During an interview with Alhurra Television, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman discussed the U.S. meetings with Qaddafi advisors, Syria’s announcement to restrict movement of the U.S. Ambassador and Lebanon’s boundary dispute with Israel. The interview was cited in dozens of Arabic-language publications.
The following are excerpts of his interview:
Feltman on the U.S. envoy meetings with Qaddafi advisors in Tunisia
I look at it in the context of what happened in Istanbul. Because in Istanbul there was a very strong message being sent that had several elements. One, participants, not just the United States, but participants recognized the Transitional National Council is the legitimate governing authority for Libya for this transitional period. Participants also repeated the message, strongly and firmly that Qaddafi must step down. That a positive future for Libya begins with the trigger of Qaddafi stepping down. Third, is that there are not separate negotiations going on but there’s a unified backing behind the UN, behind Minister Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib representing the United Nations through negotiations. So the message that the Americans delivered directly to some of Qaddafi’s advisors was that message, to reinforce that message. Not to start a separate negotiating process. This was a onetime meeting in order to reinforce that came out of Istanbul. That Qaddafi must go; and that the negotiations on the modalities of that are with the United Nations through Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib and that it’s time to start a process, now, triggered by Qaddafi’s departure that leads to an inclusive government for all of Libya…I am convinced that they understood our message, that they heard our message, and I hope that they are able to act on our message.
Feltman on the Syrian government’s orders for the U.S. and French Ambassadors not to leave the capital without permission
It is another example, if the Syrians would actually implement it, of the Syrian government trying to hide what is actually happening. You know the Syrian people are asking for responses from their government and the responses are coming in the form of bullets and billy clubs. The Syrian government has refused to allow access to the international media into the country. They have refused to access by human rights activists, by international organizations, by aid organizations and now they are trying to say and well diplomats can’t have access either. Who has the credibility to go out and see what is actually happening across the country if you can’t let journalists in, well it is going to be diplomats. Right now, we’ll see. It could be just another example of Syrian rhetoric, but we do take such comments seriously. We would look at, if this was actually implemented, what we would do in response. But I think the basic issue should be that the Syrian government needs to allow all sorts of people access to the country. As I said, journalists need to report what is actually happening. Diplomats need to be able to do their jobs by having access across the country. Aid workers, human rights activists, international organizations need to have access and the Syrian government is just simply trying to shut down all of this, because they don’t want people to see what the reality is, what the truth is.
Feltman on concerns of a sectarian civil war in Syria
This whole sectarian issue is being used by the Assad regime in order to try and stoke fear. I mean, you see them trying to raise the specter of civil war. But it’s clear from the vast majority of the demonstrations that everyone accepts the risks and what everyone is working for is a better future for all of Syria.
Feltman on the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel
This, to me, looks quite normal. Whenever you talk about borders anywhere in the world, be they maritime; be they land, always parties will stakeout different borders. So the fact that the Lebanese and Israeli claims overlap, I don’t think it is something we should particularly worry about, because it is always the case. Both parties, as I understand, are registering their claims with the United Nations. One would hope that would start a process by which a boundary could be determined on the maritime that will allow both countries to be able to export resources without fear of conflict. And to be able to tract the investment, because one of the reasons why it is important to get the maritime boundaries established, of course, is that international companies are not going to want to help Lebanon or Israel develop resources in that area as long as that area remains in dispute. The fact that there are overlapping claims now isn’t, in my view, something we should be particularly worried about. What we should focus on is how best to solve this issue, so that both countries can exploit resources that can benefit their own peoples.
Feltman on Lebanon government’s support of the Special Tribunal
Right now as we understand it, as we’ve been told, there is a search underway to try to arrest those that were indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. That is the government of Lebanon’s responsibility; there are Lebanese judges, there is Lebanese financial support that has been given to the Tribunal. There is a number of ways in which the government of Lebanon demonstrates its support for the Tribunal. That was set up, after all, at the Lebanese request. And so the Cabinet statement is one thing; there are references in respect to the Tribunal there; but it is how the government acts going forward that I think is a better litmus test for whether or not Lebanon remains supportive of something that Lebanon asked the international community to create.
Feltman on U.S. support of Lebanese Armed Forces
We intend, as an Administration, to continue to support the Lebanese Armed Forces as long as they remain committed to extending the sovereignty of Lebanon throughout the entire territory of Lebanon. We want to see a strong Lebanese Armed Forces that is supporting the stability, unity, sovereignty of Lebanon. We want to work with them. We are in consultation with Congress on an ongoing basis about how we see the partnership going forward. But we hope we will be able to maintain this partnership.
Contact: Deirdre Kline, Director of Communications
Middle East Broadcasting Networks