Beirut, Lebanon

28 August 2006

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Press Conference with Lebanese Premier Fuad Siniora (unofficial transcript)

SG: Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister,

As the Prime Minister said, we had very constructive and very good discussions today. He is working very hard since I arrived. Let me say that I am very pleased to be back in Lebanon, in a country whose people I have always admired, a country that has once again seen some very tragic times.

My heart goes out to the Lebanese people, to the families who have lost loved ones, to the orphans who have been left behind.

The unity of the Lebanese people has made a deep impression on the international community. We are here to help, to assist and serve you, based on your own national decisions, to strengthen your sovereignty and independence, based on the requirements of Security Council Resolution 1701, which your government has fully and unanimously endorsed.

It is time now to look to the future. Let us look at this post-war period as an opportunity for peace, prosperity and stability in Lebanon. We must all work together to rebuild Lebanon, to create a safe and secure environment, including the removal of landmines and unexploded ordnances.

The United Nations has made every effort, within its limited resources, to help the people of Lebanon and will continue to do so with our international partners.

The cessation of hostilities has on the whole been holding remarkably well.

Israeli forces have been withdrawing from positions it occupied, while the Lebanese Army has been deploying in the South.

UNIFIL is there to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces to exercise its full authority in the south.

In Lebanon, there should be, as we have all agree, one law, one authority, one gun.

I am urging my Israeli interlocutors to lift immediately the blockade on Lebanon and I am working with them and other international partners to ensure this is done.

I also renew my call for the abducted soldiers to be freed and as a first step to be transferred under the auspices of ICRC either to the Government of Lebanon or to a third party. And we, the UN, would be prepared to play a role if we are required to do so. And I offered our services.

And we must also address the issue of all other prisoners.

Without the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, I fear the risk is great for a renewal of hostilities.

National unity is essential to make the cessation of hostilities sustainable based on SCR 1701. It is not, let me stress –and I did say this to the minister –it is a fixed menu, it is not a buffet, it is not a smorgasbrod, it is not an “a la carte” menu where you choose and pick. We have to implement SCR 1701 in its entirety. And I hope all parties will pay attention to that and add to that spirit.

I am delighted that we now have a credible core of UNIFIL II, as called for by Security Council Resolution 1701. The European countries are in the process of contributing nearly 9000 troops and I am working with other countries to supplement this force. We expect to have troops from other, Islamic, countries. I am pleased to say that we are beginning to really deploy. France is in the process of deploying, Italy is going to begin soon. In the first phase, we want to get in as quickly as possible 3500 troops and then move to the second and third phases.

In order to avoid a resumption of hostilities, all Lebanese parties should respect the Blue Line in its entirety and prevent any border attacks. And I must say I have been impressed by the respect that Lebanon has shown the Blue Line since the cessation of hostilities and the discipline that has been shown all round.

For the cessation of hostilities to become a sustainable cease-fire, it is important to establish an arms-free zone in the South, without any qualifications, through a national agreement.

All provisions of the Taif Agreement should be implemented, in particular, its call for the disarming and disbanding of all militia. This will contribute to solidifying Lebanon's national unity.

I also want to say that I would want to see the neighboring states extend their full cooperation to resolve all outstanding issues related to the borders. And I do intend to take this up during my visit to the region.

We must now take every step to turn the cessation of hostilities into a long-term durable ceasefire. But in the final analysis, it is only a just and comprehensive peace that can bring an end, finally, to the conflict in the Middle East.

And I would also want to thank the government for all efforts it is taking to secure its borders, land, sea and airports. And I think the neighboring countries should also do the same. And the government is taking very concrete steps which I am aware of to ensure that this is done. And it is important that the borders are protected and there are no attempts to rearm. Lebanon has seen too much conflict, there are too many arms in

the country already, you don't need anymore. Not only has Lebanon to protect its borders, but all nations have to respect the Security council Resolution which has imposed [an] embargo on arms shipments into Lebanon.

Thank you very much.

Q: What did you discuss in your meeting with Minister Fneish (Hizbollah minister)?

SG: I have discussed with the Minister who was also in the Cabinet meeting the issue of the abducted soldiers and the need for them to be released and also the Lebanese prisoners.

Q: What is the scope of the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon and will it react if it finds arms other than the legal arms?

SG: First of all there are not supposed to be any arms in the South and I hope that everyone will respect the 1701 and the rules of engagement. According to the Resolution, there should be no other arms in the South, except that of the Lebanese Army and the international forces. The Israeli troops will be gone and so they will also leave with their weapons. Down the line as we have indicated there will have to be disarmament but that is something that the Lebanese government and the people are going to resolve. There has to be a national consensus and a political agreement. If they come across weapons which are being used in a threatening way they may need to intervene. But other than that they are not going to go house to house searching for weapons; this is not their responsibility.

