Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa traveled to Beirut on Sunday for talks with Lebanese officials in a bid to help resolve Lebanonâ€™s prolonged presidential crisis.
Lebanon has been without a president since the term of Emile Lahoud ended on November 23, 2007. The Western-backed majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition have been unable to agree on a deal to elect a successor, though both have backed army chief General Michel Suleiman to fill the post.Â
Moussa is trying to gain support for an Arab plan that calls for the election of Suleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government where no single party has veto power, and the drafting of a new law for a parliamentary election that is due next year.
Moussa is a former Egyptian foreign minister and diplomat. He served as Egyptâ€™s ambassador to India in 1967 and ambassador to the United Nations in 1990.
During his tenure as foreign minister, Moussa was critical of the United Statesâ€™ foreign policy and its relations with Israel.
The Mehr News Agency conducted an interview with Moussa before his talks in Beirut.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Why have some Arab countries adopted a critical stance toward Iran, even though the Islamic system has always stood up for the rights of Arab states, especially Palestine?
A: I have repeatedly said that Iran plays an influential role in the Middle East. I believe Iran and Arab countries should improve their diplomatic relations because we are friendly countries.
Q: What measures has the Arab league taken to improve relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Arab countries?
A: I am interested in maintaining relations with Iranian officials and in discussing issues which are important to Iran and the Arab world. I am making efforts to deepen Iran-Arab world ties and to remove all obstacles hindering bilateral relations.
The expansion of Iran-Arab world cooperation is very important and the Arab League is prepared to fulfill its duties in this regard.
I recently held talks with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on important regional issues. I also met the Supreme Leaderâ€™s representative on the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, at the Arab Leagueâ€™s office in Cairo, where we discussed ways to relieve tension in the region.
I had been in contact with former Iranian foreign ministers. I also am in frequent contact with current Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki.
Q: Since Iran and Arab countries have a common religion, do you believe the United States is seeking to undermine their relations?
A: I believe disputes between Iran and the United States should be resolved through negotiations rather than sanctions and conflict. On Iran-U.S. talks over the security situation in Iraq, I believe Iraqi officials should lead any meeting on Iraqâ€™s current and future situation with the attendance of neighboring countries, especially Iran, Turkey, and Arab states or the Arab League.
Q: You attended the Annapolis conference in the United States on November 27, 2007, where President George W. Bush tried to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. What outcome did the conference produce for Palestinians?
A: To begin with, I would like to say that the Arab League secretary general did not attend the Annapolis meeting on his own. He was accompanied by an Arab delegation which included 16 foreign ministers. The representatives of 50 countries and international organizations as well as the United Nations also participated in the conference. We have agreed that we should not, under any circumstances, resume relations with Israel without concessions, because that is what that regime is seeking to achieve.
As an Arab group, we made every effort, for over a year, to explain the contents of an Arab peace plan meant to resolve the conflict between Arabs and Israelis and to establish a fair and comprehensive peace in the region. Attending the Annapolis conference, in line with these diplomatic efforts, was necessary to explain the Arabsâ€™ stances.
We had no choice but to test Israel, which claims to support peace and negotiations with the Palestinians, before the eyes of the international community. However, the conference has so far failed to change Israelâ€™s approach toward Palestine.
After the Annapolis meeting, the Paris conference was held on September 17, 2007 to support the Palestinian Authority government, whose plan for development was widely welcomed by the world powers.
Q: What is your view about Ahmadinejadâ€™s participation in the 28th Persian Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Doha on December 3, 2007?
A: I welcomed Ahmadinejadâ€™s presence at the Doha summit. I believe meetings between Iranian and Arab officials play a very important role in resolving differences and helping to end tension in the region.
Q: How can the Arab League end the conflict between Palestinian groups?
A: The conflict between the Palestinian groups of Hamas and Fatah, which started in July 2007, is one of the most dangerous events in the history of Palestine, thus we immediately formed a committee to discuss ways to end the confrontation. The committee presented a report suggesting practical solutions to the conflict.
At the moment, some Arab states, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Sudan, in coordination with the Arab league, are trying to end the conflict.
We should not be just a spectator to the blockade of Gaza, the starvation of its residents, Israelâ€™s dangerous actions in the West Bank, and its efforts to foment discord between Palestine and other Arab countries.
Q: Do you believe the nomination of Lebanese army chief General Michel Suleiman as the main candidate for Lebanonâ€™s presidential election will help defuse the countryâ€™s mounting crisis?
A: We are making every effort so that Lebanese political parties can agree on a consensus president and resolve Lebanonâ€™s crisis by forming a national unity government and amending the election law.
We hope regional countries and international organizations will take positive steps to help defuse the crisis in Lebanon.