Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 268 - 279)



  Q268  Chairman: Secretary-General, we are extremely grateful that in what must be one of the busiest lives in Europe you have found time to meet our Committee today. We are, as I think you know, carrying out an inquiry into the European Union and the Middle East and therefore you are the "must see" person. We would be very grateful if you could start by talking to us perhaps initially on where you see we are now in relation to the Middle East and also perhaps going on to say where you feel we are going. If you are able to talk to us a little bit about that then we might want to move on to some rather more specific questions.

  Dr Solana: Thank you very much. I am very happy to receive you once again here in Brussels. I will answer directly because you do not have much time. On the Middle East I would like to mention three topics which I think are important and which are inter-related. I have just come back from an important trip to Damascus, to Lebanon and to Saudi Arabia and I think the three most important factors we have to consider, which as I have said are inter-related, are the peace process as such that one has taking place with the Unity Government on the question; the second thing we have to look at is the role of the important Sunni countries—what is the role of Saudi Arabia, what is the role of Syria—and in particular how all that relates to the situation in Lebanon, which I think is the key; and thirdly, I think we have to look at the more global picture which has to do with the last meeting that took place on Saturday in Baghdad with the President and neighbours of Baghdad, because that is also having an influence on the behaviour of some Sunni countries and it may in the future have some influence also on the solution of the whole problem. Let me start with the first, which is the National Unity Government. I think it is very important to say that the National Unity Government has been brokered by the Saudis. As you know, Damascus tried to do it before and it failed and then the Saudis took over and I would like to underline that. That means that the Saudis are beginning to play a much more important role in the region.


  Let me tell you that my last conversation with the King took place last Tuesday was a long and very good one and it was continued through a conversation I had the day before yesterday in Washington with Bandar. You will remember who Bandar is. Bandar was the Ambassador to the United States for 30 years and now has become the National Security Adviser of the King so he is an important connection.


  The most important positions for the Palestinians on the finances would be Fayyad, who is somebody we know very well, the Deputy Prime Minister who is somebody we know well (and it is important to remind you that the Deputy Prime Minister is the one who will be living in Ramallah, the Prime Minister will be in Gaza and it would be very difficult to move out of Gaza in the north so the personality representing the Government in Ramallah will be important); and the Minister of the Interior, who is the third figure and someone who we do not know deeply but we know fairly well, and he has been chosen to my mind in order to leave enough space to Muhammad Dahlan who has been appointed as National Security Adviser. As you have probably followed, the first reaction of Haniya has been to criticise that appointment and therefore it is an appointment that is going to have some difficulties. That is the first thing. The second thing the Saudis want to do is to see if they can strike an agreement in Lebanon. As you know, the agreement in Lebanon now has two elements: the nature of the Unity Government and the question of the International Tribunal.


  The possible compromise may be that one of the 11 would be more neutral, so instead of 19 plus 10 plus one, it would be 19 plus 11 and one of the 11 is a little bit more by the consensus of the two factions. The second thing is the Tribunal and the Tribunal is fundamental. As you know, the Tribunal is going through a very complicated situation. The United Nations has agreed on a Tribunal, the Senate has accepted a Tribunal but now Congress, the House of Representatives, has to accept it and the impression is the Speaker of the House has not convened the House in order to make an appropriate decision. The Saudis accept the concept of the Tribunal but they do not accept the statute of the Tribunal as it has arrived from New York. They will only accept something that comes out of a consensus with the Lebanese. The Lebanese are not allowed to meet and it is very difficult to find a consensus and therefore we may be in a position of a delay of the Tribunal. What can we do? We are going to continue putting pressure, the Saudis will continue putting pressure and as you know on the 28th of this month there is a very important summit in which all these things are going to be talked about. I have been invited to participate in the summit and I will be there and we will have to see what we can obtain. But—and I want to put this as a potential idea—the Tribunal will have to be created by Chapter VII and that will be very difficult.


  It was a good meeting not only because it took place and it showed the will of all the neighbours in principle to continue the stability of Riyadh but it was good because for the first time Damascus joined the Arab consensus and not the Iranian consensus. For the first time Damascus took the same position all along the two days along the lines of the Arabs. What does that mean? Is that going to continue and what is going to happen from today from Saturday until the 28th because the obsession of President Assad is to see if he can get a summit within the summit of Mubarak, King Abdullah and himself so he wants by all means to be incorporated into the leadership of the Arab world again.


