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HBO History Makers Series: Conversation with Terje Roed-Larsen

Speaker: Terje Roed-Larsen, President, International Peace Academy; special UN Envoy for Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559 on Lebanon
Presider: Ethan S. Bronner, Deputy Foreign Editor, New York Times
February 22, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY

Council on Foreign Relations

ETHAN BRONNER:  Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations and to the very cool Home Box Office History Maker Series.  We want to thank Richard Plepler and Home Box Office for the generous support of the History Maker Series.

And it’s my obligation to ask you to turn off your cell phones and BlackBerrys, in case you’ve forgotten to do that, and to remind you that the session tonight is on the record.

This series has had a half a dozen or so very interesting people, including Madeleine Albright and Jorge Castaneda, Ehud Barak, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Paul O’Neill.  And tonight we’re all privileged to sit for an hour with Terje Roed-Larsen, who is currently the president of the International Peace Academy in New York, and also currently the special U.N. envoy for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559 regarding Lebanon.  And, of course, a large part of what we’ll be talking about tonight is his involvement as the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process and personal representative of the secretary-general to the PLO and the Palestinian Authority during the ‘90s and I think through 2004.

So, you have all got his biography.  I’m not going to go through it.  It’s a distinguished one.  He’s a social scientist and a diplomat who’s held important ranks both in Norway and at the U.N., and has really been at the center of an enormous amount of sensitive diplomacy and fascinating interchange.  So, the point of the evening is partly to look back at some of those moments and ask him to reflect on them, to share some of it with a candor that he might not have done at the time.  And then we’ll push it forward a little bit and talk about—because the region that Terje is involved in has not gotten any quieter since he left his PLO job.

We’re going to talk, he and I, for 25 or 30 minutes, and then you’ll have questions from the group.

So, Terje, let me begin with Arafat.  As it happens, last week on Lebanese television, Abd Bari Atwan, who is the editor-in-chief of Al Quds Al-Arabi, said that in July ‘94, before Chairman Arafat returned to Palestine, to Gaza, just before, he went to see him, and he said to him, you know, I don’t like this Oslo Accord; I think you’re making a terrible mistake; it’s bad for the Palestinians.  And he said Arafat took him outside and said to him—(in Arabic)—after every sentence it became—(in Arabic)—“I will drive them crazy,” he said.  “I will turn this agreement into a curse for them, perhaps not in my lifetime, but you will live to see the Israelis flee from Palestine.” 

And Abd Bari Atwan was saying on television last week that, you know, that’s when he calmed down; he realized that Arafat was not in fact betraying his people, that he was on the right side of history.

Now, obviously that is, I assume, not what you believed Arafat thought he was doing when you helped negotiate Oslo.  So I want to ask you to talk a little bit about your sense of do you in fact think that what he said at that time is what he believed, assuming he said it, or do you think that he said different things to different people?

TERJE ROED-LARSEN:  I could talk for an hour about—

BRONNER:  Yeah!  (Laughs.)

ROED-LARSEN:  Let me first say how delighted and honored I am to be here.  It’s a real pleasure to have this opportunity. 

And then let me address your question, and I will do it twofold.  First, to say a few words about who Arafat was, because he was an extraordinary and very kind of exceptional personality.  He was like an impressionist painting, full of contradictions—he was bad, he was good; he was emotional, he was cynical; he was immoral, he was moral.  He was a very, very difficult guy to interpret. 

But I got to know him over more than a decade, and I probably am the person from the West who saw him the most over all those years.  And what was a trait in him was that he was always telling people what I thought what they would like him to say.  So he probably said exactly what you said to this particular fellow, but told me exactly the opposite.  And what his real opinion was was very difficult to find.  And frankly, on many occasions I don’t think he had a real opinion, because the trait in him was to play up to everybody he talked to.  So—and he was not a great strategist, and he did not have very firm objectives; they were changing all the time.  He was a master tactician, and he was a very good psychologist.

BRONNER:  But did you understand that when you began the negotiations,or is it something you came to realize later?

ROED-LARSEN:  No, it took many years, it took me many years to see it.  But looking back, I mean, this trait in him was very consistent throughout that period of time.

What happened in 1993 was—I mean Arafat went into Oslo and went into recognizing Israel out of necessity, because the PLO was politically and financially broke at the time and he was looking at a way out.  The collapse of the Soviet Union, his strategic mistake siding with Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, led to financial bankruptcy for the PLO, and there was actually a very strong opposition against him within Fatah and the PLO.  There was an open uproar against him.  So his way out was basically grabbing Oslo.

BRONNER:  So when you were dealing with him in the early ‘90s, you had the impression of a person who really had come to a historic conclusion about the need to do something the opposite of what he’d been doing.

ROED-LARSEN:  No, I’d rather put it this way; that in the situation he was, his only way out was to recognize Israel and accept the Oslo accords, go out of exile, go back to Gaza.  I think he was addressing pragmatically an existential question for himself, Fatah and PLO at the time.  And in many ways, by the way—we can come back to it—I think Abu Mazen is in a similar situation now, but we can talk about that a bit later. 

So I don’t think it was a strategic vision; I think it was basically a way of surviving.  And then I think the objective changed over time.

BRONNER:  Okay.  But the point is that you believed, as many did, at the time that he meant to do what it was he supposedly had set out to do.  And subsequently did you decide that in fact he did not mean to do it?  Do you feel, in other words, that he had been dishonest with you?

ROED-LARSEN:  I have to go back to what I was trying to—the basics here.  He had one opinion one day and he had a different opinion the next day, and they could be completely contrary, because this guy was a survivor.

BRONNER:  And did you feel that when you dealt with him?

