Today Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a two-day visit to Lebanon where he met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Jean Qahwagi, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, and UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag. He also visited the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Bourj Hammoud, which serves both Lebanese community members and refugees. Deputy Secretary Blinken toured the facility and observed a legal rights awareness session aimed at preventing the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable refugees. In addition, he visited the offices of AMIDEAST Lebanon and met with Lebanese students studying English through the Access Microscholarship Program.
Below are Deputy Secretary Blinken’s remarks following his meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Good afternoon. I want to thank Prime Minister Salam for his hospitality, as well as extend my best wishes to the people of Lebanon.
The United States has a deep and enduring commitment to Lebanon and to its people.
The strength of our relationship is anchored in the values we share—our belief in education, individualism, human dignity, and liberty: in the freedom of faith, the freedom of expression, and the vibrancy of a free market.
And it is anchored in the importance of Lebanon, its security, and its prosperity to this entire region.
The Prime Minister and I reviewed developments in the region, including the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran on the elements of a comprehensive plan to deal with Iran’s nuclear program that were decided last week in Lausanne, as well as the conflicts in Syria and Yemen and the future of Middle East peace.
We know that all of these issues have an impact here in Lebanon and that the interests of your nation are at stake.
We also talked about our common efforts to counter extremist violence and eliminate the threat that Daesh and other groups pose to all of us. This effort requires not only a military response, but also global engagement to counter extremist propaganda and financing, and the flow of foreign fighters. It requires reaching those who might be susceptible to the call of violent extremism and to develop strategies to prevent them from joining in the first place. Lebanon is a strong partner in all of these efforts. That is why we have increased and expedited our assistance to Lebanon.
In any society, stable and effective government institutions serve as the foundation for a peaceful, secure, and prosperous nation that advances the aspirations of its citizens.
We want to help strengthen Lebanese state institutions that are accountable to the Lebanese people – and capable of protecting them and securing the country’s borders, in accordance with UN Security Resolution 1701 and the Baabda Declaration.
We continue to support the security services as they protect and preserve Lebanon’s security, stability, independence, and sovereignty on behalf of allLebanese.
Our security assistance—training, equipment, weapons, and ammunition—totals more than $1 billion over the last nine years. It bolsters the Lebanese government’s capabilities to protect Lebanon’s people, defeat violent extremists, and secure Lebanon’s borders. When last fall’s events in Arsal presented a new challenge to your security forces, the United States answered the call with practical assistance—and we will continue to do so.
The United States is committed to helping bring about a political transition in Syria that leads to an inclusive government and a future of freedom, dignity, and security for the Syrian people. Dignity cannot be brought if the current dictator—a man who has gassed and barrel bombed the people of Syria—remains. As Secretary Kerry has emphasized, a brutal dictator like Assad has no place in Syria’s future.
In this regard, Hizballah’s support for Assad – indeed the lifeline it provides – serves only to prolong the conflict and suffering, provides Daesh with a recruitment tool, and causes more refugees to flee to Lebanon. Hizballah’s actions in Syria are bad for the people of Syria and Lebanon.
The consequences of the war in Syria affect every aspect of life here in Lebanon and deeply strain public services. Host communities share precious water resources; hospitals have exhausted their supplies providing care; and schools opened their doors to many more students, some of whom carry scars that cannot be seen.
The U.S. Government supports—and is grateful for—the work of the Lebanese government and society to take in so many refugees from Syria. This is a profoundly generous and compassionate response.
And we are committed to providing support not only to the refugees, but also the Lebanese communities that host them. The United States remains the single largest individual donor in the Syrian response—having provided nearly $800 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon. This includes our announcement just last week in Kuwait that we will give another $118 million to assist refugees and host communities in Lebanon.
This assistance is renovating schools, easing the financial burden of providing food and other basic necessities, and improving access to clean water and medical care in Lebanese towns and villages—to the benefit of those communities.
We are particularly impressed by the way Lebanon’s municipalities have managed our assistance, and we will continue to expand our support for them, just as we will continue to stand with Lebanon through this unprecedented crisis.
To tackle the many challenges confronting the region today, Lebanon needs every part of its government functioning effectively.
It cannot face these historic challenges with an empty chair. Electing a president will not solve all of these problems, but it will be a critical step in the right direction. Until the seat is filled, Lebanon cannot make important policy decisions that would improve the lives of its people.
I urge Lebanon’s leaders not to look outside of their country for a resolution to the presidential gridlock, but instead to find a solution from within. Responsible voices in the international community will support you. But unless and until a president is chosen, the erosion of Lebanon’s political institutions will only deepen.
We once again call on Lebanon’s parliament to elect a president as soon as possible, in accordance with the Constitution and the National Pact. The election of a president is a decision entirely for the Lebanese to take, but they must take it; and those blocking formation of a parliamentary quorum should be held to public account.
Again, I thank Prime Minister Salam, as well as the other Lebanese leaders I had the privilege of meeting with on this visit. I have appreciated the opportunity to engage in meaningful exchanges, as we deepen and strengthen a relationship that reflects the enduring U.S. commitment to Lebanon and its people.
Thank you very much.