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10 July 2013 - Lebanon - Remarks to the press by Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

I would like to draw your attention to the presidential statement which has just been adopted by the Security Council. A presidential statement means that the Council is united behind it. Second point, why Lebanon, considering that the real crisis is in Syria? Simply because this country, as you know, is threatened to be engulfed into the Syrian crisis. I think it is nearly a miracle that this country has succeeded to resist to the incredible pressures and tensions which are stemming from the Syrian crisis. For more than two years now, the Lebanese have avoided the worst. But the situation is worsening everyday.

First, the refugees: now there are more than 640 000 refugees in Lebanon, which means that Lebanon has the highest ratio per capita for refugees in the world. And these refugees, I think we have to pay a tribute to the Lebanese society. They are not in refugee camps, there are no refugee camps in Lebanon. They are really greeted by the Lebanese institutions, by the Lebanese families and by the Lebanese people. But in a country which is struck by the economic crisis, because of course Lebanon is victim of an economic crisis caused by the Syrian crisis, such a burden is heavier, heavier and tougher for the Lebanese.

Second point of course, the intersectarian and political tensions are increasing; you have seen the incidents in Tripoli, in Sidon, but also you have seen the bombing in the suburb of Beirut.

Last point, you have a political system that is really the victim of these tensions: there is no government. Political crisis is looming.

It was thus the will of France to present a text that sends a message of support to the Lebanese, especially to the President Sleimane who in this crisis, in a very courageous manner, is really fighting to keep his country out of the conflict. We also wanted to send a message of support to the Lebanese army, which is the pillar of Lebanese stability and also to all the parties and groups in Lebanon, so that they respect the policy of dissociation. That’s the national policy that’s been agreed by the Lebanese in June 2012, a policy of dissociation from the Syrian crisis. We have heard the leader of a major Lebanese party acknowledging that they are fighting in the Syrian crisis, and we consider it is a negative development. These were our main objectives. You can look at the text, it is a pretty comprehensive text, it is a substantial text and again, it shows the unity of the Council on this matter.

For the French, it was very important to tell the 14 other members that Lebanon is not a sideshow to the Syrian crisis; we are not trying to shift or to convey the Syrian crisis into Lebanon. It is the opposite. This text is trying to beg all the Lebanese parties, but also the Syrian forces, to respect the dissociation policy because this dissociation policy is the only hope we have to avoid that Lebanon be dragged into the conflict.

Q: You have good leverage with the 14 March groups in Lebanon. Did you use your contact with them to press on them to stop arming the opposition and to stop recruiting and sending people to Syria?

The policy that we follow is to say to all the Lebanese parties that it is in the interest of Lebanon to respect the policy of dissociation. Some Lebanese are supporting war, contributing to the Syrian crisis, some of them have even publicly acknowledged it: the Hezbollah. Some are alleged, as the ones that you were referring to. As I said, we are not trying to say who are the goodies and the baddies. We are telling that the Lebanese dissociation policy is the only way to avoid the worst for the country. Lebanon went through a civil war from 1975 to 1989, so the Lebanese know what the cost of a civil war is. We are sending a real political message, but it is up to the Lebanese of course to solve the crisis. And in this situation, we do consider that President Sleimane and the Lebanese arm forces are the pillar of the stability of the State of Lebanon.

Q: Why isn’t Hezbollah referred to specifically?

You know the answer to the question. If Hezbollah is not referred to, it is simply because this text is a compromise. It is a compromise between the 15 members of the Security Council. France considers that we could have referred to Hezbollah, simply because Hezbollah itself has publicly acknowledged its active participation to the war in Syria. But other members of the Security Council members didn’t want. But we, the French, didn’t want to fight a new battle linked to the Syrian crisis. We wanted to concentrate on the stability of Lebanon. We do consider that the text, as it is, is a good compromise.

Q: Lebanon has called for a conference on its refugee crisis. Will you discuss it at the Security Council?

For the moment, we have not discussed it in the Lebanese context. But there will be as you may know, as Luxembourg has requested, a session of the Security Council, next week I guess, on the humanitarian situation in Syria, with Mr. Guterres, Mrs. Amos and other responsibles of the humanitarian action. So maybe this issue will be raised. But for the moment, it is the political situation of the country that we have tackled: how to support the political situation in Lebanon.

Q : Yesterday, the Russian ambassador came and said that he had sent to the Secretary General a dossier on chemical weapons showing evidence points that the rebels have used them. He said we was going to give it to you, as to your British and American counterparts. Have you received it? And has your position moved?

We have not yet received it, but I have been told that we are going to. As I have said to some of your colleagues yesterday, it is the clear evidence, one more piece of evidence, that we need an investigation in Syria, conducted by an impartial body. That impartial body of course is the UN team. We have been requesting the Syrian authorities to allow the access, by Mr. Sellström, to the site where there is a credible allegation of the use of chemical weapons. And you know that there is not only this site, there are other sites. The fact is that the Syrian authorities have refused this access so far. So we do hope they will change their mind.

Q: On Lebanon. Do you think that the army chief, Mr. Kahwaji’s term could be retarded, in this current situation? Can he be of some help?

We are not going to interfere with the Lebanese institutions. It is up to the Lebanese to decide who the chief of staff is. As a foreign country, I don’t dare to discuss it, it is the Lebanese sovereignty.

Thank you very much.

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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU