Press Conference by United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon on Security Council Resolution 1701 (2006), 21 July 2011
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
In a wide-ranging press conference at Headquarters today, Michael Williams, United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, assessed the progress and setbacks in the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), saying that major issues — including the existence of arms outside State control, their use as a political instrument and Israel’s presence in the border village of Ghajar — must be tackled in order for Lebanon to exercise full sovereignty over its territory.
Mr. Williams, who presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on resolution 1701 (2006) to the Security Council this morning, recalled that 12 July had marked the fifth anniversary of the war between Israel and Lebanon, which prompted the resolution’s adoption. Despite some tensions, “the resolution has held very well”, he said. Both sides recognized that their relationship today was the quietest it had been in 30 years and that the resolution had contributed to the calm.
Lebanon’s recent election of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, after six months without a Government, also had set the stage for other gains, Mr. Williams said, welcoming the Prime Minister’s commitment to resolution 1701 (2006) and his maiden visit to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the first ever made by a Lebanese Prime Minister.
At the same time, there had been little or no movement towards a ceasefire, and it was imperative to move forward on the “thorny” question of Ghajar, he said, urging Israel to withdraw from that village, as it had done in 2000. That would be an important first step to a later and separate process whereby the United Nations could mediate talks between the two sides. The question of arms — of Hizbullah and Palestinian groups, including Fatah al-Intifada — also required attention. A national dialogue should be held on the matter and he trusted that a way around objections by the 14 March movement would be found in the coming weeks.
Indeed, decisions had been taken in 2006 that such groups should be disarmed, he said, and both Lebanon and Israel must now recommit to resolution 1701 (2006) in the expectation that circumstances would become more challenging in the coming months in the absence of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and the Palestinian push for statehood in the General Assembly. “This should not be seen as simply a diplomatic game,” he said. Whatever happened would have an immense impact on the ground for Palestinians and the wider Middle East.
Any such developments would be set against the profound political crisis in Syria, he observed, noting that several thousand refugees had crossed into Lebanon’s northern area and that the consequences of what could unfold would have extraordinary impacts on Lebanon, Iraq, Israel and Jordan. “We all hope this will evolve in a positive manner and in a way that will certainly reinforce — not retract — from regional stability,” he said.
Taking questions, first on the perception of increased arms flows into Lebanon, Mr. Williams said it had been widely recognized that borders were porous. He did not have the authority or the capability to monitor the quantity or quality of arms. Even the joint border committee — to which Lebanon had appointed three members and Syria none — would be challenged to do so. Just yesterday, a Hizbullah leader had claimed the group could reach any point in Israel with missiles, including Eilat. He had no way to corroborate that information.
Further, he said UNIFIL had no mandate in that regard north of the Litani River, where most of the arms were thought to be. There was an inherent fragility to the calm. An incident on 3 August 2010 had seen a high-ranking Israeli officer killed, as well as three Lebanese officials in retaliation. Broadly speaking, an incident was “capped” or could potentially dramatically escalate into war. “We have to recognize our own shortcomings,” he said, noting that intransigence often was met with intransigence.
Asked about the concerns of Council members, he said most everyone wanted to see progress on the issue of arms outside State control. France, Spain, Italy and Indonesia all had committed substantial troops to UNIFIL and “we cannot take that commitment for granted”, he said. Italy had confirmed it would withdraw between 600 and 800 of its troops, while France had said it would likely review its situation. Members were also frustrated by the slow progress in Ghajar, and encouraged the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations to seek a way forward, which Mr. Williams said he would discuss with Israeli and Lebanese interlocutors. No Council member had put forward an assessment of the quantity or quality of arms.
To another query, he said disputes over maritime delimitations between Israel and Lebanon could threaten peace and security. Both sides had outlined the extent of what they considered their Exclusive Economic Zones and had deposited those documents with the United Nations. Lebanon was member of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and had Israel been a member, a way forward could more easily be found.
But the issue should not stop the countries from “going ahead” in exploiting maritime resources, he clarified. It was expected that, in 2012, Israel would “receive the benefits” of what it had discovered and become a natural gas exporter to the European market. Lebanon could also go forward, but would need a law that would “leave the door open” for companies to look for resources. He also was encouraging Lebanon to proceed with an agreement with Cyprus.
Pressed further, he said he understood that the fields were at such a depth they could only be reached with the latest technologies, used mainly by Western firms. The Iranian oil industry was bereft of such technologies, due to the sanctions imposed on that country. He believed that the presence of any company, in itself, would be a stabilizing factor, though companies would likely avoid areas where Israel and Lebanon had overlapping claims.
As to whether there was concern that instability in Syria could spill into Lebanon, he said “that weighs heavily on Lebanon”. The crisis was profound, marked by some incidents that could only be described as “savage”.
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