ROED-LARSEN:  Yes, and as I said, consistently.  I mean, for the first Oslo, yes, after he arrived in Gaza in 1994, I think basically until Bibi Netanyahu took over and maybe even a little bit further, I think he really tried to kind of pursue by and large a path of nonviolence and to negotiate a deal for the Palestinians ending with a Palestinian state and finding a solution to Jerusalem refugees—

BRONNER:  From the beginning.

ROED-LARSEN:  No, I think all the way, by and large, but there were some deviations along the road.  You had to kind of drag him back again.  But then it all unraveled and he shifted completely tactics and objectives for the last, basically, four years of his life, and led to a complete breakdown of our personal relationship.

BRONNER:  And did you during those years deal with Hamas leaders at all?

ROED-LARSEN:  I met them, but I never kind of dealt with them in negotiations or—I met them all a few times, I had some conversations with them, so I know basically all the leaders; not well, but I met them.

BRONNER:  And I promise to return to history, but while we’ve moved to Hamas, what’s your impression of the chance of their becoming more pragmatic, shall we say, toward relations with Israel in the next year or two?

ROED-LARSEN:  I have a quite different reading than most people of the situation now.  You can ask the question was the victory for Hamas—was it a blessing, a mixed blessing or a curse for them.  I think it’s more of the latter than the two first, because—

BRONNER:  For Hamas, you mean; it was a curse for Hamas to win.

ROED-LARSEN:  Well, more the latter than the first, because if you go back to the accords, Rabin and Arafat agreed in 1993 that the Palestinian Authority should have no features of foreign policy; Rabin, because if you gave them all the foreign policy functions, it would be a state all but in name.

So they didn’t want to do that.  So that was taken away.  And Arafat wanted to keep, then, with the PLO because if the PA collapsed, then he would keep the PLO for a rainy day.  I know kind of this is—Abu Mazen ?? Actually, the accords said that all the foreign policy functions remains with the PLO, so all the agreements from `93 and onwards are fine.  Yes, Arafat chairman of the PLO.  And actually the title of foreign minister doesn’t formally exist according to the agreements.  The title is minister for Planning and International Coordination.  Abu Mazen is fully aware of this now.

This—so if you look at—if you looked at the legality, what Hamas has is basically to maintain the (sewage ?) system, deliver electricity, deliver water, but they have no power to negotiate.  That remains with Abu Mazen, legally speaking, as the chairman of the PLO, not at the president of the Palestinian Authority.  I mean, this is a reality, and Abu Mazen is very much aware of this.  I’ve spoken to him a couple of times lately.

So and then—I mean, the Palestinian and Israeli economy is so interwoven.  I mean, basically all their electricity to the Palestinian area comes from Israel—it comes from Israel.

BRONNER:  Right.

ROED-LARSEN:  Water, the same, which means that Israel, potentially that’s a very powerful tool vis a vis Hamas, which they did not have before Hamas became masters of the Oslo institutions.

And here there is a fundamental dilemma because Hamas over the last 10-15 years built their identity on being against Oslo and against the Oslo institutions.  After they won the elections, they had become the masters of the institutions, which a position has constituted their identity and those traditions.  They got a political existential crisis from Hamas, and they have to choose.


ROED-LARSEN:  And—and so Israel has a kind of new—potentially a new control—tool in their house, but they’re also dependent on, at the minimum, 1 billion U.S. dollars every year from foreign aid, which gives the international community also potentially a very powerful tool in their—in their hands.  And historically, about—between 80 and 90 percent of the money comes from the U.S. and Europe.

BRONNER:  Right.  Now, we know that Secretary Rice has been traveling around the Middle East in the last day or two trying to urge the Saudis and the Egyptians not to fill in for the money that she’s planning not to give, and they have both told her “forget it” so far.  And then as well, Ali Larijani, the Iranian nuclear negotiator, specifically said that it ought—that the Iranians ought to make up the—and ought to—all Muslims, I think he said, ought to support Hamas.  And it does seem likely that they’ll find a billion dollars, if you know what I mean, between all of the people who would be—dearly love to see American foreign policy plans thwarted.  Do you agree?

ROED-LARSEN:  I think everybody should hold their horses until we see what comes out of the talks between Abu Mazen and Hamas.  Abu Mazen, as you know, put out some criteria for appointing a new government, which is basically renouncing violence and terrorism, and accepting Israel and recognize all signed agreements.  And I think we should all hold our horses and see what comes out of that agreement.

What Abu Mazen’s leverage here is of course that what he can do is to, after the Israeli elections, he can tell the Israelis, “I want to sit at the table with you and reach an agreement.”  And if he reached an agreement, I would call for new elections, put it to the people, because according to the agreements, for instance, if they could agree on a state with provisional boundaries, and then say we will have state-to-state negotiations about final status; basically saying, state with provisional boundaries, and then afterwards, we discuss Jerusalem, boundaries, et cetera.  Then, with automaticity there is to be new elections because then there has to be elections for a parliament—a proper parliament to a Palestinian state.  And this is the most powerful tool Abu Mazen potentially has in his hand.  But in order to use that tool, he needs a partner.  And this is the big question.  And again, it’s too early to say.

BRONNER:  And in your dealings with him over the years, do you have the impression that Abu Mazen is going to stay in power right now?

ROED-LARSEN:  I have actually spoken to him several times over the last few weeks about that.  And my impression very definitely is that he would say and fight for what is right.  But he might get into, of course, a completely different situation than he is in today.


ROED-LARSEN:  So I would not kind of give any predictions about it.  But his intentions these days are very clear.  He wants to stay.

BRONNER:  Because he’s been such a reluctant politician for so long, after all.  You know, this is not a guy who seems to have a spine made of steel.