Q: What is needed for UNIFIL not to be in the crossfire between Hizbollah and Israel?

SG: I think we are there to monitor the ceasefire and to help eventually implement a political agreement that both parties are going to accept and to work with them to underpin a longer term stability and ceasefire. We are not the enemy to either side and they should be careful not to shoot at us and I hope that will not happen. We have a very good General, and very good well trained soldiers who know how to handle such a situation. But, of course, if their lives are in danger and [if] they are attacked they will have to defend themselves. It is part of their mandate, they have to defend themselves and also if we see civilians in the immediate vicinity being attacked they will have to defend them but they are not here to fight.

Q: (inaudible)?.what future is there for peace if Hizbollah is not disarmed?

SG: I think we need to look at history and situations around the world. Many armed groups around the world have been disarmed. Many have been disarmed through political agreements and understanding, more through that route than through forcible disarmament. This is why it is important that there is a kind of dialogue that has gone on in this country and which was taking place before the war. The national dialogue had on its agenda the question of disarmament and this issue should be taken up again. I am confident most Lebanese, if not all of them, would want to see a society free of weapons; most Lebanese would want to see a situation where the only authority in the land and the only gun in the land is under the control of the Government. So let's not kid ourselves and pretend that the only way to disarm groups of militia is through force. Look around you, look into history, I can give you lots of examples. And, some of the armed groups that you have unarmed are now in respectable governments.

Q: Like the IRA?

SG: You have given one example.

Q: (Inaudible)

SG: I think we have to be careful how we judge UNIFIL. I think we have been absolutely unfair to these courageous men and women who have been there for long time and we have lost close to 300 people since we deployed in Lebanon. During the war they stayed through, they did not withdraw and they were the first on the ground to help?to assist and to provide humanitarian assistance. They have a clear mandate?their mandate was not to separate the Israeli army and Hizbollah. So you need to be fair; they have accepted the new mandate to help stabilize the south and work with the parties to ensure that we can attain a durable ceasefire and work on a longer term peace and they are going to do that. But before you judge them ask yourselves what was the mandate, what was the capability, what were they expected to do. Don't blame them unfairly.

Q: ?blockade and Shebaa farms?

SG: Yes it is on my agenda in both countries and I do intend to discuss it with them. I have already discussed it here and I will discuss it with all other parties concerned with that issue.

Q: On the siege?..

SG: We are working for the lifting of the siege and I have been discussing with Israeli authorities and other international partners and I will discuss it when I am in Israel tomorrow and I hope to see some movement on that in the not too distant future. I hope we will have some positive news.

Q: Syria and the Shebaa Farms issue and how do you think Resolution 1701 can be implemented practically?

SG: I am going there to discuss it with President Assad and with Israel. I cannot give you an answer before I have discussed it with the key players.

Q: You said that UNIFIL soldiers will defend themselves, will that also include shooting at Israeli soldiers if they attack. My second part of the question is don't you think it is shameful that the UN needs to seek approval of Israel for the passage of humanitarian aid?

SG: Let me say that the soldiers will use forcible means to defend themselves regardless of who attacks them. On your second question, when you are in a war situation and your unarmed humanitarian workers are trying to offer assistance you often have to talk to those with the guns to stop shooting whether they are Israelis, or whether they are the Taliban or anybody else. It is a way you do business otherwise you will not be able to assist the needy and then you continue to work for a ceasefire. That is the way these things work.

Q: Will UNIFIL deploy on the Lebanon-Syrian border?

SG: We have no such plans at the moment. As I said not long ago it is not in their mandate to deploy to the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Q: (inaudible)

SG: Let me say that since the end of the war I have been asked all sorts of questions: who won, who lost. I think all these are the wrong questions. Quite frankly in my opinion, in war all are losers. Secondly, what happened here during the past six weeks should wake up the world and wake us up. What we need is to focus on the future and the longer term peace for the region. We need to tackle the root causes; we need to show that we do reenergize the Middle East peace process to ensure that what happened the past month in the past six weeks does not happen six months from now, six years from now, and that Lebanon can recover and rebuild in the full confidence that this will not happen again. That is what we need and that is why we should focus on.

Q: Question on Lebanon securing its borders and whether the blockade would be the priority tomorrow in your discussions in Israel?

SG: I think on the question of securing the border the government is taking very concrete steps, very concrete action with the support of international partners to have the right equipment; have training for its personnel, expertise and secure the borders. The prime minister has indicated by that he means that land, sea and air and I am very satisfied with the steps that the Government is taking to control those borders and I consider that once that is done it is going to be satisfactory. We are ready to take action today. On the second question, yes it should be part of my key items I take up in Israel.

Q: Regarding the release of the two Israeli soldiers could you tell us where we are now?

SG: Let me say we are discussing it, as I said today the discussions will continue and I am sure we will find a solution and they will be released.