Frattini, Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Mr President, honourable senators. As you know, the agreement reached in Doha last week brings an end to a very complex crisis that began in November 2006. It was triggered by the resignation of Prime Minister Siniora’s government and of five Shiite ministers and the leader of the Christian grouping close to the pro-Syrian President at that time, Lahoud.
This opened up a clear political crisis that paralysed Lebanon for 18 months and split the country into two strongly opposed camps. On one side, the opposition, which above all contested the Government’s constitutional and political legitimacy. It claimed that the main religious faiths in Lebanon were no longer represented proportionately in the cabinet. And on the other side, the forces of the majority, which has always considered Siniora’s executive to be legitimate. As indeed have Lebanon’s main international partners, who had formal and diplomatic relations and relationships based on cooperation with the Siniora government during this period. The majority did not feel – and nor did out-going prime minister Siniora – that they were institutionally responsible for the departure of the Shiite ministers. Moreover, prime minister Siniora had not formally accepted the six ministers’ resignations. They therefore found themselves in the position of having resigned, but still being formally in office: that is, they were still carrying out some of their functions, albeit indirectly.
The main problem was the complete lack of trust between the various elements of the government. This was worsened by a steady and truly horrifying series of attacks that also struck members of the Lebanese Parliament. For a long time, this stood in the way of an agreement on the three main points: the election of a president of the republic (an office that has been vacant since 24 November 2007); the formation of a government of national unity; and the adoption of a new, agreed electoral law. A number of initiatives adopted by the Siniora Government had the effect of ending this impasse with a jolt and moving the situation forward.
At the beginning of May, the decision that in some way triggered change in this situation of apparent (but, clearly, negative) balance was the decision to remove General Shukair, head of the security services at Beirut airport. Shukair, a Shiite close to Hezbollah, was accused of monitoring the airport in a manner that was not allowed.
The other decision taken by the Prime Minister was to dismantle a “dedicated” communications network within Hezbollah. This led to the reaction of which we are all too aware: 7 days of fighting, 72 deaths, 242 people injured. In this situation the Arab League (and one authoritative member in particular, Egypt) promoted a extraordinary meeting that led to a mission to Beirut by an Arab League committee. This was led by the League’s secretary general, Amr Moussa, and by the prime minister of Qatar, and comprised 8 foreign ministers from Arab countries.
This is the background to the recent action by the Italian Government in this state of crisis. Just a few hours after the Berlusconi Government was sworn in on 9 May, I found myself in the situation – informed and willing, naturally – of opening a series of contacts to pave the way for the Italian government to contribute to the initiative. We did this by providing strong support and acting as liaison for the Arab League’s diplomatic initiative. An initiative that I felt from the outset to be reasonable and positive. This liaison role was led jointly by the Italian Government, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – so four European partners – and the United States of America. I naturally felt the need to make immediate contact with Prime Minister Siniora and with the speaker of the Parliament, Berri, the Amal leader.
I first reiterated to both, back on 9 May, the Italian Government’s support in that highly critical period. This support was accompanied, of course, by an equally clear condemnation of the unacceptable wave of violence that was taking place. This could be seen in the road blocks and closures, and the Hezbollah militia’s occupation of a number of neighbourhoods in Beirut. We then agreed on a further meeting, a phone conference extended to the group we defined as the “Friends of Lebanon”, comprising the foreign ministers of about 15 countries. The ministers of the European countries I mentioned earlier obviously took part, along with the foreign ministers of many Arab League countries and the United States. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, also took part through a link. During the teleconference, which took place on 10 May, we agreed, essentially, that a mission like the one undertaken by the Arab League deserved our absolute and unconditional support. The reason being, that it was based on the declared goal of fostering an agreement by the Lebanese political forces.
This agreement was achieved, after the political parties in Beirut agreed to extend an invitation to the Arab League delegation. The invitation was “sealed” by the 15 countries forming the Friends of Lebanon group and paved the way for the Doha talks. The commitment – at a personal level also – by the Emir of Qatar was decisive. He led in the action of persuading the mission and all the delegations involved to meet in Doha. Where, during the night of 20-21 May 2008, they reached an agreement.