ROED-LARSEN:  No, but there is no other option for the time being than Abu Mazen.  And I would say that what both Israelis, Palestinians and the international community should do is to do their best to strengthen the Palestinian president, based on his program, which I think they universally can agree on; instead of kind of repeating he’s weak, he hasn’t proved anything, to try to assist him, in order to pursue that program.  And I know that he’s very—I mean, he really means what he says.

BRONNER:  Now let’s stay with Oslo for another minute or two, and then move on to other topics.  Do you look back on it as a failure now?


BRONNER:  Tell us about it.

ROED-LARSEN:  Because Oslo has, in a way, been three phenomena.  One is an ideology of the use of nonviolence; the mutual recognition of the PLO and the PA; and the basic notion, though it’s not explicitly in the Oslo accords, to move towards the two-state solution, with two states, Palestine and Israel, living peacefully and in security, side by side, based on the results of negotiations.

This represented and represents an ideological revolution in the Palestinian areas and in Israel, not only because now all the key leaders on both sides—I mean, within PLO and in the kind of Israeli establishment—have accepted that goal.  I mean, Sharon made a political U-turn by accepting a Palestinian state and pursuing it as a goal, and also pulling out of Gaza.  So in a way, Sharon not only came into the framework, de facto, of Oslo, but he radicalized Oslo, because, remember, Yitzhak Rabin never went for a Palestinian state.  Sharon went much further than Sharon (sic) did, and Shimon Peres, at the time.  So—and very much to Mr. Sharon’s credit, which shows incredible political guts.  And actually, in the process of his ideological revolution, he basically destroyed the ideological basis of the party he co-founded, the Likud—

BRONNER:  Right.

ROED-LARSEN: —and took the consequence in moving out of it and establishing a new party, based on a new ideology.

BRONNER:  Now did you speak with Sharon much?  I mean, I know in 2002 or ‘3, when Jenin occurred and you complained about it and he complained about you, he didn’t have kind words for you.  But did you have a relationship?

ROED-LARSEN:  We had a relationship, but it was very strained for a very long period of time.  But I can share with you that the day after he was elected as prime minister the first time, he asked me to come and see him at the King David Hotel, at his campaign headquarters.  And we sat alone for quite a while.  And on—he—and I was pretty amazed.  He looked at me, and he asked me—I congratulated him.  I said, “I just reread your autobiography, ‘Warrior,’ and you are a man of dash and dare, and we are now hoping that you will again show that dash and dare.” 

And he just looked at me, and he said, “What would you do?”  So I kind of thought, “What do I say?”  So I said, “Well, actually, Mr. Prime Minister-elect, if I were you, I would show that dash and dare by leaving Gaza in one sweep.”  I thought he would be angry with me, but he just looked very coolly at me.

He looked at me, thinking, and he said, “But I can’t leave Natzarim.”  I said, “Why can’t you leave Natzarim?”  Natzarim is a tiny little—it was a tiny little settlement. 

He said, “Because I need it to protect the harbor.”  I said, “But there isn’t a harbor.”  He said, “But this is where the Palestinians might build a harbor.”

But what I understood then—this guy is not an ideologist of concerns—this is a pragmatist, with security concerns.  So I always believed that he would do it.  But unfortunately, it took four years before he took the consequence.  I don’t think, actually, he followed my advice.

BRONNER:  Right.  I understand.  (Laughter.)  You weren’t the only person with the idea.  But it was a good thought.

ROED-LARSEN:  No, but he—just I had one remark about—yup—

BRONNER:  And while we’re talking about your relations with Israeli prime ministers, tell us about the relationship you had with Bibi Netanyahu in those years when he was prime minister—what, ‘96 to ‘99, right?  How was that?

ROED-LARSEN:  It was excellent.

BRONNER:  Really?

ROED-LARSEN:  It was really excellent.  And it’s kind of a strange story, because the day after, to many’s surprise, particularly the Palestinians’, that Bibi Netanyahu won the elections against Shimon Peres, there were kind of two incidents.  One was that Abu Mazen called me and my wife—she was then the deputy at the Norwegian embassy in Tel Aviv—asked if they could come and see us.

So I said, “But we live in Tel Aviv.”  So he said that I would come, it’s very urgent.  So he came then, very discreetly with Mohammed Dahlan to my wife, Mona’s apartment in Tel Aviv.  And they sat down and they looked at us and they said, “You have to help us.  We don’t know any of these people.”  So—and we looked at them, and we said, “But we don’t know any of them, either.”  (Laughter.) 

But then—and incidentally, I was together with him yesterday.  David Makovsky, who many of you know, he called me and said, “Look, you have to come to lunch”—this was the day after—“because there’s a guy I want you to meet who’s going to be a really important guy in Netanyahu’s outfit, namely, Dore Gold.”

So we went to see him, and we had a fantastic conversation.  And then Dore became foreign policy advisor, and I was promptly advised—I think went every day for about two weeks to the prime minister’s office to kind of—if I may put it a little bit condescendingly—to teach them about the Oslo Agreements and all that.

So—and this led—long story short—to a very close relationship with Bibi Netanyahu, which I think developed into a friendship over—

BRONNER:  That’s interesting.

ROED-LARSEN:  But—I was actually baby-sitting for his kids.

BRONNER:  (Laughs.)  But on the other hand, wouldn’t you describe him as an ideologue as opposed to a pragmatist?


BRONNER:  No?  It was the same sort of security thing, you thought?

ROED-LARSEN:  Bibi turned out to be a very pragmatic politician.  He went to the table.  He saw Arafat.  He had negotiations.  He had a team.  He moved forward.  He signed agreements, the Hebron Agreement, et cetera.  And I think he would have continued to pursue that path.  There was a discrepancy between public rhetoric and what he actually did.  I mean, he continued Oslo.  He wouldn’t like that I’m saying this, but it’s a fact.  As Sharon, in a second term also continued and radicalized Oslo.

