U.S. Deeply Concerned about Syrian Interference in Lebanon
10 June 2005
State's McCormack says Lebanese need to vote freely without fear
The U.S. government is deeply concerned about Syria's intimidation and interference in Lebanon, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
"We've seen the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri. We've seen the assassination of a prominent journalist who - I think by common reporting in many news reports - was well known for his anti-Syrian, pro-Lebanon views. So while those investigations are still ongoing … we have great concerns about the continuing presence of Syrian intelligence operatives inside Lebanon," McCormack said June 10, in his daily briefing at the State Department.
McCormack said Syria needs to comply fully with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and declares support for free and fair elections in Lebanon.
Lebanon is currently in the midst of a four-stage parliamentary election cycle. The process began May 29 with voting in Beirut and will end June 19 with voting in the north.
"What we encourage is compliance with 1559. This type of behavior has to stop, because what's important is that the Lebanese people have an opportunity to vote and they have an opportunity to vote without fear of violence or threat," McCormack said.
Following is an excerpt from the transcript of McCormack's briefing containing his comments about Syria's interference in Lebanon:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Friday, June 10, 2005
12:50 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Q: Does the U.S. have credible word that Syria has a hit list targeting opposition figures in Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nope, and thanks. Thanks for your question. I have a few points here, and can follow it up. We are deeply concerned about Syria's interference and intimidation inside Lebanon. Syria needs to comply fully with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559. We are concerned that Syrian intelligence operatives are interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs. We have - we are working with the United Nations on the question of verification teams returning to Lebanon. Yesterday, Secretary-General Annan said that he was considering such an action.
It's important for the international community to send a clear message to Syria: that they must comply with Resolution 1559. Syria's long presence inside Lebanon has created an environment of intimidation, and we want to see the elections that are now ongoing in Lebanon occur in a free and fair manner, without any outside interference or intimidation.
And let me just - let me just add that it is our view, and I think it's the shared view of the world, that in the wake of passage of Resolution 1559, it is not business as usual in Lebanon. The situation has changed. The Lebanese people now have an opportunity to take control and define their own future, free of outside interference. And, I would just add that the eyes of the world are on Lebanon; that countries around the world, members of the Security Council are watching what happens in Lebanon, and we are listening to the Lebanese people.
Q: (Off mike.)
Q: But Sean - (inaudible) - what about this alleged hit list (that ?) the Syrians have?
MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen - I've seen these reports, and while I can't comment in any depth on intelligence matters, what I can say - and the secretary has said also in the past - that we do see a pattern of the use of threat and violence to create an atmosphere of intimidation inside Lebanon.
And we believe that that pattern of threat and intimidation is designed to try to influence the Lebanese people as they continue their voting in the polls.
Q: So you see a pattern in threat of new threats, you're saying by the Syrian government?
MR. MCCORMACK: What I'm saying is that we have seen a number of different actions. We've seen the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri. We've seen the assassination of a prominent journalist who - I think by common reporting in many news reports - was well known for his anti-Syrian, pro-Lebanon views. So while those investigations are still ongoing, what we do know is and we have great concerns about the continuing presence of Syrian intelligence operatives inside Lebanon.
Q: (Off mike.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes?
Q: You're raising it publicly. Have you raised these issues in private recently with the Syrians? And did you do it here or in Damascus? And what was the response?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the Syrian government, from our numerous public statements today and hearing our concerns over a period time, as well as the concerns of Secretary General Annan, understand quite clearly what they need to do and the fact - and I think they also understand quite clearly that the world is watching. And I would just go back to Secretary-General Annan, when he first gave the report about the verification teams, did leave open the question about Syrian intelligence operatives in Syria. In 1559 - Resolution 1559, as from the president on down and other leaders around the world, means all forces, not just the military. That means intelligence operatives, as well.
Q: So you are or are not raising it in private with them?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll see if there's any updates in terms of any diplomatic contact, if there's anything we have to share.
Q: Thank you. One of the reasons that I ask is that I assume Ambassador Scobey is still back here. Correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's correct.
Q: And so whether or not you're raising it privately (is an index ?) of whether you're still dealing with them on a diplomatic basis.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. If there are any updates, we'll certainly let you know.
Q: Any other steps that you're contemplating? You've removed the ambassador from Damascus. Is the United States looking at any new sanctions under the Syrian Accountability Act or perhaps some steps at the U.N. if Syria does not (heed ?)?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our focus is on making sure that they comply with this resolution and that all parties comply with this resolution. As for anything further, I don't have anything for you on that.
Q: If there's a pattern of abuse and threat, are you concerned that that pattern will continue, that other opposition figures would be targeted?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're concerned about, as you pointed out, this pattern that we see. What we encourage is compliance with 1559. This type of behavior has to stop, because what's important is that the Lebanese people have an opportunity to vote and they have an opportunity to vote without fear of violence or threat. So that's what our focus is on.
Q: Can you be more specific about what the interference in elections looks like? What is Syria actually doing?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Syria has - they, as we all know, had a long presence in Lebanon. That presence and the presence of intelligence operatives and their military there contributed to creating an atmosphere of threat and intimidation in which the use of threat and violence became possible. So again, our emphasis is on what Syria needs to do in order to comply with 1559.
Q: That doesn't really tell us what you think Syria's actually up to in this election. Threat and intimidation of whom? How?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I can't really get into intelligence matters. But we do, as I said, have these longstanding concerns. And we believe, as I said earlier - and that we are concerned that the intelligence operators are interfering in their internal affairs. Beyond that, I can't really go any further.
Any other on this topic? Yes?
Q: One more on the "I have nothing for you on that" about whether or not additional sanctions are being considered. You know, why on earth wouldn't you be looking at all the options at your disposal, including the legislative ones that were passed? I can't understand why you wouldn't be looking at the Syria Accountability Act, which, as you know, was (first to impose ?) sanctions last spring. Are you not -
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we think the focus should be on Syria and their behavior and what they need to do.
Q: Right. But you have a variety of tools to try to change their behavior - (off mike) - behavior I'm talking about. And your sort of public statements about this, you know, if they don't work, it seems a reasonable thing to look at the other things at your disposal, including those that the legislative branch has handed you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is not -
Q: (Off mike) - talking about their behavior -
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, I understand. This is not an issue between the U.S. and Syria; this is an issue between Syria and the rest of the world. And what we are doing - and you mentioned the tools, what tools do we have. Well, we have the tools of speaking out and trying to speak as clearly as we can, as well as others, about what is happening in Lebanon. So I think that that is - that is, in fact, a tool at our disposal, and that's one that we are using now, and that is speaking out about what is happening.
Q: So in your desire to paint this as Syria against the rest of the world, you're not going to look at bilateral tools that you have?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Arshad, we are where we are right now. And we're focused on Resolution 1559 and Syrian compliance with that resolution.
Q: So are you looking at international tools or sanctions through the U.N.?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I've said what I need to - what I'm going to say on the topic right now.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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