This agreement was based on a number of points. First is the election of the head of the Lebanese armed forces, General Suleiman, as President of the Republic, an event which took place last Sunday and which I attended. Second is the formation of a government of national unity composed of 30 ministers, of which 16 for the majority, 11 for the opposition and 3 to be appointed by President Suleiman. And the third and final point is a return to the 1960 electoral legislation.
The agreement also included an undertaking, which I believe is very important and to which I will soon return, by all signatory parties to refrain from the use of force and from using arms within Lebanese territory. The exceptions to this, clearly, are the Lebanese army and police forces, which have sole legitimate authority to use arms or resort to force. The agreement also includes a political commitment to open a parallel dialogue immediately to reinforce what it defines as the authority of the Lebanese state.
Who obtained what? The opposition obtained a government with clearly defined components. It will be formed in the next few weeks, and so in a very short timescale, as President Suleiman told me in our bilateral meeting half-an-hour after his election. And here, by the way, I have to add that Italy was the first country with which President Suleiman agreed to have a bilateral meeting. Within this government structure, the opposition has obtained a blocking minority. This was one of its strongest demands: given the number of ministers, if those from the opposition were to resign this could bring down the government, since it would lose more than a third of its members. The opposition’s demands included a substantial power of veto on constitutional reform provisions. The quorum was also increased to allow such reforms to be adopted – and this seems logical to me – even when the support of the opposition is necessary.
The Christian community – the other side – obtained an equally important success. Because, if we analyse the 1960 electoral law, which will be adopted for the general election in spring 2009, we can see that the Christian party could recover a significant degree of influence. This is because the distribution of the constituencies on the basis of small electoral districts (the new electoral system creates more – but geographically smaller – districts) will presumably enable the Christian electorate to elect its own members of parliament. They will enjoy greater autonomy than they did under the strong local influence that the 2000 law gave the other two communities, the Shiites and Sunni. It’s clear that the Sunni majority forces have expressed their satisfaction over this agreement because it could, in their analysis, pave the way for a new period of stability in Lebanon’s history.
Several delicate questions face President Suleiman and the future government. These include the distribution of the ministerial portfolios, on which a decision has not yet been reached, and the new government’s programme. Relations with Syria will also need to be addressed, including the definition of borders and establishing formal diplomatic relations with Damascus. On this point, as many of you will already know, on the evening of Sunday 21 May the Syrian Foreign Minister officially attended President Suleiman’s election, as head of his country’s delegation. Relations between Lebanon and Israel in the period until the international court to investigate the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri begins operating are another highly important political point. This last issue was part of the agreement, and one on which the Sunni community has always laid great emphasis.
This framework also includes what I consider to be a sine qua non for the institutional stabilisation of Lebanon and its consolidation. This is the need to implement Security Council Resolution 1559 in full. Resolution 1559 envisages the disarmament of all the militia, especially that of Hezbollah, a point to which the Doha agreement refers explicitly. I define it as a sine qua non because, as President Suleiman said in his address, if the militia do not disarm in parallel with the consolidation of a new Lebanese army with the necessary means, structures and professionalism to function properly, the institutional consolidation of Lebanon will not take place.
The remaining unknown factors primarily concern the role of Hezbollah, which has obtained an important result. I am referring, clearly, to Hezbollah as a party, and not to the militias, which are to be broken up. The Hezbollah party, which will probably have ministers in the new government, is obviously facing a challenge. It must either share responsibility to fully implement the Doha agreement, and not just the parts that it agrees with, and so play a part in the consolidation of Lebanon. Or else it can continue to make a distinction between those parts of the agreement it agrees with and the parts it would prefer to ignore.
I hope this latter situation doesn’t develop. I did gain the impression from my discussions with the Lebanese that after the 2006 conflict Hezbollah lost the sympathy of large parts of the population. This is because Hezbollah, which had been legitimised through its identification with anti-Israeli resistance, was seen for the first time resorting to arms to attack other Lebanese. This had a very strong impact on the way Lebanon’s civilian population perceive the militia – to the latter’s detriment.
The second unknown is the regional context, most notably the development of contacts between Lebanon, Syria and Israel. In prospect, I see an opportunity to restore normal relations between Lebanon and Syria. As I told you, the regime in Damascus showed their appreciation of the election of President Suleiman by taking part with the presence of their foreign minister. So, an unprecedented high-level presence at such a formal ceremony. They reiterated that they set great store on observing Lebanese sovereignty. This is most important: as President Suleiman said – and I agree – normalisation can only occur if it is based on two key points: the autonomy and independence of the Lebanese nation with respect to all other neighbouring nations. So it is clear that the principle of autonomy and independence will be the key to opening negotiations on normalisation, including the demarcation of the borders which, as you know, have still to be defined.