BRONNER:  Now we’re going to start moving northward geographically a little bit, and we’ll start by going to the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon from the southern tenth or so of Lebanon that it occupied until the year 2000.

You were instrumental in negotiating that withdrawal, and I wanted to ask you to tell us a little bit, to spend a minute or two about what it was like to go between the Israelis and I assume the Syrians to negotiate that.

ROED-LARSEN:  Kofi Annan appointed me as a special envoy for the negotiation between Lebanon and Israel and also Syria, since some of the territory here is the border between Israeli-occupied Syria and Lebanon.  We also had to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad and Farouk al-Shara.  So it was a kind of triangle, basically, with a small team of cartographers and military advisers and legal advisers, shuttled for about six months, which led to the drawing of the so-called blue line, the line of withdrawal between Israel and Lebanon, and finally to the Security Council confirming that Israel had withdrawn completely and fully from Lebanon and ended its occupation.  So it was a fairly dramatic—

BRONNER:  What do you think led Israel to want to withdraw—Barak to withdraw?

ROED-LARSEN:  Again, I can refer to—I actually met also the day after Ehud Barak won his election, he invited me to his home, and we had a similar conversation.  And I can share with you precisely what Ehud told me at the time.  So I reminded him that he voted against Oslo in the Knesset in 1993, and he said, “I don’t want to do it the Oslo way.”  So I said, “How do you want to do it?”  And he said, “Well, you see”—he was very analytical, as you know, so he said—“we have to analyze the situation.  And what we see here is, in a metaphor, a very ugly dog.  And, you know, when you see an ugly dog, you have to analyze it and find out why is it ugly?”  (Laughter.)  This is Ehud Barak—and so he said, “And when you look at that dog, it’s very easy to see what it’s ugly.  It has an ugly tail.  It’s a fairly beautiful dog, but the tail is ugly.  But what do you do if you want to make into a beautiful dog?  Of course you have to chop off the tail.  And what Oslo guys would do, you would chop it off like a salami, and that’s cruel.  What you have to do is to cut off in one chop.” 

So I said, “What does this mean?” 

He said, “I want to do everything in one goal.  I want to leave Lebanon.  I want to make peace with Syria.  I want to go straight to final status negotiations.” 

And this was the kind of absolutism or totalism of Ehud Barak, in contradiction to the gradualism of Oslo.  In substance or goals, it was very much dissimilar.  It was much more daring and courageous and more visionary in many ways than the gradualist, piecemeal approach of Oslo.  So he—in a way, he did not follow the Oslo tactics.  And of course, he also created an ideological revolution with putting Jerusalem, borders, absolutely everything on the table.  But it didn’t work because it was kind of doing too much at a time.  And I don’t—I hope we will not try to repeat those tactics in the future because I don’t think it will work again.

But anyhow, the only thing it really succeeded in was the withdrawal from Lebanon.  That was a part of that totalist approach, and he decided to do it nominally and unilaterally, but of course you can’t do it unilaterally because when you are drawing a line of withdrawal, both on a map on the ground, you have to have somebody to negotiate.  And of course, if there are no diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Israel, you have to have a negotiator.

BRONNER:  That was you?

ROED-LARSEN:  Yes, it was, actually.  So—and there was a consensus in the international community, including Washington, that there should only be one interlocutor, the secretary-general and myself as his representative.  So this is the way it happened, and we really negotiated withdrawal.

BRONNER:  There remains—and this is bringing us into Lebanon directly—the question of this little tiny piece of land called the Sheba Farms that Hezbollah argues is—remains occupied by Israel, and therefore is a pretext or reason for Hezbollah to continue to attack Israel.  A, do you think that the land is in fact occupied; and, B, do you think that it’s possible to disarm Hezbollah in keeping with 1559?

ROED-LARSEN:  The Sheba Farms are occupied by Israel, but as a part of Israel’s occupation of Syria.

BRONNER:  Of Syria?

ROED-LARSEN:  There’s no trace of evidence that these farmlands are Lebanese.  We studied 81 maps at the time—Russian maps, French maps, British maps, Lebanese maps, Syrian maps, et cetera; and we studied 25 Lebanese and Syrian maps, and there was only one of these maps who showed that the Sheba Farms had anything to do with Lebanon.

Actually, we took one of the bills of Lebanon—I can’t remember what the currency is or—and there’s a picture of Lebanon there, and they blew it up.  And even on the bank notes it doesn’t show that Lebanon is—that the Sheba is Lebanese.

And the one map which deviated from all the other maps—we had it analyzed, and if I may put it in diplomatic terms, it was a map of questionable authenticity.  So there is no absolutely no trace of evidence whatsoever.  And it’s also interesting, after some 30 years, the operational line of UNDOF, the peacekeeping operation, the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Syria, has been operating in the Sheba Farms, but there has been no single protest ever from anybody.

BRONNER:  So everyone understands that this is some kind of a pretext.  Now we have two—so this is, A, a falsehood; and B, we don’t Hezbollah to be armed anyway, according to U.N. resolution.  So where do we stand on that?  Have you been able to push the Syrians—

ROED-LARSEN:  Of course the dispute about the Sheba Farms serves one single purpose—that is that if you believe that the Sheba Farms are still Israel-occupied land, it can give to some a reason for calling Hezbollah a resistance movement.  Because if you take away that argument and you say that Israel actually has ended its occupation of Lebanon, you can’t call it a resistance movement because there’s nothing to resist.

