British MP: Iran’s exclusion from Geneva II 'fatal error'

Lord Michael Williams speaks to As-Safir about the Syrian conflict, its effect on Lebanon and recent oil developments.

al-monitor Michael Williams shakes hands in Beirut with Mohammed Fneish of Hezbollah, Feb. 28, 2007. Photo by JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP/Getty Images.

Topics covered

syrian crisis, syria, suicide bombing, najib mikati, lebanon, hezbollah, geneva ii, britain

Feb 11, 2014

Lord Michael Williams, a member of the British House of Commons, points to two pressing concerns for Lebanon: the urgent need for a government and the need for Hezbollah to take the “wise decision” to withdraw from Syria.

“I'm worried about the continued presence of Hezbollah in Syria. It might be wise for the party to withdraw from the war and return to the Lebanese agreement on remaining neutral, to protect itself and Lebanon from what is happening there,” Williams told As-Safir.

Williams visited Lebanon a few days ago as a member of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), an international demining organization that works in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and several African countries including Libya. The Lebanese know very well the veteran diplomat, who served as the Special Coordinator of the secretary-general of the United Nations in Beirut for three years before Derek Plumbly took over the position.

Besides MAG’s commitment to clean southern Lebanon of the remnants of the 2006 Israeli war — especially of cluster bombs — before 2016, Williams, a leading researcher at the English Chatham House Foundation, conveyed several messages to Lebanon in a meeting with the head of the caretaker government, Najib Mikati.

“I told Prime Minister Mikati that it's better for Lebanon to have a normal government for security reasons. Such a government may not be a radical solution to the problem, but it will constitute a political cover for the Lebanese army, the Lebanese intelligence services and the internal security forces, and this is of utmost importance.”

The diplomat, who is closely following Lebanese developments, also offered “advice” on the oil issue: “The oil and gas developments are in the spotlight nowadays. In the absence of a normal government, big companies are discouraged from concluding any agreements with Lebanon.”

Williams explained to As-Safir: “Companies need stability, and this stability is missing with a caretaker prime minister, and they tend to believe that such government is not completely legitimate. If Lebanon wants to extract wealth from its exclusive economic zone — as Israel is doing — it will only manage to do so through major oil companies. These companies think of the money that they will invest and believe they are embarking on an adventure that they aim to make profit on. This is why political stability is needed.”

The security section is also a matter of concern for Britain. William describes the phenomenon of suicide bombers and jihadists as “very serious.” He said, “Overcoming this phenomenon requires concerted efforts, political and military measures and a government, knowing that there is considerable Western intelligence support for the Lebanese security services in terms of exchange of information and advice to confront these jihadists.” Williams added, “In the end, I think that [jihadists] will regress when a final settlement is made on Syria. Yet, this will take time because the Syrian problem is still very deep.”

Williams expressed Britain’s concern over the continuing repercussions of the Syrian war on Lebanon, saying, “British parliament has debated several times about the Syrian war. These debates tackled the price that Lebanon might end up paying, especially with the presence of this huge number of displaced on its territory. But the Syrian war has also had repercussions on other countries. It has fueled the sectarian conflict in Iraq, for example, and I hope that the issue of suicide bombers will not develop into a war in Lebanon. [Suicide bombers] are very dangerous because they sow terror among civilians, and we are going through difficult times in Lebanon and the region.”

Williams bets on solving the region's problems in the Geneva negotiations. He believes that the first meeting of the Geneva II conference resulted in two positive points: “The first is that representatives of the pillars of the regime and the opposition sat in the same room, which no one left, and this is very important. The second positive development lies in the visit made by the president of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Jarba, to Moscow, where he personally met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. This is, in my opinion, a very important development, because Lavrov is an experienced and very smart foreign minister, and he thinks a lot before granting an appointment of this kind. This sends a clear signal that the Syrian opposition is an essential part of any future political solution concerning Syria, and that there are two sides to the conflict in this country. But it is too early to speculate about the final solutions in Syria.”

Concerning the exclusion of Iran from the Geneva negotiations, Williams said: “This is a fatal error, solving such disputes requires bringing together all parties, and therefore Iran should be present on the table. And I think it will be present in the near future.” He added: “It is true that some countries do not like Iran, but this does not justify its exclusion. One cannot only deal with parties they like, especially since people are dying in large numbers in Syria.”

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