Khaddam and Chareh had two hours of talks at the Elysée focused on 425 South Lebanon



Publishing date: 1998-04-06


After two hours of talks at the Élysée Palace with President Jacques Chirac, the Syrian Vice President, Mr. Abdel Halim Khaddam, and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Farouk al-Sharaa, seemed reassured about this consultation, which can be described as crucial in the ongoing diplomatic standoff between Israel and the Syrian-Lebanese tandem over the past few days.

In fact, French diplomacy anticipated the moment when it would have to act in a region where it has certain precedence since the former occupant of the Quai d’Orsay, Mr. Hervé de Charette, had pressured the Americans and other concerned parties engaged in southern Lebanon to set up the famous monitoring committee. Despite the known hiccups, this committee has the merit of existing and even functioning.

Beyond the more or less official statements made in Damascus, Beirut, Tel Aviv, New York, Washington, or Paris regarding the problematic implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 425, the multinational consultation on southern Lebanon focuses on the best way to ensure proximity talks by a super-diplomat, who could be either Minister Hubert Védrine himself or a special envoy jointly designated by the Élysée and Matignon.

This envoy would work towards a nuanced consensus that would be more than the “security arrangements” demanded by Mr. Netanyahu and less than an Israeli-Lebanese security agreement rejected by Beirut.

The Quai d’Orsay recently emphasized that Resolution 425 “does not exclude the possibility of discussions on the modalities of its implementation.” According to Parisian diplomatic sources, there is even a suggestion that an expansion of the monitoring committee’s attributions could be feasible if the various components of this body do not object.

At the Quai d’Orsay, it is repeatedly stated that France will do nothing without the prior agreement of the “three concerned parties” regarding the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. This means: Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. This Sunday meeting could well be the launch of a much-anticipated French initiative, which has yet to be named but whose contours are becoming clearer by the day.

Nevertheless, sources close to the Élysée indicated yesterday that, over two hours, the positions of various parties were thoroughly examined, considering both irreconcilable views on one hand and intransigent attitudes on the other. And if Mr. Khaddam and Mr. al-Sharaa appeared so calm on the steps of the Élysée before heading back to Damascus, one could cautiously conclude that a minimum acceptable to Damascus and Beirut may have been found yesterday, and French diplomacy is committed to getting Israel to agree to it.

The visit of Mr. Khaddam and Mr. Chareh to Paris was conducted at full speed, with their arrival in the French capital late on Saturday evening and a two-hour meeting with President Chirac. Following the meeting, the Syrian delegation returned to Damascus on a special flight.

The meeting presided over by Mr. Chirac included, in addition to Mr. Khaddam and Mr. Chareh, the French Foreign Minister Mr. Hubert Védrine, the head of the Africa and Middle East department at the Quai d’Orsay, Mr. Jean-Claude Cousserand, the Syrian Ambassador to France, Mr. Elias Nejmeh, and the French Ambassador to Damascus, Mr. Charles-Henri d’Aragon. Also present were Mr. Mohammed Kodaimi and Mr. Ahmed Arnous, the chiefs of staff for Mr. Khaddam and Mr. Chareh, respectively.

On the steps of the Élysée, where he was accompanied by the French head of state, the Syrian vice president answered journalists’ questions after making the following statement: “We examined various issues, particularly the situation in the Middle East and the Israeli maneuvers concerning Resolution 425, analyzing the situation in its various aspects.

Our views were aligned on the fact that the aforementioned resolution contains neither conditions nor commitments. I can say that we are reassured regarding the atmosphere of the talks. I delivered a message from President Hafez al-Assad to President Chirac, addressing a number of bilateral issues as well as regional and international questions.”

In response to a question about the French views on Resolution 425 or a possible message from France, the Syrian vice president stated: “We were not entrusted with any message. As I have already said, we examined the subject in its various aspects, and the position is clear. In any case, I can speak about the Syrian stance. If the Israeli government truly wants peace, the path to peace is clear, namely committing to the foundations of the peace process and what was agreed upon in Madrid.”

“The Israeli government sees what is happening now. There is a signed agreement with the Palestinians and dozens of other agreements. Despite all this, what is happening now with the Palestinians? If the Israeli government wanted peace, it would not have closed the doors to peace here and there. This is a blatant maneuver that does not escape anyone.”

The Syrian Presence in Lebanon

Regarding the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and the recent statements by Mr. Mordechai indicating that Israel does not demand such a withdrawal, Mr. Khaddam replied: “Our presence or absence in Lebanon is not dictated by any Israeli decision, opinion, or policy: it is a matter concerning the Syrians and the Lebanese.” When asked if he sensed a determined French attitude before President Chirac’s visit to Beirut and in light of Mr. Mordechai’s statements on maintaining the Syrian presence in Lebanon, the Syrian vice president replied: “I do not perceive that diplomacy is convinced of the seriousness of the Israeli initiative because this initiative is tied to conditions that have emptied Resolution 425 of its content and turned it into something else.”

“The (Lebanese-Israeli) agreement of May 17 was titled a withdrawal from Lebanon, but its content was to bind Lebanon, undermine its sovereignty, and impose total control over the country, its territory, its airspace, its coasts, and its policies. Therefore, I think the international community will not be fooled by such maneuvers.” Regarding Franco-Syrian relations, Mr. Khaddam indicated that they were very good and were fully developing.

When asked if Syria supports holding an Arab summit, whether restricted or expanded, the Syrian leader affirmed that his country is ready to participate in any Arab summit, adding that the conditions for success of such a meeting would be better if the views of the various Arab countries were convergent regarding most of the problems facing the Arab world.

Kofi Annan Hasn’t Read…

Finally, when a journalist reminded him of Mr. Kofi Annan’s remarks stating that the Israeli proposal for withdrawal from southern Lebanon was serious and deserved consideration, the Syrian vice president responded: “It seems to me that Mr. Kofi Annan has not read or has not properly read the Israeli government’s decision because this decision includes conditions not mentioned in Resolution 425. This decision concerns the issue of Lahad (the commander of the SLA) and security arrangements.

What does the notion of security arrangements mean for Israel?” “For Mr. Netanyahu, peace means security. He wants security arrangements that would give him peace with Lebanon. Is this included in Resolution 425?” Mr. Khaddam concluded: “If Mr. Annan had read the Israeli government’s resolution, I suppose he would have had a different attitude and a different opinion on this matter.”