So this is—I mean—

BRONNER:  So for nearly six years, that’s been the case, and yet—and yet—

ROED-LARSEN:  Yeah, and the Security Council has repeatedly confirmed that the Israeli occupation of Lebanon has ended, and there isn’t, as far as I know, a single member of Security Council who is disputing that.

BRONNER:  So we’re just past the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Rafik Hariri of Lebanon, and you are engaged still in trying to investigate what happened there.  I understand that this is something that you can’t speak quite so frankly about because you’re in the middle of it, but help us understand where we are in this investigation.  Can we lay the blame at Syria’s door, no problem?

ROED-LARSEN:  All the other questions you’ve asked me, I could speak in a private capacity, but on this issue I have to speak in a U.N. capacity, and I have to say that—

BRONNER:  That sounds horrible.  (Laughter.)

ROED-LARSEN:  Well, my mandate as the special envoy for the communication of Security Council Resolution 1559 is—1559, and the investigation of the murder of Hariri and 20 others is Security Council Resolution 1595—

BRONNER:  Right.

ROED-LARSEN: —and so I can’t possibly comment on that because there is a—there was another—there was as a U.N. prosecutor—

BRONNER:  Sure.  But I have the impression you’re familiar with it.

ROED-LARSEN:  Yes, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it publicly.

BRONNER:  I mean, in any way, where there’s another report due out in another month or two?  We’ve had two reports, at least, I think, until now.  At least, right?  It’s certainly not looking very good for the suggestion that Syria had nothing to do with it.  Wouldn’t you agree with that?

ROED-LARSEN:  I would say that the reports are certainly verging on hypothesis that there was a Syrian hand into the assassination of Rafik Hariri, but no warrants of arrest have been issued yet, and it remains to be seen if it will be done, if officially suspects will be named.  And I don’t want to speculate on that.

BRONNER:  Can you tell us a little bit—we’ve got a couple minutes before I ask the audience to ask their questions.  Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s been like to deal with Bashar al-Assad?

ROED-LARSEN:  Personally, I’ve been dealing with him, since he became president, on a very frequent basis.  On a personal basis we had a very good working relationship, and I have very frank and open and direct discussions with him, there’s never been any problems about it.  There’s been difficult discussions, but they have been highly professional and I have no complaints.

BRONNER:  I mean, at the moment a number of issues in the Middle East seem to kind of converge in Damascus.  You know, Hamas to some extent, Hezbollah to some extent, the Iran question to some extent.  So I’m wondering—I mean, here you are, it is not the strongest state around, Syria.  You’re negotiating with a president widely thought to be relatively weak.  Is that your impression, that he’s relatively weak?

ROED-LARSEN:  No.  I think the president of Syria is very much in control of the government there. 

BRONNER:  I forgot to mention Iraq as the other—the sort of Iraqi—sorry, there was that point I wanted to mention about Syria’s role.  Sorry.

ROED-LARSEN:  No, I mean in that particular sense I think we are seeing a decisionmaker there.  But I’d like to comment on the kind of broader issue you brought up.


ROED-LARSEN:  I think in many ways you’re right.  I think there is a new pattern in the Middle East, because the perception until very recently has been that the center of gravity, the epicenter, THE epicenter of the Middle East conflicts being the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is a domestic issue in every capital in the region and beyond in the Muslim world.  But now there are many epicenters.  You have the issues related to Iraq, which is not related to Israel at all.  You had the Syrian-Lebanese conflict, which is not related to Israel.  You have now brewing potential conflict based on the possibility of Iran moving towards a nuclear capacity, and which are creating tensions amongst the Arab countries, and you see a new potential conflict line between—

BRONNER:  Persian Arrow.

ROED-LARSEN:  Exactly.  And with the possible effect—and I think this is extremely dangerous—that we would have—if they go for nuclear capacity, that you will have a complete collapse of the nonproliferation treaty and that regime, which, in my opinion, will immediately lead to an arms race, a nuclear arms race in the region, so that we look for conflicts now which are not related or only marginally related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  And I think this is—there’s also now—this widely also the perception, which means that the Middle East conflict pattern is much more complex than before.

But there are also—and here I come back another issue you brought up—but many of these conflicts are interrelated, and with a certain form of interrelating them are the use of proxies, the right of militias and organizations where decision-making are taking place in not necessarily the capital of the country where they are operating, if I might put it that way.

BRONNER:  So I’m looking at my watch and seeing that I’ve actually slightly gone over my time.  I apologize.  So I will—let’s open it up for questions.  Please.

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)

STAFF:  What for the mike.

BRONNER:  Oh, yes.  Just wait for the microphone.  Right.  And I think I’m supposed to ask you to be brief and clear.  Thank you.

QUESTIONER:  Evelyn Leopold from Reuters.  Can you hear me?


QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)  You are now—

BRONNER:  It’s on?  Can everyone hear it?

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)

QUESTIONER:  As you’ve noted, there have been reports that the Lebanese army is allowing Iran to give missiles and other weapons to Hezbollah.  You said you’ve asked for an explanation.  Is it true?  What are you going to do about it?  What do you know?

ROED-LARSEN:  I have spoken with Prime Minister Siniora and also our representative in Beirut, Mr. Petersen (sp).  I was just talking to Mr. Murr, the minister for Defense, and there seems to be, based on these conversations—we have been informed that indeed there was transport of weapons from Syria through Lebanon to Hezbollah a short period of time ago.


QUESTIONER:  (Inaudible)—mentioned that Hamas really was established with strong support by Israeli as a balance against Al-Fatah.  And this is—(off mike)—history book of Mossad and Shin Bet.  But why not deal with Hamas’ political wing, like it was—happened in Ulster? 

And the second part of this question:  We have only local roots of terrorism—is no such thing like a global terrorist.  Terrorists can travel globally, but I think Ulster and Holy Land and many—Darfur and many places are the best example of this.

