Thank you very much for joining us this evening to help in the launching of the English edition of 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 shed appropriate light on the continued struggle of the Lebanese people for security, stability, peace and a more democratic system within the institutions of the Lebanese government.
It has been three years since December, 2008 when I sat at my home in Arlington with Steve for the first interview for this project. Three years later, we are here with you this evening to evaluate this unique opportunity that Lebanon had in September of 2003. Unique, because after 28 years of despair with US policy toward Lebanon, we finally were able to change it in one year – we began these efforts in September, 2003 and in September, 2004 we had a resolution that forced the Assad's baathist army out by April, 2005.
I say a unique opportunity because everything came together in a perfect circle in that September in 2003: All the players: the George W. Bush administration, the Jacques Chirac administration, the Lebanese American activists, the freedom agenda and the determination to use this freedom agenda to free Lebanon from the Assad regime.
Secretary Negroponte, you were the perfect quarterback of this team. You had the ears of both Secretary Powell and President Bush – exactly what we needed. I say if it were not for you we would have not had this resolution. Thank you for your respect, love and belief in a free, democratic Lebanon. On September 3, 2004 we scored the very long awaited touchdown.
I also want to salute the quiet Latin American diplomat of Lebanese descent who was my guardian angel who showed me the way to the proper diplomacy inside the UN to reach our goal. Who would have thought that two diplomats of Lebanese of descent from two different missions would team together to help their ancestral homeland at this very particular time and moment? The only explanation I have is that it was the will of God.
I cannot but admire the Lebanese American activists who miraculously joined together and worked so closely with us at the US Mission in New York and who organized the correct demarches around the world to lobby for this idea. Lebanese working together? This was definitely a true miracle.
And to Steve Kaufman, thank you for your interest in and respect toward Lebanon. You wrote this book with professionalism, fairness and with a positive spirit. You brought to light a unique moment in US-Lebanon relations with the best investigative reporting I have ever witnessed. Lebanon will always appreciate your contributions in making this story known.
Steve and I want to thank Ambassadors Natsios, Melady and Siv as well as Dr. Deeb and Scott Carpenter for endorsing this project. Your presence with us today along with Secretary Negroponte is a testament to your commitment to true democracy, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and most importantly the freedom marches in the Arab world. I must not forget to thank John Lenczowski and the Institute of World Politics for hosting this event in your beautiful facility.
I also must thank President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Saad Hariri for their kind letters. President Bush called it an "interesting read" and Mr. Hariri called it "a brilliant testimony".
Looking ahead and toward the future, I want to take this occasion to shed light on two issues that will bring long term stability and security to Lebanon and its southern border. I invite all the friends of Lebanon to help us achieve them.
1. The territorial neutrality of Lebanon which will enforce the disarmament and disbandment of militias and armed groups operating in the territory of Lebanon. 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 conflict. With neutrality first and de-confessionalism later, we are giving the Lebanese people the opportunity to have a buffer zone where they are able 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 fist.
2. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are living under terrible conditions. The Lebanese government, the Palestinian authorities and the United Nations must tackle as quickly as possible this crucial issue for Lebanon's stability and security. The only solution for this more than 60 year-old problem – 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 who have immigration policies and where the Palestinians can have a productive life with the possibility of real assimilation into the world community, 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.
The time is indeed ripe, for those two issues to be achieved. If achieved, it will bring true stability and security not only to Lebanon but to Israel northern borders and the Near East as a whole. And eventually true democracy, because democracy is work in progress; it is improvement in progress.