10.15.2005

Supporting the new Lebanon

Supporting the new Lebanon is a very important part of the democratization process in the Middle East and is an evidence of the U.S. commitment to political reform in the Middle East.

In my view, without real and strong U.S. commitment to the independent and democratic Lebanon the U.S. credibility in the Middle East reform question would be far damaged.

The U.S has frequently assured this commitment and here are some recent details:

State's Welch Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Lebanon

Says United States prepared to assist all aspects of Lebanese reform agenda

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch has reaffirmed the deep commitment of the United States for the people and government of Lebanon.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut, Lebanon, October 12, Welch said the United States is prepared to help Lebanon advance in all aspects of its reform agenda, which involves political, economic and security issues.

"Comprehensive reform in all these areas is going to bring greater confidence among Lebanese, greater interest and confidence on the part of the international participants in your economy, and of course for all of you greater transparency and accountability of government," Welch said.
The assistant secretary said the United States calls on Syria to cooperate fully with the international investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

"We believe that truth should be revealed and that the perpetrators should be brought to justice," Welch said. "The Lebanese people want the complete sovereignty and independence of this nation and we stand and support them."

For more on U.S. policy in the region, see Middle East and North Africa.

Following is the transcript of Welch's comments in Beirut October 12:

(begin transcript)

Embassy of the United States Beirut-Lebanon
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs C. David Welch
Beirut, Lebanon
October 12, 2005

(Press Availability Following Meeting with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail)

Assistant Secretary Welch: Good afternoon. I had a very, very good meeting with his Excellency Prime Minister Siniora just now, and I greatly appreciate the useful exchange we had about the situation in Lebanon, about the situation in the region, and in particular about our bilateral relationship. As you know, the United States is deeply committed to America's relationship with this country. My visit to Beirut today reaffirms American support for the Lebanese people and for the Government of Lebanon under the leadership of his Excellency the Prime Minister, as you, the Lebanese, advance with courage and determination to achieve the vision that you have of a secure, prosperous and democratic Lebanon.

I will of course report all my observations, not to you members of the press, but to my government because I had a very good day here in Beirut with the Foreign Minister, the Justice Minister, and now with the Prime Minister.

Let me also offer my greetings on the holy occasion of Ramadan to all of you who are celebrating Ramadan -- and I am sorry if we delayed you from the iftar.

This visit follows a very successful meeting of what we call the Core Group, which was held in New York, in September. At the Core Group, we heard from the new Government of Lebanon about its reform agenda, political, and economic for the future. Today I listened to an assessment of the steps taken in that direction and the planning, as Lebanon prepares itself for political, economic and institutional reform. I discussed this in detail with the Finance Minister today and I attached great importance, coming from the United States, to seeing these plans put down in detail, discussed with the international community, and most important of all realized. Comprehensive reform in all these areas is going to bring greater confidence among Lebanese, greater interest and confidence on the part of the international participants in your economy, and of course for all of you greater transparency and accountability of government.

The Prime Minister, and others in the cabinet, today also discussed Lebanon's views on the way forward as the time approaches for the Mehlis investigation to render its report. In that respect, my discussions with his Excellency the Foreign Minister and with his Excellency the Justice Minister were also very useful. I don't know what is in the Mehlis report -- so if you are going to ask me and I don't have an answer -- and we will hear it from Mr. Mehlis when he renders the report. But there is something that stands behind all of this that I would like to say once again: The United States is firmly with Lebanon as it seeks to see justice done and to find the truth about the assassination of the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. We believe that truth should be revealed and that the perpetrators should be brought to justice. And we condemn in the strongest of terms the other crimes that have also been committed, which are aimed at intimidating those who want to speak with courage about their lives and their future and the future of their country. The Lebanese people want the complete sovereignty and independence of this nation and we stand and support them.

I have been through the region recently and I am winding up my visit here in Lebanon because of the importance we attach to you and your future. In the meetings with all my Lebanese friends, I reiterated my President's commitment to helping Lebanon in all aspects as it prepares itself with its new agenda. I heard today very strong determination by the Prime Minister and his government to work on our bilateral relationship to advance these goals of a peaceful, prosperous and stable Middle East.

I will take one or two questions and then we can all go to the iftar.

Question: Do you think that the suicide of Syrian Minister of Interior will affect, one way or another Mr. Mehlis' report?

Assistant Secretary Welch: Let me say this with respect to the apparent death of Mr. Ghazy Kenaan. I've seen press reports about this. I honestly have no details other than what is in the press and I would refer you to the Government of Syria for further information. Let me add a couple of things: I would note that Mr. Kenaan was a central figure in the Syrian Government's occupation of Lebanon -- and he was here for very many years. His role and that of other officials in the Syrian leadership has come under increased scrutiny recently. We continue to call upon the Syrian Government to cooperate fully with the international investigation of the murder of Rafik Hariri so that we can see the truth of this matter -- and so that this chapter in Lebanon's history will be closed. That is what I have to say about this.

Question: You spoke about economic and political reform, but there are many people in Lebanon who believe that there are conditions to be placed on Lebanon in return for the economic or financial assistance to be given to Lebanon in terms of the international conference to support Lebanon. What do you say about this?

Assistant Secretary Welch: First of all, let us be clear on what we are doing here. We the United States, and others in the international community, want to support Lebanon in its reform goals. The reforms consist of a wide variety of issues, political, economic, and security. The Government of Lebanon has already launched some of these reforms. We the United States do not ask for anything except for what the Lebanese Government itself is asking -- that is to have an effective process of reform. It is quite natural that when a country such as Lebanon comes forward to the international community and requests support and assistance, that the international community might in its response, also expect certain things in return. For example: When economic programs are launched, sometimes there are some considerations involving measures to be taken. I want to be very clear on this. This is a natural and mature process and countries go through it all the time. Conditionality is a very big word and sometimes people ask this question because they have some political agenda in mind. Our agenda is simple and straightforward: We support the Government of Lebanon in its ambition to make change. We think that there are some good ideas we would like to see elaborated -- and then the United States will lead the international community in trying to see those realized.

Question: (Inaudible) -- Lahoud ... you are the second official at the Department of State that comes to Lebanon...?

Assistant Secretary Welch: Well, as I said, I came here to follow up on the meetings with the Core Group in New York and that involves dealing with the executive branch of this country and with the Prime Minister and his new team. That is exactly what I have done today.

Thank you very much.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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