April 4, 2005
Walid Maalouf: No change in the U.S. position; Bush is a man of principles not a man of deals; the Syrian withdrawal is final;
the Lebanese must organize democracy and build a modern government for a free Lebanon
Washington, DC - Antoine Saad
Despite the fact that he has become an American, and that he acquired an American mentality, style, and way of life, the Director of Public Diplomacy for Middle Eastern & MEPI Affairs at USAID Mr. Walid Maalouf remains the faithful son of the Lebanese mountains. Moreover, even though all of his projects and ambitions are in the United States, he hopes to return to his ancestral hometown of Kfarkatra once he retires. Al-Massira met Mr. Maalouf in Washington, DC.
How do you evaluate the visit of Patriarch Sfeir to the USA?
It was indeed a successful visit. The Patriarch is a respected personality among the various Lebanese communities for he represents their hopes and aspirations for a prosperous and dignified life. Furthermore, his Beatitude filled the void in the Christian community when its leaders fought each other. Today, he is filling the Lebanese void on the international level. It was for this reason that President George W. Bush, President Jacques Chirac, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations have received him. The U.S. Administration is comfortable with the Patriarch whom they perceive as the new hope through which Lebanon will regain its historic role in the international arena as it once was.
What is the position of Walid Maalouf?
I am the Director of Public Diplomacy for the Middle Eastern and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Our responsibilities entail informing the Middle Eastern communities in the U.S. about the social, cultural, and humanitarian work of President George W. Bush's Administration in the Broader Middle East region. We also handle the public relations and media regarding the MEPI and the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA). These two initiatives are aimed at encouraging and spreading democracy in the region. The U.S. Partnership Initiative has its own budget which is approved by the U.S. Congress. However, the U.S. coordinates its efforts regarding the Broader Middle East Initiative with the Europeans and some Arab countries i.e. Egypt and Morocco. We have established internet websites for these two initiatives which can be viewed by the public.
How does Lebanon benefit from the USAID?
It was in Lebanon that the USAID opened its first office in the Middle East in the mid 1950s. After the end of the regional war in Lebanon, work returned to its office with an annual budget of $35 million. It is currently directed by Mr. Raouf Youssef, whom I greatly respect, he is one of the best diplomats in USAID.
According to your stance in the United Nations, it seems that there is a new U.S. policy toward Lebanon. What is your role in all of this, and what is the reason behind this political change?
The change in the U.S. policies towards the Middle East occurred after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and it became clear after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. President George W. Bush noticed that there was a real desire, which was expressed by the Middle Eastern American community living in the U.S., that the change include the entire region. As for me personally, I do not have a specific role in this change. I believed in President Bush's position and policies for I am, too, one of the millions of Middle Eastern people who are living in the U.S. and who wish freedom, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness to their families who still live in the Middle East. President Bush has constantly repeated that democracy brings peace and that peace results in personal prosperity. Accordingly, the individual will own a car and a house and his/her future ambitions and that for his/her family grow bigger. Furthermore, education becomes affordable to everyone, which in turn will provide more opportunities which improve the social life of the community. After all, this is what the Arab people are seeking. What I tried to do in my speech at the United Nations was to reflect the U.S. Administration's supportive position towards Lebanon's democratic, free, and independent future. There is no doubt that the position, which I declared on December 3, 2003, was the snowball that has grown into the situation in Lebanon today. At the time, the stance enraged the Syrian Ambassador Faisal Miqdad who attacked me personally. He accused me of passing a personal agenda for I am of Lebanese origin. The United States rejected his accusations. The next day, Ambassador John Negroponte who was then the U.S. Permanent Representative sent the Syrian Permanent Representative a letter reiterating the U.S. supportive stance towards Lebanon, which I had declared in the United Nations.
What role did the Lebanese lobby play vis-à-vis the change of the U.S. policies towards Lebanon, as well as concerning the passing of the UNSCR 1559?
The Lebanese American community never stopped working for independent and sovereign Lebanon. There have always been many organizations working to achieve such an objective, and there is no doubt that the Lebanese have played a role in the change of the U.S. policies. However, in regards to UNSCR 1559, with all due respect to all groups, it was the Bush Administration in coordination with President Chirac who proposed to the U.N. Security Council a resolution to free Lebanon from the Syrian's hegemony. I am by no means suggesting that the Lebanese organizations did not play a role, especially the American Lebanese Coalition (ALC), which is composed of six Lebanese American organizations who elucidated the Lebanese people's position from Syrian dominance.
There is fear among the Lebanese that the U.S. may back off regarding the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon?
This time the U.S. position will not change. It is final for two reasons: first of all, because the Middle East is dealing with an honest man who has a clear vision towards the region. What is in President Bush's heart is on his lips, and what is in his hand is on the table. There are no hidden agendas. The second reason is that the Syrian withdrawal is final and there will be no change. Therefore, the Lebanese must work for Lebanon after the Syrian withdrawal; they need to organize free and democratic elections and they have to build a modern government for a free, independent, and sovereign Lebanon.
Don't you have any concerns of an American-Syrian deal as happened in the past?
There are no deals with this Administration no matter what it is. President George W. Bush is a man of principles. He believes in his position and he is faithful to his friends. He is not a man of deals, and the Syrians must understand his unique character.