November 21st, 2006 15:29 EST
Bush Condemns Assassination of Lebanese Cabinet Minister
Washington -- President Bush strongly condemned the assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, calling for a complete investigation as well as for the international community’s continued support for the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
“Today we saw again the vicious face of those who oppose freedom,” Bush said in November 21 remarks at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu. “We support the Siniora government and its democracy, and we support the Lebanese people's desire to live in peace. … For the sake of peace, the free world must reject those who undermine young democracies and murder in the name of their hateful ideology.”
Gemayel, a prominent politician from Lebanon’s Marionite Christian community, was gunned down by unknown assailants in his car in the Beirut suburb of Jdeideh. Gemayel’s Phalange Party is a member of the Lebanese government’s ruling “March 14 Coalition,” which came together to reduce the influence of neighboring Syria in the country following the February 2005 car bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Several top U.S. officials joined the president in denouncing the attack and called on the international community to defend the Siniora government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling with the president, telephoned Prime Minister Siniora to offer condolences and reiterate U.S. support.
“We view it as an act of terrorism,” Under Secretary of State R. Nicolas Burns told reporters November 21 in Washington. “And we believe it's the responsibility of all countries to support the Siniora government and to oppose those who would try to divide Lebanon or return violence to political life in Lebanon.”
“We have felt for the last year and a half that the March 14th Coalition represents what's right about Lebanon, politicians, political leaders who are dedicated to democracy, who wanted to return Lebanon to a position of real sovereignty and free Lebanon from Syria's influence, and free Lebanon from the politics of violence and assassination,” Burns said.
In a November 21 briefing, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey declined to speculate on the identity of Gemayel’s killers, but added that “in light of the history that we've seen in Lebanon, with the Hariri assassination and with other acts of political violence, it's … clear to us and clear to everyone else that this was not just some random criminal act.”
The son of former president Amin Gemayel, he was the fifth prominent Lebanese critic of Syria to be killed in the past two years. “Certainly that's a disturbing pattern,” Casey said. “Whether that leads to any conclusions in terms of who is responsible for this specific incident, that's something I think we have to leave to Lebanese authorities to look at.”
In recent months, the March 14 Coalition has been bedeviled by a host of challenges, from rebuilding across the country following the conflict with Israel earlier this year to an intense political struggle with pro-Syrian political factions led by the Iranian-backed party Hezbollah.
In a November 1 statement, the White House called a sovereign, democratic, and prosperous Lebanon “a key element of U.S. policy in the Middle East,” but expressed concerns about efforts to destabilize the Siniora government, such as Hezbollah’s recent threat to stage mass demonstrations unless Lebanese authorities bring more of its members into a new “national unity” Cabinet.
Any changes to Lebanon’s democratically elected government, Casey said, should be made “through a legitimate, open political process, one of political negotiation among parties and among individuals, not come about as a result of intimidation or come about as a result of terror tactics.”
INCIDENT UNDERLINES NEED FOR INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL
Another way to for the international community to support the Siniora government, Bush said, would be for the U.N. Security Council to complete its efforts to establish the tribunal to find the perpetrators Hariri’s murder and bring them to justice. (See related article.)
“I strongly believe the United Nations Security Council ought to act today,” Bush declared.
At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said that the assassination makes clear that the international community has to support the democratic forces in Lebanon against politically motivated assassinations.
"It shows why we need the tribunal established as soon as possible, why it was correct to expand the mandate of the Brammertz investigatory commission and why the tribunal needs the flexibility to try the perpetrators of the other political assassinations in Lebanon," Bolton added.
Gemayel’s murder comes as the Lebanese government deliberates on whether to approve a U.N. draft agreement to form an international tribunal to hear cases related to the Hariri assassination. (See related article.)
The International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC), headed by Serge Brammertz, has reported having "credible reliable evidence" implicating Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services in the attack on Hariri. In December 2005, the Security Council authorized the commission to expand its investigation to help solve the string of assassinations and terrorist attacks on prominent politicians and journalists beginning in October 2004 and including the December 2005 murder of Gibran Tueni, a prominent anti-Syrian newspaper editor and lawmaker.
Bolton said that Gemayel's assassination "is potentially a turning point in the history of that country and therefore of the region. So we strongly support the Siniora government and all the democratic forces in Lebanon. We call on all states in the region to support the democratic government and urge everyone's cooperation in finding the assassins of Pierre Gemayel as soon as possible."
Meeting in formal session, the Security Council condemned the assassination, calling Gemayel "a patriot who was a symbol of freedom and of the political independence of Lebanon."
In a presidential statement read by Council President Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, the council also condemned "any attempt to destabilize Lebanon through political assassination or other terrorist acts."
"The Security Council is gravely concerned by this assassination and its possible impact on ongoing efforts by the government and people of Lebanon to solidify democracy, extend the authority of the Lebanese Government throughout its territory and to complete the reconstruction process. The Security Council calls upon all parties in Lebanon and the region to show restraint and a sense of responsibility with a view to preventing any further deterioration of the situation in Lebanon," the statement said.
A transcript of Bush’s remarks, the full text of November 21 release and the November 1 press statement are available on the White House Web site. A transcript of Burns’ comments and a transcript of Casey’s press briefing are available on the State Department Web site. A transcript of Bolton’s remarks is available on the Web site of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
For more information, see Middle East and North Africa.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)