Good evening. I came to Lebanon at the request of Secretary of State Pompeo to express America’s commitment to the Lebanese people during this difficult moment. America mourns the grievous loss of life and injuries; the destruction of homes, offices, and infrastructure; and mounting economic consequences in Beirut. And, as your steadfast partner and friend, we will stand with Lebanon as you rebuild and recover from this catastrophe.
Since August 6, America has been helping the Lebanese people every day through the provision of $18 million worth of much-needed food, medicine, and other essential relief. In addition, we are prepared to work with Congress to pledge up to $30 million in additional funds to enable the flow of grain through the Port of Beirut on an urgent, interim basis.
This assistance will address only the immediate humanitarian needs caused by the explosion and will be handled directly by the World Food Program through non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, we, like so many others, expect a credible and transparent investigation of the circumstances that led up to the explosion. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation will soon be here to help. In some ways, this tragic event was just a symptom of much deeper ails in Lebanon, ails which have gone on for far too long, and for which nearly everyone in authority bears a measure of responsibility. I’m talking about the decades of mismanagement, corruption, and the repeated failure of Lebanese leaders to undertake meaningful, sustained reforms.
During my visit last December, I conveyed the urgent need for Lebanon’s elected leaders to cast aside partisan concerns and personal gain and put the country’s interest first. Today, we see the effects of their failure to accept that responsibility.
Over the past 24 hours, I have listened to a range of perspectives – elected leaders and party officials, but also civil society, youth, and clergy. The popular demand for real change could not be clearer. This is a moment of truth for Lebanon. America calls on Lebanon’s political leaders to finally respond to the people’s longstanding and legitimate demands and create a credible plan – accepted by the Lebanese people – for good governance, sound economic and financial reform, and an end to the endemic corruption that has stifled Lebanon’s tremendous potential.
America has been a friend of Lebanon for over two centuries. But as the dozens of young activists and volunteers I met so bluntly demanded, there can be no bailout. When we see Lebanese leaders committed to real change, change in word and deed, America and its international partners will respond to systemic reforms with sustained financial support.
But we can’t, and we won’t try to dictate any outcome. This is a moment for Lebanon to define a Lebanese – not a foreign – vision of Lebanon. What kind of Lebanon do you have and what kind of Lebanon do you want? Only Lebanese can answer that question.