Another regional issue we need to consider is how any Lebanese-Israeli negotiations will develop, if indeed they do take place. This point, clearly, is still far from agreement, as long as Hezbollah continues to define itself as an anti-Israeli resistance and the militia continue to be active at the local level. As you are well aware, Hezbollah’s militias have taken the unresolved question of a small, but symbolically important, region as a pretext for their self-defined anti-Israeli resistance. This is the Shebaa farms, controlled by the Israeli army and contested, as you know, by Lebanon, Syria and Israel itself. One aspect, however, gives us grounds if not for optimism, then for hope. Some sources, as yet unconfirmed, have mentioned advanced contacts between Israel and Lebanon for the return of the two Israeli soldiers taken prisoner during the conflict in 2006. I naturally hope, with all my heart, that these contacts really lead to the freeing of Israeli soldiers still in Lebanese hands. And I hope that this agreement leads in the future to increasing normalisation, in this respect at least.
To this we must add the prospects for negotiations between Syria and Israel, on which point talks are even being considered, under the auspices of a facilitator, Turkey. I spoke with Turkey’s representatives when I was in Beirut, and in particular with their foreign minister, Babacan. He told me very clearly that these negotiations are being taken seriously; the framework isn’t complete, and they cannot yet be defined as formal, but they are serious. If all these elements proceed in a positive manner we’ll have good cause for optimism, especially as regards the prospects for Lebanon, which is clearly a vital factor.
As regards Italy’s political commitment – and this brings me to my conclusion – we naturally continue to support the dialogue. We welcomed Suleiman’s election and, before that, the Doha agreement, which was necessary for Lebanon to make a new start. We’re at the start of the road, not the end, but it’s clear that Italy is viewed in Lebanon as holding authority and prestige. We don’t have ulterior aims; we don’t have a past history other than that of friendship and neighbourly relations. We must work to foster stability in Lebanon. To President Suleiman I have reiterated the Italian government’s support for the Lebanese government and people, and our hope that the government will be formed soon and that ample room will be given to Lebanon’s real problem issues: stability and security on the one hand, and economic recovery on the other.
I also took this opportunity to confirm our support for the UNIFIL 2 mission, as Minister La Russa had done a few days earlier. This mission, as you already know, has attracted unanimous approval; it has enabled a buffer zone to be created south of the Litani River. Resolution 1701 envisages a mandate to provide assistance for the Lebanese forces in order to create a weapon-free area. The mandate also envisages that only the Lebanese authorities may be responsible for forcibly disarming the militias on the ground.
It is clear that we need to work very hard on this issue: on how to foster stability and new conditions of security and sovereignty in Lebanon in particular, because this is a precondition for the security of Israel also. I believe that definitive stabilisation – for example, within the hoped-for Israeli-Lebanese negotiations, which should lead to the ceasefire being placed on a permanent footing – will also be a fundamental element in contributing to the security of the State of Israel.
Much has been said about the rules of engagement. A reading of these confirms that, again under Resolution 1701, the UNIFIL forces are allowed to use force to ensure that their area of operations is not used for hostile activities, is not used as a transit area for armed groups and is not used to resist the UNIFIL missions themselves. The objective on which Minister La Russa recently focused attention was that of applying the existing rules for the buffer zone effectively. That means reinforcing the joint activities with the Lebanese armed forces and increasing the number of inspections and the amount of controls, checks and monitoring on the ground.
I can give you some figures: since the joint check-points were set up by the Lebanese and UNIFIL forces, in the period from 15 April alone 13,000 vehicles and 22,000 civilians have been checked. The joint patrols are working and will go on working. We are engaged with the Ministry of Defence in monitoring activity to make our presence even more effective, if I may say so, to the benefit of the Lebanese people, even within the framework of the existing rules.
In all this, we will continue to work in close contact with Europe and the United States of America, and clearly with our other international partners too. These include the Arab countries, who have a strategic interest in seeing this new page for Lebanon become a reality. (Applause from the PdL, LNP, PD and UDC-SVP-Aut groups).