm evidence that the bombing in Tel Aviv was not only authorized by Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders in Damascus, but that Islamic Jihad leaders in Damascus participated in the planning,” the spokesman said.
Bush made a similar point during a White House meeting with congressional leaders, participants said [Washington Post]
In response, as if by magic, Syria’s ambassador to London just announced a “new policy” toward Lebanon:
- “What is happening in Damascus is a process of defining a new policy on Lebanon,” the ambassador, Sami Khiyami, said.
“The president has indicated the deep feelings of the Syrians that they don’t want to stay in Lebanon if the Lebanese don’t want them,”
….Khiyami said Syria’s main concern was to ensure that any withdrawal did not threaten its own vital interests, which include close ties with Lebanon and its quest for peace talks with Israel to recover the occupied Golan Heights.
The modalities should be discussed with the Lebanese authorities, he said, adding that Lebanon still had a president and parliament. Its Syrian-backed government collapsed Monday after two weeks of popular protests after Hariri’s killing.
Arab diplomacy on Lebanon picked up speed Wednesday with a visit to Damascus by the emir of Qatar and a report by a Saudi newspaper that Assad would go to Riyadh within 48 hours.
But still digs at France, the U.S., and of course, Israel:
- “France today has unfortunately been caught up in the euphoria of wanting change in Lebanon,” Khiyami said.
“They will shortly discover that it is only through having excellent relations with Lebanon and Syria that they will keep their influence in the Middle East.”
He said the Lebanese should discuss relations with Syria calmly and should be assured of Syrian goodwill. “If they reach a consensus, the Syrians couldn’t be happier,” Khiyami said.
But he accused the United States and Israel of trying to exploit Hariri’s assassination to push an anti-Syrian agenda.
“Unfortunately the U.S. administration wants to benefit from the criminal incident in Lebanon in the fastest possible way.” [Reuters]
Syria sounds like a neighborhood bully in the process of backing down when confronted by the adults.
And speaking of the neighborhood, I believe this strong anti-Syrian rhetoric from France is also its way of conceding that regime change in Iraq might not have been such a horrendous thing.