The following is an abridged version of PM Fouad Siniora's interview with the Financial Times. For the complete script of the interview, click here:
Fouad Siniora, Lebanon’s prime minister, spoke to Lionel Barber and Roula Khalaf earlier this month at his office in central Beirut
Q: How do you assess the progress of national reconciliation?
A: ...First of all the degree of tolerance has fallen significantly and some are resorting in one way or another to resolving their differences through the use of violence, which is entirely contrary to the very principle of accepting others’ opinions...
...Hizbollah did a great job in fighting the Israelis, until they liberated lands in the year 2000. That was the thing that one could really have arranged to find other ways, without really asking Hizbollah to disarm. We could have managed not to subject the country to an additional test and pressures and experiences because of additional invasions that may be made by the Israelis.
Up to the year 2006 we definitely considered Israel as an enemy – we still consider them the enemy – and we have to protect the country against the attacks, the invasions, the attempts that may be made to undermine the Lebanese state.
But we consider that Hizbollah’s act in kidnapping two Israel soldiers was a miscalculation because this had consequences. The Israelis did not succeed in defeating Lebanon – I’m being fairly objective. They did not have a victory, we did not have a victory. We managed to stop them from defeating us, but in the final analysis they ended up occupying part of the country and we had to resort to political means to push them back out of the country.
Q: One member of your government asked what is wrong with having a paramilitary force that is not part of the army.
A: This is something you might be able to have for a short period of time but it is not something that can be worked out for a long period of time, where you have areas that are beyond the control and the government and people who are allowed to do what they want without being subject to the rule of law.
Particularly in a society that is highly diverse and in which there is a certain group that monopolises this aspect of fighting the Israelis, this puts all the other groups outside and this in a diverse society makes the situation much more difficult.
You see, building a state is something that can not wait and it is unacceptable not to have a state.
Q: Is there anything real in the reconciliation? Or is it just lip service?
A: I agreed to the principle of having a reconciliation government, this is something that happens in many democracies, but ultimately, after the elections, I think that whoever gets the majority has to rule. In other words, if those who really believe in that opinion, if they win, they should take the lead.
Q: What if the opposition wins?
A: They should really take the responsibility and take the lead, and definitely bear all the consequences. This is democracy.
Q: Do you think the March 14 [ruling coalition] can win?
A: I strongly believe that the commitment of the majority of the people is in getting back to a situation where the state is in control. If it is a state run by Hizbollah, fine. But somebody is in charge. There is one captain. This situation is unsustainable where there are many captains.
I believe in March 14 and the people who subscribe to what they say it stands for: democracy, openness, tolerance, independence, excellent relations with Syria. I am fully in favour of excellent relations with Syria but on the basis of mutual respect and on an equal basis ... Israel is an enemy, Syria is not an enemy. But we cannot and we should not continue to be a satellite state to Syria.
These Sunni extremists [in the North] are a scarecrow ... they are really creating this giant and magnifying it in order to create a perception that there is a need for a policeman ... Instead of waiting for them to come in from Lebanon, they [the Syrians] would do better to control them when they are coming from Iraq. All the people caught or killed in Nahr al-Bared did not come via legal Lebanese points of entry, they came through these porous points.
Q: It is surprising that you say Syria is not an enemy, when there is a suspicion that Syria was responsible for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri?
A: This matter is in the hands of the investigators and there is an international tribunal.
Q: What are the security services doing?
A: This is where we differ from Hizbollah. [Hassan] Nasrallah [Hizbollah leader] said go build your state and when you have finished come and talk to us. We have to build a state together. This is not the way. You can’t have a state if you’re not going to work for it. They want to get all the fruits of the state but not to comply with what the state is really for… we want to have fair play, a democracy, and to work towards having a proper election.