Saad Hariri on Lebanon's Future

His father, the late prime minister of Lebanon and the man who rebuilt Beirut, Rafiq Hariri, was assassinated in 2005. The prime minister's death spurred Lebanese to take to the streets in daily protests until Syria, thought to be behind the killing, withdrew its troops from the country. More recently, the March 14 Movement, led by Hariri's son, 37-year-old Saad Hariri, has also been the target of mysterious assassins. In the last two and a half years, six parliamen­tarians in the coalition have been killed. With a presidential election due next month, Hariri and his allies are locked in a stalemate with the pro-Syria opposition, and their majority in parliament is fast dwindling. Last week Hariri spoke with NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth in New York. Excerpts:

Weymouth: What did you ask the White House for, and what did you get?
Saad Hariri:
The main thing we dis­cussed is that Antoine Ghanem was the sixth member of par­liament to be assassinated in Lebanon. If this contin­ues there will be no more majority in the parliament from the March 14 Move­ment.

What's the majority now?
Now we're 68 [out of 128 members of parliament]. Can you imagine being a member of parliament and sitting and wait­ing for them to kill you? Is it acceptable that when a democracy is suffering such targeted assassinations, the world only condemns what is happening to us? These assassinations aren't stopping. It is not a coin­cidence that the par­liamentarians who were killed are from the same political background—par­ties allied with us that are anti-Syri­an.

What did you ask President Bush? What do you hope Washington will do?
We all know that the Syrian regime is doing this. Action must be taken against the Syrian regime, like isolation, to make the Syrians understand that killing mem­bers of [Lebanon's] parliament will have consequences for them.

There are some voices here, even the Baker-Hamilton Commission, that say the U.S. should engage with Syria on Iraq.
Then why don't you engage with Al Qae­da? How can you accept a regime [that] is killing members of parliament in Lebanon and has opened its border with Iraq and is sending hundreds of extremists and Al Qaeda followers there to kill Iraqis and American soldiers—a regime that hosts terrorist organizations? The message that is being sent today to our part of the world is you can do all that and get away with it.

The sanctions are too weak?
There are no sanctions. There is only the [U.N.] tribunal, which has taken so long and is still not up and running … I have asked President Bush to do everything possible to expedite the tribunal.

What did Bush say?
President Bush said that Syria should not intervene in the Lebanese presidential elections.

Some people in your party are saying that compromise with the Lebanese opposition is impossible because you'd really be striking a deal with Syria and Iran. Are they correct?
That's why we need to be very careful in the negotiations [with opposition leader Nabih Berri] and give the dialogue a chance. I cannot tell you what I am going to get in this dialogue but, as a young politician, I need to show that in the interest of Lebanon we need to have dialogue.

If you call on the West to isolate Damascus, why would you enter into a dialogue with their lackeys?
Because at the end of the day those people are Lebanese, and the closer they come to us, the further they will become from the Syrian regime.

Do you believe that's a real possibility?
I think it is my duty to try. I cannot sit around and not try.

Have you decided that it is your duty to take your father's position?
I am the majority leader in the par­liament. So I have to assume my re­sponsibilities.

Does that mean that you are go­ing to [try to be­come prime min­ister]?
It means I will assume my responsibility as a majority leader. First and most impor­tant is [to hold] the presidential elec­tion. After that, everything is going to be easier to resolve. If you are asking me if I want to be prime minister or not, I am not saying that I don't want to be and I am not saying that I want to be.

Why can't you say you want to be the prime minister?
[Prime Minister] Fouad Siniora has done a great, and still is doing, a great job. I am a person that likes to wait.

Aren't you afraid of suffering the same fate your father?
I think what is going to happen will hap­pen. We have taken many precautions, and my security is doing everything possi­ble to protect me. In the end it's in God's hands.

Your country is very dangerous.
It's dangerous but very beautiful. It's worth fighting for; it's worth dying for.

What happens if the election ends up in a deadlock? Are you worried that it could lead to civil unrest?
It's very simple. You have those of us who want democracy and those who don't. At the end of the day the Syrian regime is undermining the democracy in Lebanon. They are doing the same thing in Iraq: destabilizing the Iraqi democracy with the Iranians.

Do you believe Syria is an independent ac­tor?
No, I don't think so.

Are they acting at the command of Iran?
At the end of the day, can you imagine if you have vibrant democracies in Lebanon and Iraq? What would that do to the Syri­an regime? If you had no interference in the Palestinian areas and they could let their democracy grow, do you think the Syrian regime would like that? They would fold the next day. We are protecting our principles, our sovereignty and independence. On the other hand, the opposition is on the side of the Syrian regime.

The opposition is really Hezbollah?
The opposition is Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement led by Michel Aoun. Lebanon is the model of a moderate democracy; we fight extremism of all kinds. We are the only democracy in the region that has so many different ethnic groups living together. This is what they are trying to disrupt. They want an extremist, hard-line, thuggish dictatorship in Lebanon. They think they are succeeding, [but] you have never seen so much resolve by the Lebanese people for their independence.

Are you still in favor of disarming Hezbollah?
I am a realistic person. There should be dialogue. One important thing is to build our armed forces. We need to strengthen our state and build it like any other state.

Both parties in America are fed up with the Iraq war. The polls are overwhelmingly in support of getting our troops out of Iraq.
I believe if there is an early withdrawal from Iraq without achieving a certain sta­bility, there will be bigger instability in the region. You have to remember that the Iraqi government wants the United States government to stay.

What would be the repercussions for the area of a U.S. withdrawal?
Iraq has suffered a lot and it needs stabili­ty. Let's say there was a mistake done in the beginning. You don't fix a mistake by an­other mistake.