15 JANUARY 2010


The Secretary General may be facing a brewing controversy in Lebanon, a new Security Council member, over the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. The best advice is for him to avoid being drawn in or make a statement other than a general one about the need to implement all Security Council Resolutions. He could await the outcome which may eventually come out through a cabinet decision. Mr. Ban's position will be closely watched in Beirut by all sides, particularly that an underlying element is the role of his Special Envoy for that resolution, Terje Roed (Herring) Larsen. A complicating internal factor lies in a new reshuffle of political alliances. Until recently there were two main groupings: The governing "14 March" versus opposition "8 March." The first was considered pro-American (or at least openly supported by U.S. government); the other supposedly allied with Syria, Iran or both. A shift by prominent Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a driving force in the ruling coalition, the formation of Saad Hariri's new Lebanese Unity government, and his visit to Damascus practically dismantled "14 March" and similarly confused its "8 March" adversary. A new political theatre is evolving, refereed by the credibly neutral leadership of President Suleiman.

Apparently, during the difficult five months (yes, five) of forming the new government, some in the opposition thought that U.N. envoy Larsen was unduly interfering in the nature of its composition. Shias of Hesbollah and Christians under General Aoun's leadership felt he was instigating against them while certain Maronite Christians like Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Phalangist Amin Gemayel may have understood that he was reflecting the common position of the "international community," in effect the U.S. and France. Syria never thought much of Larsen whom they long listed as persona non-grata.

Now is payback time.

With a growing consensus following a historic December visit by new Lebanese Prime Minister to Damascus, questions started to float whether Security Council Resolution 1559 was still relevant. The thrust of that resolution taken in September 2004 supported "a free and fair presidential election" without "foreign interference and influence" and in that connection called upon "all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon." Clearly, it was directed at Syrian forces that were compelled to withdraw months later after the "Cedar Revolution" following the brutal assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri on 14 March 2005. It reaffirmed its calls for the strict respect of Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence "under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout the country." In a related provision, the Council called for "the disbanding and disarmament" of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militaries and for all parties concerned "to co-operate fully and urgently" in the full implementation. Nine Council members, the minimum required majority, voted in favour. They were, in alphabetical order: Angola, Benin, Chile, France, Germany, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom, United States). None voted against. The six abstaining were: Algeria, Brazil, China, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation. To follow up, Secretary General Annan designated Mr. Larsen, who reflected an emerging convergence of a joint U.S.-French policy towards Lebanon, and by implication, against Syria.

Times change. Some people change. Governments in Lebanon change. U.S. Administrations change. French Presidents change. "Plus ca change," as the Parisian proverb goes, yet Syria's President Bashar Assad "reste le meme!"

Sometime around mid-December, the newly appointed Foreign Minister in Beirut, Ali Chami, said to a local reporter that he considered Resolution 1559 "practically cancelled." A novice to Foreign Affairs, he did not realize that cancelling a Security Council Resolution was only up to the Council itself. Many thought it was an isolated shot in the dark until more prominent voices started to come out to the effect that the resolution has become "irrelevant." Particularly after an official visit by the Prime Minister to Damascus, and a joint commitment to improved closer relations, there was no point to "provoke" or "exploit" political differences, the argument went, particularly that Syrian troops had long left Lebanon and Lebanese politicians of varied factions were returning their former friendly contacts. Keeping the Resolution in active circulation, the argument goes on, is aimed at Hezbollah which as part of the Unity Government is not considered a militia, but an integral part of the Lebanese general structure. Disarming it could only be done within an internal Lebanese dialogue and not through an outside force.

That argument gained support when a pillar of the former majority (and so called pre-U.S. alliance) Walid Jumblatt denounced 1559 at a political banquet given in his honour Sunday 3 January 2010, followed by an indication by senior Beirut parliament member of "Future Movement," the Prime Minister's own party, suggesting that "for the sake of internal stability" Resolution 1559 could be discreetly shelved as Lebanese political parties should work out their internal differences in dialogues under the patronage of the President of the Republic.

The main new approach now is to focus on Resolution 1701, which is considered all inclusive, including an appropriate reference to previous resolutions and -- more interesting -- a demand that Israeli forces withdraw from still-occupied Lebanese border areas. Still, certain politicians, particularly "Lebanese Forces" and Phalangists, strongly disagree. The controversy is likely to continue for a while before the "Unity Government" takes a final formal decision.

Meanwhile, the Permanent Representative of Lebanon, who just took his seat at the Security Council table, will have to maneuver his way not only through unchartered international territory but also in a controversial internal teapot. Good luck!