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2 Jun, 2009 04:53

“We’ll press Israel to accept Arab peace initiative” – Lebanese PM

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is now fighting for a parliamentary seat in the city of Sidon, says, if elected, he intends to press for withdrawal of Israel from Lebanese and Palestinian territories.

After serving at ministerial level in the government of Rafiq Al-Hariri, Fouad Siniora is now fighting for a parliamentary seat for the first time in his home city of Sidon – an electoral battle everyone believes will be the “mother of electoral battles” in Lebanon.

RT’s sister channel “Rusiya Al-Yaum” met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora for the interview.

Q: First, what are your reasons for taking part in this election, in which if you win, you will claim a parliamentary seat at a time when you have been successfully heading a government for over four years?

Fouad Siniora: It is no secret that for more than 17 years, during my political career, I have not run for parliament. But I respect this institution, from which politicians are legally recognized as the representatives of the people. And when a government is formed it is given trust by the parliament, which represents the people. For me, I have worked in five governments which were formed by martyred Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri as Finance Minister; and after the martyrdom of Rafiq Al- Hariri, I formed the last and current governments. In recent years we have faced so many major experiences and challenges, internal and external, in addition the shock of the 2006 war, terror attacks and explosions, which we all suffered.

Despite all these hardships, I did not actually think of running in parliamentary elections; however, three months ago, prior to my nomination, I was subjected to huge spiritual and moral pressures from the citizens of my city and from my friends and many others who represent public opinion in Sidon. They asked me to stand in the parliamentary elections. The main idea behind my running is not to hold a political position once again, for I have already worked as a finance minister and a prime minister, but because I believe there is still a chance to serve the public and to work for the sake of my country, Lebanon. I want to work to find a means from which I can confirm the independence and Arabism of Lebanon and to show that the real enemy of Lebanon is Israel, which is still occupying parts of our territories and other territories in the Arab homeland, including those of the Palestinians. Also we can work to press Israel further to withdraw from these occupied territories and to accept the Arab peace initiative to end its occupation of all occupied territories. This is on the national level.

Moreover, I see a chance through the parliament to participate in resolving the troubles and challenges facing my home city of Sidon. This city has long represented Lebanon as an Arab country, and has defended its sovereignty and independence. It has also played a great role in facing the Israeli invasion, and from there the first fumes of resistance were set against Israel in 1982. Decision Number 17, known as humiliation decision, was also destroyed at the rocks of Sidon city.

Hence, we have a lot work ahead, especially for the people of Sidon. The city has long been regarded as the capital of the south and the city that unites the west and east of Lebanon. So I feel proud of my city Sidon, from which I began my lifetime’s career, first as a student and after that as finance minister and prime minister.
I do wish that our people will be able to express their opinions, and elect their representatives freely without being subjected to any pressures from any party.

Q: Do you agree with me that Sidon is the mother of electoral battles? And what are the possibilities of your winning and losing in these elections?

FS: Well, I don’t like to use these warlike expressions such as the “Mother of Battles”. I do believe that these elections represent a democratic march.
As a prime minister and as a nominee for the parliament for Sidon city, I call upon all the Lebanese people in general, and the people of Sidon in particular, to practice their electoral rights; it is not only a right, rather, it is the duty of every citizen to participate in the elections.
To the people of Sidon, those who would not support me and those who would support me, I call upon them all to rush to participate in these elections.
No doubt I will try to win. But what’s important for me is the participation of people. If, after the end of the elections I happen to be elected by the people of Sidon as their representative in parliament, then this would be a grand honor and responsibility for me to shoulder. I would reach out to cooperate with everybody in Sidon for the sake of the prosperity and good of our city. I would cooperate with all of its people for the sake of developing the democratic process and the constitutional work both in Sidon and all over Lebanon.

Q: If you were elected to parliament, is it possible we would see you again as the prime minister?

FS: I think this question is not to be pursued now, or later. The answer lies in the hands of the would-be representatives of the Lebanese people. I am a member of the Al-Mustaqbal (future) block and I am proud of this, and this block will have its nominee for this post.

