Thank you very much for joining us this evening at the United Nations plaza to discuss the The Road to 1559 – Lebanon at the Core of the George W. Bush Administration. I welcome you all and I hope that this evening's discussions will give you even more understanding about the continued struggle of the Lebanese people and the Syrian people for security, stability, peace and democracy.
We are two different peoples in two different countries but we have one destiny and we have been victimized by the same abuser. For nearly forty years now, the Assad family has helped to destroy the Lebanese character; destroy its economy; destroy its standing in the world, and destroy its future. Now this family is destroying its own people in order to preserve their dictatorship and allow them to continue to terrorize the people of Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
Ambassador Richard Murphy when you were trying to solve the Syrian and Lebanese mess in the 70s and 80s we thought that you were catering to the Hafez Al-Assad regime. Most Lebanese at that time were saying that Murphy sold us to Hafez Al-Assad. But after reading your interview in The Road to 1559 it became clear how much you agonized over the situation in Lebanon and how much insult you personally took from the Assad regime while you were trying to salvage the failing democracy in Lebanon. I have recently read President Ronald Reagan's diary and Lebanon is mentioned more than 25 times. He said: "the Arab leaders are scared of Hafez Al-Assad." He also clearly was wondering how he can get the forces of Hafez Al-Assad out of Lebanon. He was, like you, agonizing to find a solution. I am so glad that through The Road to 1559 you made your story known to all of us and on behalf of the Lebanese we ask for your forgiveness in accusing you wrongly and I am personally honored that you chose to make those revelations in this book.
As some of you know, UNSCR 1559 has not been fully implemented, and we are grateful that the United Nations Secretary-General has asked Ambassador Terje Roed-Larsen, who is with us this evening, to follow-up on it and report every six months to the Security Council on its progress. We thank you for taking on this task especially since some people don't see the importance of its full implementation to Lebanon's basic rights to sovereignty and self determination. Some don't see the difference between right and wrong or between good and evil. 1559 was the right thing to do and is good for Lebanon and it must be fully implemented.
We were successful in our US efforts because of friends we had in President Bush's administration such as Scott Carpenter who has endorsed the book and is with us this evening and many officials like Ambassador John Negroponte, Elliott Abrams who was interviewed in the book as well, Liz Cheney, John Hannah, Ambassador John Bolton, Paula Dobriensky and many others.
My road to 1559 started in July 1979 when I first set foot in North Carolina. The story in the book is mainly my development as an immigrant in the United States and my political activism for Lebanon until my career was crowned by a presidential appointment and eventually this resolution.
Its importance is not that it happened; its importance is how it has reflected a tremendous change in the US policy toward Syria's presence in Lebanon. With UNSCR 1559 we won the diplomatic war against the Assad-Baathist regime after 28 years of their occupation of Lebanon.
Many people participated in this successful policy change in 2003 and 2004. The quiet contributors are many. I remember, up on my arrival to the US Mission I received a call from a relative of mine in Lebanon asking me to work on getting the Syrian forces out of the country. Before I arrived to the UN, the vision of a resolution was in my mind as in the minds of so many other Lebanese.
Besides the quiet Latin American diplomat of Lebanese descent who is interviewed in the book and who played an important role in preparing 1559; and besides the American and the French diplomats who implemented it; there was the Lebanese American Coalition headed by Dr. Joseph Gebeily who is with us this evening and many unknown soldiers of Lebanese descent who campaigned for it in France, England, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Canada and the United States. Among these are George Abi-Raad and Elie Baraghid of Paris; Carlos Keirouz of Brussels; Judge Alain Ayyash of Montreal; Nick Ahwaji of Vancouver; John Faddoul of Cleveland; Anis Garabet of Los Angeles; and Milad Zourob of Michigan who all lobbied for it furiously.
Looking ahead to the road after 1559, I see the need for the United Nations and the Lebanese American community to work on two more issues that will bring long term stability and security to Lebanon and its southern border.
1. We need to establish the territorial neutrality of Lebanon. That will enforce the disarmament and disbandment of militias and armed groups operating on Lebanese territory. It could also lay the groundwork for the Lebanese Government to eventually adopt a formal permanent neutrality status, as a basis of its foreign policy in order to ensure that the country will not be entangled in any future Middle East conflicts. With neutrality first and de-confessionalism later, we will give the Lebanese people the opportunity to have a buffer zone where they will have the space to rebuild the trust between the different communities and start making their own decisions without foreign interference and to think and act only in the interests of Lebanon first.
2. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are living under terrible conditions. Along with being a humanitarian concern, this is also a crucial issue for Lebanon's stability and security, and the Lebanese government, the Palestinian authorities and the United Nations must tackle this situation as quickly as possible. This has been a concern for more than 60 years, and I believe the only solution – as a first step - is a United Nations resolution that moves the Palestinians out of Lebanon in an orderly and humanitarian way to potentially receptive countries around the world where they can have a productive life with the possibility of real assimilation into their communities, until their final return to a state living side by side in security and prosperity with the state of Israel as President Bush proposed. The world is responsible for the Palestinian plight, and the world should solve this tragedy through its institutions. This is the only way that the Palestinians in Lebanon can claim back their freedom, dignity and self determination.
In conclusion, I want to say that 1559 opened the doors for the Arab Spring - from the Cedar revolution to the dignity revolution in Syria. Therefore, I ask the United Nations and in particular Russia and China to listen to the many voices from inside the Arab world and beyond and to help bring down that dictator in Damascus and stop the killings in Syria and Lebanon; it is time for the Assads to go. Thank you and enjoy the discussion.