Tunisia, Lebanon, and the New US Ambassador to Syria: Today’s Q’s for O’s WH

By Eliza

Jan 14, 2011 3:23pm

Tapper: If I could just change subjects for one quick second, as long as we have you here, if we could get the administration’s response to the events in Tunisia and also any sort of indication of what the thinking is when it comes to Lebanon?

National Security Adviser Tom Donilon: Two things: One is on Tunisia, I was told literally as I was walking in that President Ben Ali had been reported said…it’s not confirmed that…okay. You know, we’ve seen obviously the state of your reporting that the president has dismissed the government has called for a legislative election and we’re monitoring these developments, Jake. 

And obviously in this case we would condemn the ongoing  violence in Tunisia and call upon Tunisian authorities to fulfill the important commitments made by President Ben Ali in his speech yesterday to the Tunisian people, including respect for the basic human rights and the process of much needed political reform. And as President Obama said each nation gives life to the principle to of democracy in its own way grounded in the traditions of its own people and those countries that respect the rights of their people are stronger, more successful. 

On Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad Hariri was here, point one. Point two is that the president expressed support for Prime Minister Hariri and his stand on behalf of the special tribunal and its work and pursuit of justice in terms of bringing to justice those – finding the facts around the killing of his father in 2005.  Next is that we have been pretty deeply involved in diplomacy with key actors in the region and the French around trying to pull together an international group that can support the government of Lebanon as it works through these issues.  

As you know, President Suleiman of Lebanon appointed Prime Minister Hariri the caretaker, prime minister in Lebanon. He’ll serve in that role until a new government is formed. They begin consolations on that new government on Monday and again we’ll begin supportive of a peaceful process going forward.  I would tell you one last thing is that Hezbollah’s intention’s here with respect to finding the facts and justice have been really kind of laid bare and they will have a tough time, I think, continuing to articulate a narrative as a righteous resistance organization if they continue down a path towards undermining the government that is simply trying to support an international effort to find the truth and bring justice in the wake of a murder of a prominent member of that country.

Tapper: And just a quick follow up, if you could comment on some of our allies in the region have questioned the decision to appoint an ambassador to Syria, seeing it as a reward for bad behavior.  If you could just comment on that in light of recent events?

Donilon:  We see the appointment of Robert Ford as the Ambassador to Damascus as very much in our own interests. Right?  And the reason is this, Jake.  Is that every time that we want to have a direct conversation with the leadership of Syria we shouldn’t have to put together some sort of special delegation to go do that. Right? You know? That seems like more than it should be frankly. And we wanted to have an experienced, tough minded diplomat — very experience in the region — on site to be able to make our views known to the government of Syria on a range of issues of importance to the United States in the region. 

-Jake Tapper

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