Q: Do you support the return of Nabih Barry as parliamentary speaker?

FS: I believe it’s too early to speak about this. I have a good friendship with Nabih Barry in addition to our work together. However, I believe the process is long and we should concentrate first on making the elections a success and this is very important in forming the future government which would lead the country without tension. A government that cares about the integrity, sovereignty and unity of Lebanon in the face of our enemy, Israel. Throughout the years we faced piles of challenges and problems, which made our march forward difficult. Now it’s time to work hand in hand to overcome these challenges and troubles, by facing them and not by working away and living in luxury. We should march together towards the future of Lebanon as we see it – the future that reassures the Arabism of Lebanon and its independence.

Q: Your Excellency, Israel has started maneuvers along the southern borders. Do you fear something might happen which might lead to a new war in the south?

FS: Over the years we have got used to and are always ready to face any aggression from Israel against Lebanon. However, we have received many letters from the UNIFIL confirming that these maneuvers do not represent any kind of aggression against Lebanon. Nor are they in any way directed against Lebanon. Our position, however, since the announcement by Israel of these maneuvers, is that orders have been given to all military commands and units to be ready and alert to face any possible aggression on the part of Israel against Lebanon. At the same time, we care that Lebanon should not be drawn into a confrontation with Israel. The supreme defense council has been assembled, chaired by the president of Lebanon, and attended by the ministers of defense, the economy, and others. Several relevant points were discussed with respect to these maneuvers and the means of facing them, without creating a state of unjustified horror.

Q: What would be the consequences if the opposition were to win the elections?

FS: I would like to confirm that we must respect the results of the democratic process. The law of 1960 that governs elections is now respected by us; he who wins should be respected and those who lose are bound to accept this and bow before the will of the people. This is the rule. Election results should be respected. After that, things shall go according to the constitution with respect to forming the parliament and forming the government, etc. but the basis for this is respecting the opinion of the people.

Q: How do you read the political positions of the blocks after the elections?

FS: The answer is the results of the elections, which I call a democratic march. I hope that the elections go smoothly without chaos or trouble; and I hope that when the elections end on June the 7th, we all go back and review our understanding of the challenges Lebanon faces and move away from the speculation we currently see. We should all work according to the constitution, AL-Taef constitution, which put an end to our civil war and set out the principles and means by which citizens can practice their rights.
Hence, I do hope that with the end of the elections, all the ethnic groups and sects, shall consciously come together, and work together to pave the way for the future of Lebanon – a successful, prosperous future for Lebanon.

Q: Our last question, your Excellency, Russia declared that it would support the Lebanese people regardless of who wins in the coming elections. Being a prime minister, how do you read the Russian support to Lebanon and the role it plays there?

FS: I have recently met with Mr Lavrov, who is a friend of mine, and for whom I have great respect because he is a competent well-experienced man. I do appreciate his position towards Lebanon, which stems from his respect for the democratic process in Lebanon and the results they lead to. It was a suitable time for us to consult with each other about the many issues concerning Lebanon and in which he assured the support of Russia, from its president Medvedev, to prime minister Putin, who both confirmed their care about the independence of Lebanon and about the execution of the Arab peace initiative to put an end to the conflict in the region.

Russia also confirmed its continuous support for the Lebanese army and the Lebanese police as well. Russia has always been with us; we found Russia when we were assaulted by many external and internal forces which tried to destroy the independence and integrity of Lebanon. We found Russia when Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006 and we were helped by Russia in rebuilding great parts of our infrastructure. Russia is currently helping the Lebanese army, and it declared its readiness to provide Lebanon with war fighters – in addition to its participation in the removal of mines from the territories of Lebanon. You know that between August 12th 2006 and August 14th 2006, when UNSC resolution 1701 was issued, Israel started dropping millions of cluster bombs all over the Lebanese territories, from which we are still suffering. We have been calling upon Israel to provide us with maps of where these cluster bombs are. Unfortunately, we received some of these maps only recently, which we hope are complete, in order for us to end the suffering of our people.

We would like here to acknowledge our appreciation and gratitude to the Russian federation, its people and government, for their endless support to Lebanon and her people.