Exclusive WSN interview with Pierre A. Maroun, Secretary General of the American Lebanese Coordination Council in Washington, D.C.

Posted in Broader Middle East | 06-Mar-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Pierre A. Maroun is Secretary General of the American Lebanese Coordination Council in Washington, D.C.: "Thus, we will be giving the Arab world a new and democratic "Lebanese face"!"

Pierre A. Maroun was part of the team that lobbied the US Congress and the State Department for an independent and sovereign Lebanon (see www.alcc-research.com).

WSN Correspondent "Broader Middle East" Manuela Paraipan interviewed Pierre A. Maroun exclusively.

WSN: The Lebanese people proved that they could stand united, but what comes next? The pro-Syrian government has resigned, but what will the opposition do next?

MAROUN: For over a millennium, the Lebanese people have lived together in peace and harmony. Lebanon was known to have been the only safe haven for the oppressed in the Middle East. Wars occurred occasionally, but only due to foreign interference and meddling in Lebanese affairs. The next step for the Lebanese is to follow the constitutional procedures. Now that Lebanon's president has accepted the cabinet's resignation, there will be parliamentary consultations to select a new prime minister, which in turn will form a new cabinet of national unity and then take the necessary measures.

WSN: What about General Aoun? Is he willing to return to Lebanon? Do you think he would cooperate with the Druze leader Walid Jumblat and the Christian opposition?

MAROUN: It is up to General Aoun to return to Lebanon or to remain in France. As for cooperation with the opposition it is imminent, especially since the opposition is united and working as a Lebanese one instead of as a Christian, a Druze or a Muslim one.

WSN: Please comment on UN Resolution 1559 and the Taef Accord. Will we see these agreements implemented? Here I'm mainly talking about Hezbollah. Will it give up at its armed wing?

MAROUN: Presidents Chirac and Bush firmly requested that Syria implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559 immediately. As for the Taef Accord, the Lebanese opposition has stressed on many occasions its commitment to the Accord that in fact is the Lebanese constitution. Besides, once UNSCR 1559 is implemented, the internal aspect of the Accord that has not been implemented will easily fall into place.

WSN: What about AMAL? This party was loyal to Syria. Will it continue to be so?

MAROUN: It is up to the AMAL leadership to remain loyal to the Syrian Baath regime and alienate itself from the rest of the country. My advice to Speaker Nabih Berri is to jump on the wagon of independence before this current brushes him and his movement aside.

WSN: What is likely to happen if Hezbollah does not join the opposition, as many believe? Will it finally matter?

MAROUN: This is a very critical period for the entire country, but especially for Hezbollah. Hezbollah will have to choose between keeping Syria's military backing and losing Lebanese moral support. After all, Hezbollah is considered a "resistance" movement only because the Lebanese say so. If Hezbollah loses such cover, then it will become just another outlawed militia. I suspect that Hezbollah's Secretary General, Hasan Nasrallah, is smart enough to align himself with the opposition because it is his only way out of being crushed by the US military machine.

WSN: Will the opposition be strong enough to hold free and democratic parliamentary elections in May 2005?

MAROUN: The demonstrations have proved that the opposition is strong enough to unite all parties under the Lebanese banner. The disciplined Lebanese demonstrators also proved to be strong enough to prevent the Syrian moukhabarats (intelligence) from causing fights among them in order to create a chaotic situation in the country that would require police or army intervention. Thus, I believe free and democratic elections will take place in May 2005. To discourage Syrian interference, we will demand international poll monitors from the US and Europe.

WSN: On the other hand, at the demonstration today I've seen banners with "Syria out", but also with "we do not want the US in"?

MAROUN: The Lebanese people have come to the conclusion that any foreign interference in their country's affairs is bad. Therefore, they do not wish to replace Syrian interference with American interference.

WSN: In this context, will UN Resolution 1559 be fully implemented? Some argue in the Lebanese (Arabic) press that the opposition wants Syria out but does not want Hezbollah disarmed - at least not until the Shebaa Farms issue is resolved.

MAROUN: UNSCR 1559 will be implemented. However, such a task is the responsibility of the UN Security Council and not the Lebanese opposition. Therefore, the Lebanese opposition will call for the implementation of the Taef Accord, and they will let the UN do its work. As for the Arab media, they are out of touch with reality, especially regarding the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

WSN: President Assad declared that he would not withdraw Syrian army troops from Lebanon until the Golan Heights issue is solved with the Israelis. While it is obvious that he is swimming against the flow, is Lebanon in danger of witnessing a second civil war? I'm mainly thinking about the Hezbollah - Syrian axis fighting together in the Bekaa.

