Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah: An exclusive interview with As-Safir
Q: Let’s move into the local part of the interview, starting with the security plan which was endorsed by the government and which is being implemented in Tripoli and Bekaa. Was it compulsory for the capital of the North to endure 20 rounds of battles and for hundreds of martyrs and injured to fall? What guarantees that the approach this time would be different from the previous times?
A: I believe that it will be different this time. In the past times, the problem was always in the political decision. One of the primary factors in taking the great decision for such plans is the return of the other party to power. I believe that if they were not in power, they would not have approved any security plan. Perhaps they would have crippled them. This was what used to take place in the past. No doubt what took place (the governmental change) was useful. That’s because and from the very beginning – and even under PM Najeeb Mikati – we took pains to have the other party partake in the government. However, they made another choice.
However, today, the government in which most of the political forces partook can indeed make greater achievements. It might move at a slow pace; however, it can make greater achievements.
Q: Is the Royal Saudi order concerning banning a group of terrorist organizations, which have extensions in Lebanon, a helping factor?
A: Indeed, it will be very helpful. In fact, it encouraged the other political party to have a serious participation in confronting this issue, to activate some official security apparatuses, to approve some security plans or to furnish the Lebanese Army with the appropriate cover. I believe that these steps were influenced one way or another with the Saudi decision.
Q: What is your primary evaluation for the steps taken by the government of PM Tammam Salam, whether concerning the appointments or the others files?
A: Indeed, we were partners in these decisions, and we offered all the necessary aids and required facilitations.
Q: As far as Tripoli is concerned, the party is accused at times in sponsoring definite cases and providing the political cover for them. Is what has been achieved so far beneficial, and to what extent it is so?
A: That is beneficial to Tripoli, the North, and to all of Lebanon. That’s because what used to take place in Tripoli used to cause tension in the political, media, popular, and psychological atmosphere all across the country. Any step that leads to the prevention of bloodshed, to the pacifying of souls, and to setting the prelude for reconciliations- which might and must take place in the future and which might be the prelude to broader steps on the political, social, economic, or living levels, are indeed very important.
As far as the North and Tripoli are concerned, we assert that it is not enough to stick to a security or judicial approach. Rather, we call for a comprehensive approach- a political, social, economic, and developmental approach. We also call for true reconciliations between the various currents and movements and for the utmost cooperation possible.
Q: What is your evaluation of the judicial warrants that have been issued so far?
A: We have our remarks on the judicial warrants as they were not as balanced as we supposed and expected.
Q: Didn’t these reservations cause any problem?
A: Practically, everyone is now cooperating to facilitate the plan with all its dimensions. If there are any remarks, reservations, or problems, they can be addressed with time.
Q: So that it does not remain solely a security the approach, doesn’t having political dialogues, especially between Hizbullah and the Future Movement, lead to safeguarding this security plan?
A: We are always ready for dialogue. Practically speaking, now in the cabinet, as most of the political forces are partaking, such dialogues are taking place in the cabinet. The current government is trying to address great and essential files. The same applies to the parliament after parliamentary activities were reactivated.
Moreover, opening the way before the various parliamentary blocs to communicate and discuss major and important files is indeed helpful. Many of the causes are being postponed, but they do not tolerate any further delay as they have to do with the life of the civilians, including the series of ranks and salaries.
Q: Practically speaking, you took a decision that the dialogue be at the parliamentary and governmental levels. You did not take the decision yet to raise the level of dialogue with the Future Movement to the political level…
A: There is no problem in political dialogue or in opening channels of whatever level with the Future Movement.
Q: Who assumes the responsibility for the interruption of dialogue in the previous stage?
A: Let’s say that the interruption of dialogue was a result of the dispute that took place over the government of PM Saad Hariri. The circumstances and the atmosphere that followed that stage led to this break off in a spontaneous way. We don’t want to hold any side alone responsible for this interruption.
Sayyed Nasrallah: Local Factors Most Influential This Time
Q: Doesn’t this contradict with Hizbullah’s boycott of the latest national dialogue session? Does this apply to the upcoming dialogue session?
A: No! It’s not the same case. Boycotting the national dialogue table had other reasons. For example, now we are partaking in the cabinet sessions in a normal way, whether they are headed by the President of the Republic or the Premier.
The national dialogue table is something else. That’s because the primary – and even the only, as is said – topic of the national dialogue table is the defense strategy. The stances issued by the President of the Republic in the past few months and especially in the past few weeks, have stripped him of the position of the moderator who is able to carry out a national dialogue on such an important and major cause – meaning the defense strategy. Our absence from the national dialogue table was not based on our stance on the principle of dialogue.
We always take pains to secure the principle of dialogue, dialogue, attendance, and the table of dialogue. Previously, we did not boycott the dialogue table at a time when other forces were interrupting dialogue for long months.
The fact that pushed us to take this measure is the sharp stances taken by the President of the Republic on the tripartite balance, and the labeling he issued as well as the previous stances which he announced in an inappropriate way- from our perspective.
Q: How do you interpret the stances taken by the President of the Republic, and did they surprise you?
A: The change in stances took place, especially in recent months. I do not have a clear interpretation. There are many analyses. However, I do not want to get engaged in these analyses. In my viewpoint, the outcome is inappropriate. If we compared the latest speeches with the oath speech, we will find great discrepancy between the two speeches and the two tracks.
After all, we must look at the result. As for the motives and the backgrounds, we do not want to get engaged in them.
Q: Some accused you of targeting the presidential post.
