Assistant Secretary of State David Welsh's interview With ABU DHABI TV November 22,2006
US Department of State
C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
Interview With ABU DHABI TV
November 22, 2006
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Welch, for having us here, and let's get
the point. How do you see the impact of the assassination of Gemayel on the
situation -- the political situation in Lebanon, and the Middle East?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, the situation in Lebanon was already
difficult and tense and, of course, this very unfortunate crime -- yet
crime committed by those who seek to disturb Lebanon's security and
-- only adds, I think, to the challenges facing the Lebanese people.
We have confidence in the people of Lebanon, the leadership of Lebanon, but,
must say, it is depressing that those who don't share the same positive
for Lebanon's future still commit such acts.
QUESTION: Well, the recent statement, spearheaded by President Bush and John
Bolton, the UN ambassador, was so quick in raising accusation fingers
Syria. What basis have you placed for your accusations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Read our statements very carefully. We're really
quite concerned about the continued interference of Syria and Iran in the
affairs of Lebanon. Lebanon's gone through far too much in its recent
to have to endure this again.
Mr. Pierre Gemayel, God rest his soul, was a member of the cabinet, an
member of parliament, and the son of one of Lebanon's most important
This is a triple strike at the foundations of Lebanese democracy and it can
only be done by those who don't see the same kind of positive democratic
for Lebanon that its people do.
QUESTION: By what would Syria do such a thing, and this timing?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Look, we're not directly accusing anyone. There's
an investigation underway by the Lebanese authorities. It is conceivable
in the future this might be expanded to include some international
participation because the record of these crimes is now becoming very
for everyone. Many of the most recent attempts have been against people
backgrounds and views are very clear in terms of who they consider to be the
problems for Lebanon.
QUESTION: But Mr. Bush was pinpointed to, in his statement, to Syria and
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, we don't see anyone else who is interfering
in the internal affairs of Lebanon other than Syria and Iran.
QUESTION: Syria completely denied any involvement and said it could be the
enemies of Syria who choose this time to do this assassination.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I would expect such denials.
QUESTION: Okay, how do you see the relationship and the timing? We were
to see a sort of Syrian cooperation in the fight of Iraq, restoring
relationships for the first time in 20-odd years, talking about a Syrian,
Iranian, Iraqi summit in Tehran. What's -- how do you see the link between
timing of the assassination and this kind of Syrian movements?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I think this shows that, in some sense,
is a responsibility or involvement of Syria in all these files. We have long
asked the Syrian government to play a responsive role in each of these
in Lebanon, in Iraq and in the Palestinian issue.
I don't know yet how to measure their recent diplomatic moves vis-à-vis
but I see -- my first instinct is to note that this is a way for the Syrian
government to address their real responsibility, which has been,
to allow a flow of terrorists into western Iraq through Syria;
not to be supportive of the new government in Baghdad. I understand they had
historic differences with the government of Saddam Hussein. So did many, but
the lack of any effort to recognize the government until very recently shows
where their hearts may really lie. We'll have to see whether this is any
substantial change in their behavior.
QUESTION: But, would you say that this move at this time -- Syrian move
Iraq -- is a positive move?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I'll let the Iraq government and the Iraqi people
be the judge of whether it's positive for their interests or not. In terms
what we see, we ask -- we ask of them and we expect of them -- that is,
-- that they should behave more responsibly inside Iraq. We'll measure
that's the case or not.
QUESTION: Back to Lebanon. The Security Council yesterday has approved the
draft for an international tribunal. Now, the reaction from the Lebanese
president and some factions in Lebanon -- Hezbollah -- was very negative and
they said they are not welcoming this move. Not only that, it's that the
Lebanese President Lahoud said the government, Syria's government, is not
authorized, is not legal enough after the withdrawal of six ministers to
approve such a tribunal. What's your reaction?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: The Lebanese government is founded according to
Lebanese constitution and law. It enjoys legitimacy. The same cannot be said
the person who occupies the presidential office at Baabda right now. The
of the so-called president of Lebanon with respect to this are, in my
The Council has approved the agreement negotiated between the UN and Lebanon
and, please, notice that it was negotiated by Lebanon. This is a supportive
act, to protect the security and laws of Lebanon. It is not designed to
interfere in Lebanese sovereignty. Quite the contrary; it's to help protect
Because the crimes involved here are of such a magnitude, such international
support is not surprising and has been welcomed by many Lebanese. We expect
see it proceed through the cabinet and the parliament according to Lebanese
and rules, and then it will be sent back to the Council for further action.
If the investigation requires it - that is, if it requires a prosecution and
tribunal - this is available for them to use.
QUESTION: But do you see the Lebanese government, at this time, has the
authority to approve such -
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Certainly, it does.
QUESTION: Even after the Hezbollah's --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: That's correct, absolutely. The government is
legally constituted, as is the parliament for that matter, and this will
proceed according to Lebanese law and procedure.
QUESTION: Even without the approval of the president, the Lebanese President
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: If the Lebanese President chooses not to approve
it, and I
hope that he doesn't take that step, then there are other measures according
Lebanese law that can be followed to see this brought into force.
QUESTION: Syria has -- Fayssal Mekdad, Deputy Foreign Minister, yesterday
Syria will not allow any Syrian citizen to be tried in such an international
tribunal. How do you react?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I don't know what he's so worried about if
not involved in the matter. If Syria had no role in these crimes, then it
should not be worried.
QUESTION: And if it comes to the stage where some Syrian officials are
for this tribunal and the Syrian government will refuse, what's the next
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, then I can assure you they will have a big
QUESTION: What sort of problem? Can you elaborate on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, you'd have to ask them. They say they're
involved. I would say to that, then why are they worried?
QUESTION: And my last question is about the Iranian government and the
developments in Lebanon and in the area.
Iran has described this assassination as a terrorist attack and something
by enemies. How do you respond to the Iranian denial of this assassination?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, the Iranian government is free to make its
own statements about these issues and I don't have any observations on the
content of their statement. We consider it an act of terrorism. It's a shame
that this thing happened, and Lebanese people do not deserve this. It's a
delicate and tense situation and we call upon all those who have any kind of
positive feeling toward Lebanon to stay out of their business and let things
move forward in that country.
QUESTION: One final question: There were a lot of talks about a new strategy
with Iran and Syria in the coming phase, starting opening a dialogue. How do
you see the chances of opening a dialogue in these circumstances?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, this is a complicated question. There's
a lot of press speculation about it, of course. In the case of Syria, you
we have an embassy in Damascus, and the issue is not the conversation; it's
cooperation. We can talk to them easily, but it seems to be very difficult
build a basis for cooperation.
With respect to Iran, it's quite different. We don't have diplomatic
with Iran, though there are some channels that we have to the Iranian
government that traditionally we've used on matters of concern in the past.
Again, what we're asking here is very straightforward. We think that the
neighbors of Iraq should contribute to security stability inside that
That includes Iran. With respect to its nuclear program, the United States
willing to talk to Iran about its nuclear program, but we ask it to first
suspend its dangerous nuclear activities.
These matters have been on the table for some time. It's not an
to speak; it's an unwillingness on their part to tackle the main issues that
are on the table.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thank you.
Released on November 29, 2006