MAROUN: The world has changed tremendously since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and even more so after the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, as well as the invasion of Iraq. However, the Syrian Baath regime has been refusing to acknowledge such change and the new reality of the diminished Syrian role in the region. They simply live in denial. Anyway, it is not up to Assad to keep his troops in Lebanon. He will withdraw, and Hezbollah will disarm.

WSN: Will the US attack Syria if Assad refuses to obey the Taef Accord and Resolution 1559?

MAROUN: Everything is possible. The US always keeps its options open, especially since France and most European nations agree that Syria must leave Lebanon.

WSN: What will President Lahoud do in the post-Hariri era? Do you expect him to make a move in one direction or another?

MAROUN: Due to the powerful anti-Syrian, anti-regime demonstrations that have been filling the streets of Beirut since the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri and after the collapse of Omar Karmi's cabinet, Lahoud's influence has diminished drastically. His only option is to uphold the constitution and to begin consultations with members of parliament in order to appoint a new prime minister. The only other option for him is to resign.

WSN: What is your view on the new Middle East "friendly axis" (as opposed to President Bush's "evil axis") - Syria, Russia and Iran?

MAROUN: Neither Russia nor Iran or Syria is in a position to challenge the USA, especially after President Bush's successful mending trip to Europe. I believe such an alliance will crumble at the first military strike, or when economic sanctions are imposed.

WSN: In light of the latest events in Beirut, are we witnessing a new phase in Lebanese - Syrian relations?

MAROUN: Lebanon is a nation that prior to the Syrian occupation was a part of the free world, championing democracy, freedom of religion and a free market system. Today, we are witnessing a rebirth of Lebanon's independence. The Lebanese are reaffirming these values.

WSN: Will relations change and if so, how?

MAROUN: Yes indeed. When the new parliament is elected, the Lebanese will examine every treaty that was signed under occupation. We will seek to establish diplomatic relations with Syria through the exchange of ambassadors as most normal countries do.

WSN: Can we have peace in the Middle East, without Syria's participation?

MAROUN: No. We cannot have peace in the Middle East unless all parties involved agree to peace. However, we can have peace without the participation of the Syrian Baath regime if the Syrian people rebel and reclaim their country.

WSN: What are your thoughts in brief about this whole issue?

MAROUN: If history has taught us anything, it is that nothing is constant in the Middle East except Lebanon. Therefore, predicting what might happen to the Middle East, it seems that the Arab radical "democratic" regimes will not be around for long. Taking into consideration President Bush's doctrine to spread freedom and democracy around the world, especially in the Middle East, and acknowledging the US military presence in the region clearly exemplify that there is going to be more change of maps and regimes in the region! However, there are priorities.

The immediate aim of the US was to destroy the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, as it was a safe haven for terrorism. Secondly, the US invaded Iraq and destroyed Saddam's tyrannical regime, which was to a lesser extent a threat to peace and stability in the region. If the US is serious about the war on terrorism - which it is - the only way to go from Iraq is either east towards Iran or west towards Syria, for these two countries are well known for sponsoring, training and exporting terrorism. In the worst case, the US might strike both at the same time since the two countries have established an alliance with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Having said that, it is imminent that Syria obeys US/UN demands by withdrawing its troops from Lebanon, end its support of terrorism, reform its political and economic systems and hand over the rest of the Iraqi Baathists living in Syria along with the Iraqi funds in its banks. If the Assad regime fails to comply, it must be prepared to face the consequences.

In fact, Syria has positioned itself in a lose/lose situation. If by some miracle Syria were to escape the iron fangs of the UN and the US, it would not survive the required political and economic reform, because the Baath regime has been outdated beyond redemption. Thus, it will simply collapse the day their troops and secret service apparatus cross the Lebanese border.

For three decades, the Syrian regime's main aim has been to get hold of Lebanon's wealth by "Syrianizing" Lebanese society, and through the "Baathification" of its regime. They bombed cities and towns, kidnapped and terrorized innocent people, they appointed ministers, representatives, and even mayors and they assassinated leaders who opposed their will. They did it all, and more, in the name of subduing the Lebanese people. They succeeded for a while, but when the moment of truth arrived, reality hit them in the face when they found out that the Lebanese would always first and foremost be Lebanese.

I believe that from its position on the borders of Iran, Syria, Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the US will use its influence to alter, or topple where necessary, all of these regimes. A new form of democratic system that protects minorities and freedom of expression will be imposed in the entire region. The constitutions of the expected new regimes will be very similar, if not based, on the Lebanese one.

Thus, we will be giving the Arab world a new and democratic "Lebanese face."

WSN: Thank you very much for your time and opinions, Pierre.