  If you put that together with the debate that is taking place today in the United Nations, when the Resolution on Iran is done, if it is done, probably it will be announced tomorrow and I will make a statement immediately after that. If as we expect the Resolution is approved unanimously we will say that we want to continue to make an effort to negotiate with Tehran. I have the report of the American administration. I met with them yesterday and with Condoleezza Rice so we are going to see if we can move that process forward in the coming period of time. It will not be easy, as you know, but we have the whole of the Middle East again in a fluid situation.


  It is worth also reading the speech of Abbas. The speech of Abbas is a very tolerant speech which is worth reading because he put forward all the things that we believe are completely in accordance with the position of the international community, represented by the Court. So I think that we have started a process—a process that may be long and that may be adapted by Hamas—to see how we can restore the relationship with the Government. For the moment we are going to maintain the same position that we have maintained in the past. We are going to make contact with members of the Government with whom we met before such as Fayyad. We are not going to cut off relations but we will maintain the members of Hamas outside of our contacts. As far as the financing is concerned, for the moment we are going to maintain the TIM, the same mechanism, and we are going to wait for three months and see how it evolves and, as you know, and it has been in the Financial Times and in the Herald Tribunal, in the last three years we have given more money to the Palestinian people (not through government channels but to the Palestinian people) than ever before. That is the situation as I see it now. I will not be more precise at this point in time about how I see the coming days. From today until the last day of this month or let us say April we have an important period of time with the summit on 28 March and with two more meetings around Baghdad which will take place, one in Cairo probably, and it still is not clear what the level will be but it is very likely that before the end of April there will be a ministerial meeting of neighbours of Iraq. If that is the case, you can imagine there will be the possibility of other contacts around those two days that they will be together. If at the same time we have success on the Resolution of the UN, which I hope will be approved today and tomorrow, we will see how all these things fit together in the coming period of time. As far as Rice is concerned, Secretary Rice will be in the region on the 23rd and 24th. She is not going to have a trilateral meeting, she is going to have two bilateral meetings, with Hamas and with Olmert. Immediately after that I will go and we will continue to keep on pushing in the same direction, so it will be an organised division of labour. I went first to the Saudis, to the Lebanon and then to Damascus for the first time and she is now going to the region to see the Palestinians and the Israelis and then we will join in the middle of the month and I think we will have a Quartet. Our hope now is to have a meeting of the Arab Quartet, let us put it that way, plus a meeting with the Arab Quartet, the Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians and Emirates. And if possible the eight of us will meet also with the parties and with Hamas separately, and that is the objective that we have now. It still is not sure that that will be possible but if that is possible it will be the first time that a meeting of that nature has taken place and that will create, I hope, a new dynamic more positive than the dynamic we have had in the past. There is a lot of activity in the coming days; let us hope that this activity leads somewhere.

  Q269  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: That was terrific, thank you very much.

  Dr Solana: I am sorry if it was too long.

  Q270  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No absolutely not because I think you have covered so many of the questions we would otherwise have asked you. Can we come back to the point about the Saudis trying to do this brokerage and the difficulties that there are over the blockages particularly in Beirut at the moment, and those blockages obviously inspired as they are from Damascus. Can I ask you, Secretary-General, it is my experience as a minister that the Saudis' relationship with Damascus was always difficult but that it has got so much worse now because of the offence taken by the King of Saudi Arabia over the way in which Bashar al-Assad has behaved. What is the brokerage going on there to try to bring Syria towards—who is putting pressure on the Syrians? The Syrians' place is with the Arabs, not with the Iranians. Egypt clearly wants to do that but how are the Syrians being brought into this because they are not part of the Quartet that you described but they are a key stakeholder?

  Dr Solana: Syria now is one of the most difficult countries to handle. Let me tell you that I had been a frequent visitor to Syria until the assassination of Hariri and at that point I stopped and I did not go until last week. I went because we agreed among the 27 that it would be better to represent the interests of Europe.


  For the moment no agreement has been reached but they are open to talk. I do not think that they will go very far in that direction, to tell you the truth. What is new I think is that the Syrians now feel a level of isolation from the Arab countries, in particular from the Saudis. You know that after the speech from the President the Saudis did not want to talk about this at all.


