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Transcript of interview with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri
WP: Talk about what your visits to Syria have been like for you?
Hariri: I became prime minister of Lebanon. I have to have good relationships with all Arab countries, and one of them is Syria. We needed to open a new page with Syria so I did. On that basis I had went to Syria. We had very frank talks between me and President Bashar al-Assad. I said how I see the relationship between two states respecting each other, two states wanting to establish relationships between their institutions. There is a lot of potential economically between Lebanon and Syria. This is what I believe because Syria is a big market for Lebanon. We started that agreement between us, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. (Turkish) Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is going to come to Lebanon on the 25th (of November) and we will sign finally our free trade agreement between us and then. Then we're going to concentrate on trying to make these four countries a platform to get more countries into that free trade zone.
WP: You want to make it a normal relationship with Syria?
WP: How would you describe Syria's role in Lebanon today compared to 2005?
Hariri: Totally different. I mean, five years ago there was a lot of tension between us and them. Today, there isn't that tension. There is a relationship between the governments. Although sometimes some people think that today we have a lesser relationship, or I have a lesser relationship with Syria, but this is not the case. Institution-wise, the ministers are talking to each other, when I have something important I talk to President Assad and things are fine. These are the important things for us. We cannot say that the relationship in the past five years wasn't difficult. It was a very difficult relationship. And today it's 10 times better.
Hariri: What people tend to forget is the tribunal is investigating the assassination of Basil Fuleihan, George Hawi, Samir Kassir, Jubran Tweini, Pierre Gemayel and all the others. We had four members of the last parliament assassinated.
WP: How do you explain that the assassinations have stopped now?
Hariri: If you can explain it to me please let me know.
WP: Hezbollah wants you to say "I reject the results of this tribunal."?
Hariri: Obviously. If you look at the past few months, there are a lot of things that have been said but exactly what they want me to say it's not very clear. I think you know my understanding is a lot of people are concerned, Hezbollah one of them, that it would create a division in the country. That I do understand also. This needs to be dealt with. My differences between me and Hezbollah are that you cannot resolve this issue without having calm in the country. If you have escalation of speeches between us and them then the tension is going to become higher and the division is going to be stronger. Therefore, the way I think is that this is an international tribunal. This international tribunal is made by the United Nations under resolution 1757. Nothing I say or do will change anything. But what needs to be done is to calm the souls down. To calm the streets down and to calm the speeches down and to talk on the basis of how we do not make that a bigger issue than it is. With that dialogue then we can come out with whatever will unite the Lebanese rather than dividing them. This is my approach.
I will not say anything if somebody sticks a gun to my head. I'm not like this. I don't function like this. I don't operate under threats. Full stop. I don't. I don't buckle to pressure. But I see what Lebanon needs. I see that the only way that Lebanon can come out of this is by having a calm period and that calm period will be the period where we will have a calm dialogue and we can come out with any approach that will unite the Lebanese, not divide them.
WP: So you think the tribunal is still a legitimate vehicle to try your father's murder?
WP: Why did you reverse your opinion on Syria's involvement?
Hariri: In 2005 there was a lot of tension and I think there is a lot of allegations that went left right and center not only from our side but from everbody's side and I believe taking a courageous step to moving forward and clearing the relationship with a nation or country like Syria is important. I said what I had to, what I believe, and I still do. So therefore you cannot say that in 2005 tensions weren't high. They were very high, extremely high. And therefore on both sides not only on our side. And we said what we had to say. I said what I believe and we have to see that Syria's also playing a positive role in Lebanon.
WP: Have you ever say Hezbollah was involved?
Hariri: I had a couple of statements saying the contrary to that.
WP: You don't believe Hezbollah was involved?
Hariri: For me all these indictments are going to come out. For me, the media is media. They will say a lot of things. But I don't know really what's going to come out with these indictments.
WP: And this push by Hezbollah to have those who allegedly gave false testimony, the so-called false witnesses, in Lebanon's highest court. You stood very firm in the cabinet in blocking this.
Hariri: I'm against all false witnesses and I'm all for their trial. But I believe the way they should be tried is not by the High Council of Justice but through normal justice, through normal process in the courts, because I believe this is something that should not be as important as the assassination of Rafiq Hariri or Pierre Gemayel or others. Plus the law in Lebanon does not allow us (to take it to the High Council.) The law forbids us from doing so. Some people, they want to interpret the law as they wish. I don't believe it. I believe we need to abide by the law and we need to abide by what's been happening in the Lebanese courts. The Lebanese courts have indicted thousands of false witnesses.
WP: Is Washington suddenly waking up to what's happening in Lebanon after a period of being absent?
Hariri: We were always in touch with Washington and Europe and everybody. I think part of it is the tension that's been happening lately. But also part of it is the wall the peace process has hit and people are afraid that something is going to happen. The process has hit a brick wall. I think it's important to talk to each other and see what can be done.
WP: Is there something the U.S. can be doing to shore up the pro-democracy March 14 movement or make your job any easier?
Hariri: I think Washington needs to help Lebanon, not a political party or part of Lebanon and this is what Washington has been doing. What I would like the relationship between Washington and Lebanon to be is if Washington wants to invest in this region it has to invest in the comprehensive peace. It should be their only focus.
WP: How do you live apart from your family?
Hariri: Difficult, very hard. They live in Riyadh. I want my children to have a normal life. To be here in Lebanon with all the threats that we get sometimes. I don't want them to live with 100 security (personnel) around and all of that. It's a hard decision but I go to see them quite often. I try to go once or twice a month to Riyadh. My wife and kids live there in our house. Her family's there, her sister, her brothers and they're happy.
WP: Who looks after your business interests? Do you miss it?
Hariri: I miss itâ¦I'll continue doing what I need to do for my country. Now my brother is taking care of the business and he's doing quite well. Actually he's doing better than me. I'm proud of him. We discuss it once in a while.
WP: You enjoy Cuban cigars, I'm told.
WP: And motorcycles?
Hariri: Harleys. I have a few here. I never was able to ride them. There was a Harley festival the 1st of October. I was supposed to be on it but security told me (no.)
I collect Harleys. And most of my friends keep their Harleys at my house so when we go out we all go out together in Saudi, in Jeddah.
WP: Scuba diving and feeding sharks is another hobby?
Hariri: We do it in Jeddahâ¦I put the fish in my pocketâ¦It's not risky because sharks are like any other animal.
WP: You like to cook and host people
Hariri: I cook everything. I cook Indian, I cook French, I cook Chinese, I cook Arabic.
WP: Where did you learn?
Hariri: From the booksâ¦Last week I had a big dinner for my favorite dish, which is kapsa, which is rice and meat. It's a Saudi dish. I do it in my own way.