BRONNER:  Great.  Thank you.




QUESTIONER:  And why you think that the only solution will be a two-state solution?

BRONNER:  That’s three questions.

ROED-LARSEN:  Let me address the last question first.  I mean, there are—I mean, to simplify, there are three possible solutions to the conflict.  One is the non-state solution, which is the situation we have now.  I think there is a broad consensus, not only in the political elites of Israel but also in the people—the latest opinion polls today shows that there is no support for continuing that kind of non-state solution strategy.  And Sharon himself drew the conclusion. 

Then you have the one-state solution, which would be suicide for the state of Israel, I mean, as a Jewish state.  And there is no way any Israeli regime, left or right, will ever go for it.  So it’s totally unrealistic, which means that there’s only one solution left, and that is the two-state solution.  I’m not talking about political or—

BRONNER:  Right.  Do you want to address the question of whether Israel held create Hamas?

ROED-LARSEN:  I think this is a kind of irrelevant question, because the relevant question is now how do you handle the situation.  And I’ve already answered that question by saying I think we should hold our horses, see what comes out of the talks between Hamas and Abu Mazen.  Maybe they will go Abu Mazen’s way.  Maybe they will not.  And then we should take a stand on how to relate it. 

But on top of this comes that it is actually Abu Mazen, in his capacity as chairman of the PLO, who holds all powers to negotiate.  So in a way, that’s also an irrelevant question, because if you follow the book here, it’s Abu Mazen you have to relate to, and the presidency.


QUESTIONER:  Yeah.  Shep Forman with the Center on International Cooperation.  Except for a brief mention of Condi Rice’s current trip to the region, the U.S. has been remarkably absent from the conversation.  And I wonder if you would—reflecting on the past role of the U.S. in the various negotiations, what would be your current recommendations to this administration in terms of moving the peace negotiations forward?

ROED-LARSEN:  The U.S. has been, is and has to be the mover and shaker as a third party in the Middle East.  It is the dominant third party, will continue to do so.

My recommendations for the U.S. is to work through the multilateral mechanism of the Quartet, with the U.N. secretary-general, then with Russia and the European Union, in order to find a common way here, and to relate to the parties not only bilaterally but also through that multilateral mechanism.  In substance, I’d not like to comment, because I think we should wait, as I’ve said now, I think, for the third time.  We should wait until we see what comes out on the talks that Abu Mazen is holding with Hamas.

BRONNER:  The lady in the back, please.  Just wait for the mike.

QUESTIONER:  Sylviane Zehil, L’Orient-Le Jour.  Good evening.  A petition was signed today in Lebanon by 15 MPs, current and former MPs, saying that they have been forced to vote to the extension of the president, Lahud.  Do you think that Lebanon is better off—President Lahud?

ROED-LARSEN:  Let me answer the following way.  The secretary-general has stated that leaders and governments and presidents should not be extended beyond their prescribed term.  And this was done in Lebanon, and this is why the secretary-general has voiced criticism in his report to the Security Council about this.  So that’s the discussion in official capacity.

And then what he also reported to the council is that it was widely contended in Lebanon that the election took place through a direct Syrian intervention, and I think I’m quoting the report to the Security Council now. 

So the secretary-general’s position on this is very clear.  We were officially informed about these letters by the government of Lebanon just a few hours ago, and I have copies of them lying on my desk in my office.  And we now have to assess it.  But this is—by and large, this is a Lebanese issue, and it has to be resolved in Beirut through the existing democratic institutions.

But the secretary-general has voiced his opinion on the issue, as I just stated.

BRONNER:  Thank you.  Did you want to ask a question?  Just wait for the mike.

QUESTIONER:  Yes.  Thank you.  Rahida Dergam, Al Hayat.  So on 1559, because you didn’t want to discuss 1595 when Ethan asked you about the assassination—so in order to deal with some part of it, such as disarming of militias, Iran is central to that.  I would suppose that you—well, are you making any contacts directly or indirectly with Iran to see about their influence on Hezbollah?  Or do you think the only way to cut off the Hezbollah influence is in cutting off the Syrian influence in Lebanon?  I mean, can you be a little more—again, this is your mandate; 1559 is your mandate.  So I will help my friend Ethan here, because you evaded it, taking shelter with 1595. 

BRONNER:  This wasn’t planned in any way.

ROED-LARSEN:  Well, Rahida has very difficult questions, and good questions.  I’m afraid I have to answer the following way:  that we are staying in very close contact with all the relevant parties to that particular issue, and we are working with all relevant parties, and I don’t want to give any more specific comment on that.

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)

ROED-LARSEN:  Through the way I answered the question, you understand I don’t want to answer the question. 

BRONNER:  Sir, did you have a question?  Just turn to the other side, where the mike is.

QUESTIONER:  My name is Chris Isham with ABC.  Just to follow up a little bit with Rahida’s question, the alliance between Syria and Iran and Hezbollah—where—which is not a new alliance; it’s an old alliance—where do you see that evolving over the next year?  They all have different issues but converging issues, and issues that have to do with everything from Iraq to nuclear issues in Iran to 1559 in Lebanon.  How do you see that alliance evolving over the next year, in your analysis?  And do you see that alliance becoming stronger?  Do you see those—their interests converging?  And do you see that becoming more of a problem for the West, for the United Nations, for the United States?

ROED-LARSEN:  What I’ve learned the hard way on the Middle East is that the only predictable phenomenon in the Middle East is that everything is unpredictable.  So I will refrain from coming up with any speculation on what will happen in the future.

But what I can say is that all the countries you mention will have to make some strategic choices.  And they can left, or they can go right.  There are choices to be made.  And I don’t want to speculate on what positions they will go—

QUESTIONER:  Where do you see them tilting?

