Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea is on a two-week trip to the United States during which he has met senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. NOW Lebanon interviewed the senior March 14 figure at his hotel in Washington DC.
NOW Lebanon: Sources said that you have focused on the Palestinian issue during your meetings with US officials. Why?
Samir Geagea: It is because I think the Middle East will not relax without a solution for the Palestinian problem. The solution to this problem is the actual entrance to the solution of all other problems in the Middle East and that is why I focused on the Palestinian problem, this is on one hand. On the other hand, there has been a solution, to a great extent, between [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak and [Palestinian President Yasser] Arafat in 2000. We can take this solution and add to it some missing details and therefore there will be a Palestinian state and we will be done with a problem that has been complicating all other problems.
NOW: Do you think what happens in Gaza affects the Lebanese issue?
Geagea: Of course, whatever happens, affects the Middle East at large, including Lebanon. Perhaps if what happened in Gaza never happened, the Arab summit would not be convened in Damascus. Syrians today take Gaza as an excuse and hide behind it to push Arab states to go to Damascus and a hold a summit there. And this is only one example.
NOW: You have met with foreign policy advisors of presidential candidates. Many of them suggest that a new administration should engage Syria. Your thoughts?
Geagea: Any engagement with Syria, Iran, Israel or Turkey will not affect Lebanon. Dialogue with Syria, if it ever happens… I mean trying to reach some agreement with Syria is something, and preserving Lebanon's sovereignty, independence and the freedom of its people is something else. Lebanon's sovereignty and independence has become something fundamental, a cornerstone, or a gain that we have achieved. Of course everybody can talk to everybody else, but most important is that such talk will not affect Lebanon's independence, and that is the fundamental issue for us.
NOW: You mean the March 14 Coalition does not fear an American-Syrian dialogue?
Geagea: I have an opinion and I conveyed it to American officials. In my opinion, any dialogue with Syria does not benefit anyone. Look at the history of dialogue with Syria. They reached nowhere. That is why I do not support any dialogue with Syria. This was in the past. If we talk about the future, perhaps the Americans might want to repeat this exercise… no problem as long as Lebanon is an independent issue.
NOW: But it is said that the Syrian regime plays on time and hopes that the new US administration would be more open towards it…
Geagea: The Syrian bet on a new administration is a losing one. Perhaps a new administration will talk to Syria, but it will arrive at the same results. Remember the Baker-Hamilton Report after which [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi went to Damascus. What did it lead to? It took the Americans one visit to realize that it will go nowhere. Suppose [Senator and Presidential candidate Barack] Obama – who seeks dialogue with Syria the most – is elected. He will realize in a week or two, a month or two, that nothing can come out of dialogue. Look at [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy. He tried for a few weeks then his aides told him that nothing would come out of it. Why? Because the world’s stance on Lebanon has become clear now. And when this is the case, any dialogue with Syria is doomed to failure. The world’s stance is a hard-earned one, whether with the US administration or with the international community at large.
NOW: What do you think of the situation among Lebanese Christians now? Did you discuss with the administration a new electoral law?
Geagea: We only had chitchats in this regard. As for the Christians in Lebanon, change is visible everyday through union elections. In the last election at the Union of Engineers, the March 14 coalition swept 131 out of 141 seats. As for the electoral law, we think we need one that is fairer than the 1960 law, as the patriarch put it. We can go with the Fouad Boutros law or any other law. At any rate, we are still debating the issue.
NOW: Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh has recently said that March 14 would not sit idly by if no president is elected, and would either elect with a simple majority or would reinforce the role of the government. What does this mean? And would consensus candidate General Michel Sleiman agree to a simple majority election?
Geagea: No, General Sleiman does not agree to a simple majority election. In any case, we would need to amend the constitution for his election. If we decide to elect with a simple majority, we will chose a candidate from March 14. As for reinforcing the role of the government, this means that we will have some government amendments…
NOW: Does this mean you will appoint replacement Shia ministers?
Geagea: No, not necessarily so. If we introduce amendments, these will aim at compensating for the missing role of a Christian president during this time of election.
NOW: Do you think there will be a civil war in Lebanon? And is the Lebanese Forces training and arming as some accuse it of doing?
Geagea: Not at all… Our bet has been on the state, the army and the security forces and our bet has proved its worth. I don't think there will be civil war. Even our political opponents do not have the intentions to do so, except for Syria, but Syria cannot start a war on its own. I don't think Hezbollah has the intention of going to a civil war, at least until further notice.
NOW: Any news on the international tribunal?
Geagea: The international tribunal is ready and will start its proceedings soon. The judges and administrative staff have been appointed. Funding has been secured for the first year and pledges for more years have been made. I expect it to start anytime after June.