Press Conference on the Middle East Situation
Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
USUN PRESS RELEASE #074#(09)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ambassador Wolff: We had our monthly session on the Middle East and in addition to a number of points that we raised on the situation in Gaza, and the Israeli-Palestinian talks, I also raised the upcoming elections in Lebanon. The United States continues to urge all parties to have free, fair, transparent parliamentary elections in June. We continue to support an independent sovereign Lebanese state free from outside interference in accordance with Resolutions 1559, 1680, 1701 and we’ll continue to be supportive of Lebanon’s efforts toward that end.
I’d be happy to take any questions.
Reporter: Ambassador, on the Middle East, on Lebanon, (off mike) there are (inaudible) violations continue on almost daily basis. He’s not raising the issue of violation of 1701. Do you have something to say about that?
Ambassador Wolff: Well, as you know, we remain extraordinarily concerned about the smuggling of arms, which are violations both of 1559 and 1701, which undermine the sovereignty of Lebanon by undermining the Lebanese armed forces monopoly on power in that country. We believe that the Lebanese armed forces the legitimate vehicle by which Lebanese security should be protected and defended. There are militias that continue to be armed, that goes against the authority of the state and it goes against resolutions that the Security Council has adopted and the smuggling of arms is also prohibited by 1701. So we do remain concerned and raise those issues and we’ll need to remain vigilant about ensuring adherence with those provisions.
Reporter: (cross talk) Are you planning on sending American observers to Lebanon during the period,
Ambassador Wolff: I don’t have anything on that; I’ll be happy to look into that.
Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, Lynn Pascoe said that the Obama administration aims to integrate and develop the Arab peace initiative. How does this administration plan to develop the Arab initiative, what does he mean by that?
Ambassador Wolff: Well, he’s speaking on behalf of the United Nations, I have the pleasure and honor of speaking on behalf of the United States (crosstalk).
Senator Mitchell, as you know is our Special Envoy for this, has been very active in the region and will continue to be so. We have senior-level visits taking place in Washington in the coming days and weeks. I believe Jordanian King Abdullah will be in Washington tomorrow, I believe President (inaudible) will be in Washington in May as will Prime Minister Netanyahu. We remain actively engaged in pursuing peace talks, peace in the region and of course the Arab peace initiative is one component of that and there’s some very important elements there that we very much favor and want to see fleshed out as we do all other elements related to peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Reporter: Two things on Iran, Ambassador. One, what is the U.S. reaction to the speech given at the Durban II conference by President Ahmadinejad of Iran today and secondly, looking forward—going forward—how does the US plan to address in the Security Council context, the issue of the seized arms shipment by Cyprus allegedly bound from Iran to Syria?
Ambassador Wolff: Well as to President Ahmadinejad’s vile and hateful speech this morning, you saw a reaction in the room and you saw a very good reaction by the Secretary-General. This is—I can’t think of any other word than shameful, it’s inaccurate; it shows disregard for the organization to which he is speaking—the United Nations—and does a grave injustice to the Iranian nation and the Iranian people. And we call on the Iranian leadership to show much more measured, moderate, honest and constructive rhetoric when dealing with issues in the region and not this type of vile, hateful, (inaudible) speech that we all saw in the Ahmadinejad spectacle of this morning.
Reporter: (off mike) for the shipment?
Ambassador Wolff: That’s an issue that’s being dealt with by the relevant sanctions committee and continues to work on that issue.
Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, your government, the Obama administration in its whole policy of change has reached out to the Iranian government, has reached out to Hamas, has reached out to the Taliban, has reached out to Cuba but has maintained similar posture that the Bush administration carried through with regards to Zimbabwe. What’s your explanation for that?
Ambassador Wolff: Well, I don’t want to agree with all the premises that you laid out in terms of where we’re reengaging and how we’re reengaging. We remain concerned about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. You know, we have an embassy in Zimbabwe, we have contacts with Zimbabwe and we do engage with the Zimbabwe government so I don’t think there’s a direct parallel to the other examples you cited.
Reporter: But the U.S. government continues to prohibit the IMF and the World Bank from providing loans, lines of credit and loan guarantees to the government of Zimbabwe. Are you prepared to stop that?
Ambassador Wolff: The United States has its views on the situation and we express those in all relevant international fora. We express it directly to the Zimbabwean government as well. As you know, the situation in Zimbabwe, the tragedy that’s befallen the Zimbabwean people is of the making of the government there and we hope to see—the previous government there—and we hope to see progress and movement so we can help and all can help the Zimbabwean people.
Reporter: So there’s no progress now as far as you’re concerned.
Ambassador Wolff: Well (inaudible) I’m not following it on a day-to-day basis, but in terms of the progress, its progress that’s beholden on the government and the Zimbabwean regime to show, not the international community.
Reporter: (off mike) do you see the playing a different role in Lebanon? And the high-level briefing next month here in the Security Council on the Middle East, what’s your expectations and who’s going to (inaudible)
Ambassador Wolff: On the Syrian role, we’ve seen as you know reports. I think it was mentioned by Mr. Pascoe today that the Lebanese have sent an ambassador to Damascus today there, we’re still awaiting the arrival of a Syrian ambassador to Lebanon. There’s still some other steps that need to be fulfilled in accordance with the existing resolutions and undertakings and those include the demarcation of the border, the vigilance and shutting down of illegal arms smuggling and other arms transfers that are crossing that border. There’s a lot of work to be done and I just urge you to keep good focus on both Resolution 1701 and 1559, which lay out what’s expected.
The second question?
Reporter: The high-level meeting
Ambassador Wolff: I can tell you what I know which is that the Russian government has proposed a ministerial meeting on the Middle East and is consulting with Council members on that as we speak.
Reporter: (crosstalk) in Geneva, do you think that maybe it was a better idea for America to join that conference in Geneva so that your voices would be heard better, seeing what happened like today? If you were there, you would have been able to speak more.
Ambassador Wolff: I’m not sure I understand the premise that whether the United States was there or not would have affected Ahmadinejad’s known views. The position the United States government has was taken articulated again by President Obama this weekend. We would have liked to have been there and we pushed hard. Our views and criteria were well know, they were announced on February 27. Some progress was made and we welcome that progress. On the other hand there were other aspects of the draft resolution coming out of that conference that we still have problems with related to the reaffirmation of the entire Durban I program of action and references to incitement of religion, of religious hatred, which the way it was drafted was tantamount to prohibitions on freedom of speech. So those concerns remain valid and I believe our position was the right one and again, have nothing to do with the spectacle you beheld this morning.
Reporter: Does the US support the UK’s call to have a briefing as quickly possible about the events in Sri Lanka and what does the US think about recent events in Sri Lanka?
Ambassador Wolff: We’re very concerned and we do support that call. Thank you.