  Now, as I said, the thing that they wanted to obtain the most before the 28th is a triangular meeting of Damascus with Cairo and Riyadh. I am not sure that is possible. I do not think that Mubarak and the King are very keen on that but, as you know, when the Arabs get together in Riyadh they will be together for so many hours that maybe you will see pictures of the three together. What is the role that is played by Tehran in this? You can imagine that Tehran now being under the scrutiny of the Security Council with the new Resolution will not like it very much that Damascus is separating itself from the position of Tehran, so therefore all these things are very much linked in time and in policies and we have to see how things develop in the coming days.


  Q271  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean


  Chairman: Lord Hannay?

  Q272  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Could I ask you something strictly speaking a little outside our scope, but you mentioned it, on the Security Council's Resolution on Iran and the position that you are going to take with support from the United States afterwards in favour of some kind of dialogue. Is that going to be an unconditional offer or is it still going to be dependent on the Iranians first stopping their enrichment activities?

  Dr Solana: The position there has not changed whatsoever. All the conversations or pre-negotiations or whatever you want to call it with Riyadh have not moved on to negotiations because they have not accepted suspension. It may be a double suspension: they suspend the process of enrichment and we suspend our activity in New York. What we are now moving to, and the Americans have accepted, is not to ask for an indefinite suspension but to ask for a suspension for the duration of the negotiations and at the same time agree that the negotiations will have a limited time, let us say of four or five months, at which moment we will analyse if we are pleased with the way the negotiations are going. If we continue we will continue with the suspension; if not, we will break. We can produce the minutes of the previous meeting to see how we prepared the definition of suspension but it will not be formal negotiations because the Americans will never join the negotiations if the machines are rotating, if I may say.

  Q273  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I think you have made a big progress—with the Americans I mean.

  Dr Solana: Really tremendous progress. I came back yesterday very, very happy because of the atmosphere. I had several meetings with Rice and Hadley, the three of us alone for hours, and I think we have made some progress.


  Q274  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: I think you have partly answered this question but do you see deals being done with Iran and Syria simultaneously and do they have to be simultaneous? Do we have to bring them both on side at the same time or might one follow the other with a period in between?

  Dr Solana: This is a personal position really because the deal with Tehran and Damascus has two components. In particular with Tehran there is the nuclear component and there is the component of their behaviour in general in the region, which applies to their behaviour in Lebanon and their behaviour in Afghanistan, and we cannot forget that Afghanistan is becoming part of the problem also or part of the solution. With Damascus we have to concentrate on how they are going to deliver and this is the most important thing, so there we do not have the third dossier which is nuclear which is more difficult. I do not think there have to be agreements simultaneously with Iran and with Damascus but they will not be very far apart because relations with Tehran and Damascus are, as you know, pretty tense.

  Q275  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Do those two countries have to be squared before we can look to an agreement between Israel and Palestine?

  Dr Solana: I do not think that it has to be completely squared. I think that at the end of the day the whole thing will have to be in one package if we want to have a comprehensive peace. I do not think the whole package could be brokered without solving the Golan issue, but I think that we could move on the Palestinian track regardless, not going all the way to the end, but begin to move on the Palestinian track.


  Once we have the basic elements we can see how the furniture can be put into the different rooms through negotiation. I think this is the type of metaphor that we are using with that. They have accepted it as a metaphor and let us see how we can put the metaphor into operation, which is not easy, but this is what we are trying to do. The debate about Damascus, as you know, is open in the Knesset. There are groups which say, "Why don't we open Damascus now, it may be easier, it is better to define the problem, it does not have the connotation of Palestinian refugees et cetera, so why don't we get into that? At least we will open one door of hope." Olmert still has not taken that view but it may happen that the atmosphere is created and Damascus behaves better, in particular on the control of the north-east border, because this is the manner in which the weapons arrive to Hezbollah.

  Q276  Lord Chidgey: Secretary-General, in your opening comments you made a very interesting remark regarding the Saudis taking a much more active and important role as part of a policy determination, if you like, to stop the influence of Iran or the Persians spreading through the region. I wonder if you could explain to me or to us how those dynamics are going to work.

  Dr Solana: What I told you is what the Syrians described as their various tactics and strategies. That is not to say those strategies can operate but that is what they told us.

  Q277  Lord Chidgey: I see.

  Dr Solana: It is not myself who speaks; it is they who speak. We have to understand why sometimes they go slowly and the National Unity Government is not perfect, and we cannot forget, they say, their objective.

  Q278  Lord Chidgey:


  Q279  Lord Chidgey: But does the closeness of the US and Saudi work against that?

  Dr Solana: Why do you see a problem with the US?

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