ROED-LARSEN:  I don’t want to speculate on that.

BRONNER:  Okay.  There’s a question here.  We’re—just to remind you that in—that this is a History Makers session, so ideally it would be helpful to talk a little bit about what he’s done, rather than what’s coming up.

QUESTIONER:  I’m Edward Bleier.  I’d like you to broaden out your geographical scope a little bit, considering the effects on now Western Europe and terrorism and beyond the U.S. and the Middle East.  What role do you see NATO having, worldwide, as an alternative to the U.N., in dealing with issues of militancy and terrorism?

ROED-LARSEN:  The NATO can never become an alternative to the U.N., simply because the U.N. has two basic functions.  One is that it constitutes international law, the decisions in the Security Council, and it gives legitimacy to peacekeeping operations.  On the other hand, the U.N. has an operational capacity.  We are doing peacekeeping at many places in the world.  So what I think will happen more in the future—and maybe I should also say I think it ought to happen in the future—is that a range of regional organizations, including the NATO, should play a more prominent role in many countries, but this has to be based by legitimacy given to them through decisions in the U.N. Security Council, which means that there is no competition here.  They have to work together.

BRONNER:  Sir, here.

QUESTIONER:  Sheldon Segal with Population Council.  Thank you for reminding us of the historical context.  Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza for many decades, even before the Intifada began.  Do you—(cell phone rings)—do you think that they put enough investment into the development of infrastructure, education, health services in the Arab regions?

I remember, probably you know Meron Benvenisti, who ran the West Bank project, who pointed out that at the time of his final report I believe it was 87 percent of the resources that the Israeli government was putting into the West Bank was going to road construction.  I’m talking about water, road construction, electrification was going to Israeli settlements and other militarily strategic investments and very little to the Arab areas.  Did that change, or do you think that they should have looked at that somewhat differently?

ROED-LARSEN:  Well, it was changed dramatically in 1994 because then the PA gradually took over the civilian control of most of Gaza with the exception of the settlements and also more and more bulks of the West Bank, and there was established an international donor organization called the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, who basically provided all the international money, including the Israeli money to the Palestinian Authority, and then Benvenisti reported, actually before that—that period.  So this has been kind of triangle with Israel, the donor community, and the Palestinian Authority, so the whole economics of it has been organized in a completely different way.

But—and there’s been—I mean, billions and billions and billions have been put into Gaza and the West Bank from the international donor community over those years.  And then we can discuss if that was done in a right way or in a wrong way, but I mean, money has really been poured in there in a very big way.  Probably, there’s no spot in the world where there’s been so much donor money per capita as in Gaza and the West Bank over the last decade.

BRONNER:  Terje, I’m going to ask one question on an issue that hasn’t—we haven’t talked about today, and that is about these Danish cartoons.  You were a social scientist before you became a diplomat, and you really could have gotten involved by studying the Palestinian population—more admittedly their economic needs than their emotional needs—but I wanted to ask you what you make of the current crisis over it.

ROED-LARSEN:  I think there are two separate issues here.  One is the issue of the core value in Western societies:  tolerance and freedom of speech.  And then, that has to be measured against respect for religion and religious symbols.  And I think we have to kind of stay very strong on the tolerance and the freedoms, but we should urge the media, politicians, et cetera, to handle it in a responsible way.  The rights should be there, but we should urge everybody to handle these issues in a responsible manner.

But then, the other issue is the burning and looting of embassies and the killings of individuals, and here my very strong opinion is that we should show zero tolerance, even intolerance.  This is unacceptable, and we have to say it, and we have to act on that basis.

So we can be soft on the first issue, not to yield on the freedom of expression, but to urge people to handle things in a sensible way.  But on the other matter, we have to be—to show intolerance.

BRONNER:  Right here.

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike)—Rachel Bronson, Council on Foreign Relations.  You had mentioned that in working with the Palestinians, the U.S. should strengthen Abu Mazen if possible.  You’ve worked with him.  You know him.  We talk about things like prisoners releases, and—but what do we do at this point?  How do you strengthen him?  I mean, he’s going to have a Cabinet full of Hamas leaders.  It’s going to be very difficult for the United States.  How do we strengthen him?  Is there something that we’ve been missing that we can actually do, given your knowledge of him over the past years?

ROED-LARSEN:  I think I would go back to the distinction I made between the chairman of the PLO and the president of the PA and a new Hamas prime minister.  And the Palestinian—or the Palestinian Authority system is pretty similar to the French presidential system.  Still there are enormous powers vested in the president, and as I said, you also have this kind of unique distinction between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.  So, I mean—so what Abu Mazen should do is to strengthen the presidency and make it to function efficiently and to do what a strong presidency should do in all things—diplomacy, security and economics—at all three levels.  But that’s one way of strengthening Abu Mazen.

The most efficient way of strengthening him can only be done by Israel, because what Abu Mazen has been trying to promote is that the negotiating table as a tool to achieve Palestinian ambitions is more efficient than the barrel of a gun and suicide bombs.  But if there is nobody who goes to the table, he can’t possibly argue that the table is more efficient than the use of force.  And so this is why the most efficient—or the best way for the Israelis to strengthen Abu Mazen is to go to the table. 

I’ve been piling praise on Prime Minister Sharon for his bold move on moving out of Gaza, and also his—(inaudible)—politically going for a Palestinian state, et cetera.  So in substance, I’m full of compliments for that.  But I think it was a mistake to do it unilaterally because that weakened the Palestinian Authority and it weakened Fatah, because as there were no negotiations, Abu Mazen and his colleagues could not argue that the negotiating table is more efficient than using suicide bombs.  Actually, the opposite took place.  And this is one of the reasons, I think, why Hamas won the election.  And this is a big challenge in the time to come, because if there are no negotiations, I think Fatah would wither away. 