A: First, we did not comment on the speeches, including the well-known speech which was delivered in the Ministry of Defense. We did not comment on it, and we transcended it. We remained in contact with the hope that what was said was said only – meaning that it was a stance taken at a moment and not a new path. Later, it was revealed that it was a new track. The first comment which was made by Hizbullah was clear and precise, and we said it “with our great respect and high esteem to the presidential post.” Thus, here, we are criticizing the president and not the presidential post. This is also our normal right. In fact, many of the other political parties in Lebanon used to criticize him on various situations. If we reviewed the past six years, we would find that some parties in the March 14 Bloc were the ones who criticized the president most and most sharply, too.
Q: So, there are no bilateral talks with the President of the Republic now?
A: No, there isn’t anything other the normal contact at the cabinet. No, there is not any direct bilateral contact.
Q: Do you think that the stance of the President on the Republic has to do with hints made by Hizbullah that oppose extending his tenure?
A: This is one of the suggested possibilities. I mentioned that there are several analyses- this is one of the analyses that was said. Although we did not announce a political stance openly or in the media concerning extending the tenure, however, in the framework of the discussions over forming the cabinet, we have said our viewpoint with transparency to those who resorted to us months ago. These included friends of the president. We said that as far as we are concerned, extending the tenure is out of question. Perhaps this early stance was the reason behind these problems that took place, or for the changes that took place in the stance of the president. However, I say that I do not have special information. Thus, I do not want to judge. Therefore, this remains among the possibilities.
Q: Why was your stance from extending the tenures of Presidents Elias Hrawi and Emile Lahoud positive? Did you take a negative stance on the principle of extending the tenure this time?
A: We are not talking about a stance on the principle of extending the tenure. That’s what we told those who resorted to us- whether when discussing the President of the Republic or other issues, or even the dialogues that took place between our friends in the Free Patriotic Movement and us over extending the tenure of the parliament. I told them that we have no stance on the principle. Thus, we once agreed on extending the tenure of late President Elias Hrawi as well as the tenure of former President Emile Lahoud.
Thus, we do not have a problem with the principle. The evidence is that we previously voted for such applications. Moreover, when we were discussing the parliament- and as a result of our view and comprehension of the political and security situations, and what is taking place in Lebanon and the surrounding- we backed the idea of extending the tenure of the parliament last year.
As such, we are not against the principle of extending the tenure whether to an institution, or to a person or a post. This is clear. I am not confusing things.
Yes, even when the tenure of the president used to be extended in the past that used to be subject to extraordinary circumstances that require extending the tenure of this or that president.
I believe that neither the circumstances push towards extending the tenure of the President of the Republic Suleiman, nor does his performance call for approving on extending his tenure.
Q: What you said indicates that Hizbullah had one way or another specified its stance on the presidential elections?
A: My answer comes in two parts. The first part has to do with holding the presidential elections. I believe that this is not the stance of Hizbullah alone; Bkirki was the first to announce the need, the national interest, and the dire urgency for holding the elections, asserting that they must take place. Even the terms which were used focused on electing a new president for the republic. So, it was clear that a new president must be elected. That ruled out any supposition for extending the tenure for President Suleiman. According to my vision, I can see that the general atmosphere in the country moves in the direction of holding presidential elections and electing a new president.
The second part has to do with the person of the new President.
Well, on the level of the Hizbullah leadership, we have discussed this issue. For us, the person whom we look forward to, support, back, and vote for has been nominated. In our hidden decision, the name is final. However, we are waiting for the right time as well as the necessary coordination between us and with our political bloc, and more precisely- with the concerned figure- to proclaim this candidate’s name. However, internally, this issue is final for us.
Q: Can we talk about the characteristics of this personality if you don’t want to mention names?
A: For weeks now, the characteristics of the president are being circulated in the country. They are talking about a strong president who would have a true and acceptable impact on the popular and national level. All of these characteristics were tackled by everyone, and there is a consensus on them which we assert as well.
Q: Do these characteristics apply to some candidates such as Samir Geagea who officially announced his candidacy?
A: Apart from our assessment of Dr. Geagea, his positions, biography, and political objectives, and from our assessment of any March 14 Bloc candidate or any candidate who might be backed by March 14 Bloc, it is natural and logical that we support and back our presidential candidate- whose presidency would achieve the major national interest, which we look forward to.
Q: Is there a raid by presidential candidates towards Hizbullah under the table?
A: In a country like Lebanon, it is natural that the supposed candidates seek to contact the various political forces, and Hizbullah is a primary political force in Lebanon. So, that is taking place in one way or another.
Q: In your evaluation, are the elements of the presidential elections in 2014 different from those in the past? The international factor? The regional factor? Will the local factor be more influential this time?
A: I believe that this entitlement will be influenced by internal factors more than any time in the past.
On the international level, what is apparent from the stances of some major countries which usually interfere in the presidential elections, indicate that they do not support any definite person. So far, it does not seem that these states are seeking to have any particular personality as the president.
What was reported from some political milieus is that these states are saying: What we care for is stability in Lebanon- that must be the achievement of this entitlement; as for the person of President, you, as Lebanese, can address that.
Perhaps these states would not interfere to specify the person of President at a later stage because that is not among their priorities, as they have preoccupations and concerns in other countries.
On the regional level, the countries which used to participate or play a role, in one way or another are also preoccupied. Let’s take Egypt, for example. I don’t think that the Egyptians would interfere.
As for Syria, President Bashar Assad said frankly: We care for the path of the president, and that is true. I don’t believe that in the current state, the Syrian leadership would interfere in the person of President; the Syrian leadership cares more for the path of the president. That’s because Syria now is engaged in a fateful battle. Consequently, its priorities and the priorities of the battle it is engaged in impose on it a stance concerning this issue. As for Saudi Arabia, I believe that it backs a definite president.