BRONNER:  There’s an irony in your desire to strengthen the presidency because, of course, weakening the presidency was the West’s push in order to weaken Arafat.

ROED-LARSEN:  Right.  And I played, myself, a very prominent role in that subject, I must say.

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)

ROED-LARSEN:  I mean, the key here is Israel.  And of course, the U.S. is the key third party player here.  And this is what I would also recommend that the U.S. should do, and the Quartet and everybody else.

BRONNER:  I’m obliged here.  (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER:  I want to take you about 20 or 30 years from now to the time that you’re going to, hopefully, write your autobiography.  What will you write in the preface?  Are there going to be—what are major conclusions?  If you can take distance—a distant view at this point—and maybe it is difficult—are there some broad ideas, conclusions, thoughts that you can take away with you from now, at this point, about your work, I guess in the last, what, 20 years—more maybe—

ROED-LARSEN:  Fifteen.

QUESTIONER: —in the region.  I mean, it’s a very, very intense time and it’s intense issues.  What would you write?

ROED-LARSEN:  Of course I can only answer that question in 20 to 30 years from now.  But I can give one reflection on it.

I mean, of course I can’t know what I will mean in 20, 30 years from now, but I can tell you what I mean now on some issues.  Now, I think if you look at—there’s been in—in the Middle East peace process there’s been fundamentally different approaches to the issues.  The gradualism and the kind of secret diplomacy of Oslo was one.  It was basically the parties themselves made the agreement.  And when you brought the parties secretly together in a pre-negotiation actually thus created the necessary mutual trust, and then the parties themselves moved towards the declaration of principles, which is the gradualist approach.  Because the Oslo Accords is actually not a peace agreement at all; it was the first road map.  It defined a road to travel on for the next five years, as it specified, and it did not define what the end station should be.  That was done later by Ehud Barak and Arafat and confirmed by Sharon.

Then you have the kind of totalism approach of Ehud Barak, where the goals are the same, but the way of doing it is fundamentally different.  And that proved to be a pretty dangerous path to work on.

Then you have kind of “Sharon One,” which is basically—there was a military solution to it, which was fundamentally wrong.  And then you have in substance the kind of parallelism approach which says:  You cannot resolve the security issues without resolving the political issues and the economic issues; and you cannot solve the economic issues without security and politics—to address all three in a parallel manner.  And I think this is the—the learning lesson for me—and this is my—would be my recommendation for the next few years—you have to address all these three issues at the same time.  And this can be done within the framework of the so-called road map.  This is a “Road Map II”;  this is the continuation and fulfillment on a piece of paper of Oslo, because it defines the end station, the Palestinian state.  And it has to be done through a gradualist approach.

So what I do believe is that what—the parties should go to the table, they should move towards the declaration of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries, then declare that there will be state-to-state negotiations about the final status issues—Jerusalem, borders, refugees, et cetera.  And that would create the Palestinian state.  It would create new elections.  It would provide a new program for the secular, non-rejectionist forces. 

But I can’t see any other way out of it because continued unilateralism would just strengthen the Islamist radical forces, and it will marginalize Fatah and the secular forces.

So I cannot predict, but I can give a prescription for what I would do within the next year or two.  But this might not be in the realm of realism of what sentiments and political attitudes are on both sides.  But kind of intellectually, this is the only way I can see.  If it’s realistic, it’s too early to say.  It might be totally unrealistic.

BRONNER:  We have time for just one or two more questions.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Barney Rubin from International Cooperation.

Terje, you’ve spent a lot of your career, as you’ve told us about, dealing with people who’ve been called terrorists and terrorist organizations and with the phenomenon of terrorism.  Based on your experience with these groups, what do you think of the analysis and—about terrorism proper by the current administration, the way they have gone about—(off mike)—

ROED-LARSEN:  I’m sorry.  What was the last?  And the way—?

QUESTIONER:  And their strategy for dealing with it.  Based on your experiences in the Middle East, has the war in Iraq decreased or increased the prospects for terrorism?

ROED-LARSEN:  Actually, my realm has basically been working on the Middle East for 15 years now, and you’re asking me a very global question, and I don’t—I don’t feel I’m in a position to give the kind of general answer on it.

But I mean, Iraq—in a way, the discussion about should the U.S. have intervened in Iraq and all that, I mean, this is bygones.  The issue today is that in a way that the U.S. has to win that situation or else Iraq would collapse and probably split in three parts.  And all the different—not only countries in the region, states in the region, but also the different NGOs, if I might put it that way, will rally around the different parts, and it will wreak havoc in the region.  This is the issue.

And this is well understood, for instance, by the Arab League.  I mean, a collapse in Iraq is a disaster for everybody.  And then we can quarrel about the past and the decisions, but it’s irrelevant.  It’s yesterday.  We have to think about tomorrow.

Then on terrorism—I mean, terrorism is a means to reach objectives.  And it’s a totally illegitimate way of reaching political objectives.  And here, I think again, we have to be totally intolerant and have very strong views on it.  And as you know very well—for instance, a common friend of ours was killed in the terrorist attack in Baghdad, and I had my office for three years in Gaza and seen lots of stuff, and it’s intolerable.  The killing of Rafik Hariri the same.  I mean, this is—I mean, these are ethical issues, and we can’t compromise on them.

BRONNER:  Well, on that very powerful note, I think we need to end and to thank you very much, Terje Roed-Larsen.  (Applause.)

ROED-LARSEN:  Thank you.  It’s been a real pleasure being with you.

BRONNER:  And again thank HBO for sponsoring the series.







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HBO History Maker Series: Terje Roed-Larsen

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