Media Availability with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland

Unofficial Transcript

Under Secretary Nuland: Good afternoon, everyone, thank you for coming. I want to start today by expressing condolences on behalf of the American people for the tragic loss of life this morning outside the Palace of Justice. We join the Lebanese authorities in their call for calm and de-escalation of tensions. The health and future of Lebanon’s democracy depends on the ability of its citizens to address the difficult issues ahead for their country — peacefully, and through dialogue, and with confidence in the rule of law.

We came to Lebanon today at the request of President Biden and Secretaries Blinken and Yellen with an interagency delegation that includes the State Department and the Treasury, in order to meet with government leaders and civil society just weeks after the formation of a new government, in order to express our support for the aspirations of the Lebanese people for security, for economic stability and for transparent and accountable governance. Terrorists and thieves have robbed them of hope for far too long. After years of suffering, all Lebanese deserve better. The task ahead is daunting, but we stand with Lebanon as it does the hard work to restore economic stability and basic services, including reliable electricity, health care, and education to get this country on a sustainable path and back to prosperity.

Today, in our meetings, we underscored the importance of complete transparency and open books as Lebanon re-engages with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The Lebanese people deserve to know where their money has gone and to have confidence in their economic future. We also urged prudence and accountability in the use of Lebanon’s more than a billion dollars in IMF Special Drawing Rights. This money belongs to the Lebanese people and must be used for their benefit. We also underscored the importance of free and fair elections next spring, and we were energized in our meeting with civil society this morning by the excitement that we felt among them for the opportunity for the next generation of Lebanese leaders to help shape a positive future here.

We also, as we always do, confirmed our steadfast support for the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces. We acknowledge the vital role that they play in security and stability here and the very difficult task that they have. Today, I’m pleased to announce an additional $67 million dollars in new U.S. support for the Lebanese Army, bringing our total of support this year to $187 million dollars. We have also provided over $300 million dollars in humanitarian support to Lebanon this year.

Finally, in our meetings, we stressed that a clean, impartial, independent judiciary is the guarantor of all the rights and the values that we, as democracies, hold dear and share. Again, the Lebanese people deserve no less, and the victims and families of those lost in the port blast deserve no less. Today’s unacceptable violence makes clear what the stakes are. As the Lebanese people and government and leaders and civil society take the very difficult steps forward to bring stability, health, prosperity, and security back to this beautiful country, the American people, the American government stands with them. Thank you very much. I’m ready to take some questions.

Al Jadeed: Following information about Iranian fuel arriving to Lebanon, the U.S. unveiled an agreement regarding energy arriving from Jordan and Egypt through Syria. Some assess that as a reaction. Now, exactly one week after the visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister, [inaudible] Amir-Abdollahian. We see you doing received nearly the same official visit. Some assess this too as a reaction. My question is, has Lebanon become a ground for a mutual or reciprocal signals and indirect messages between the U.S. and Iran that should be probably taking place as direct talks in Vienna?

Under Secretary Nuland: First of all, let me say that what Iran is offering here on the energy front is a publicity stunt. A bunch of trucks full of dirty stuff that is not sustainable for the Lebanese people. What we are working on are short, medium, and longer term solutions to the energy issues that have long plagued this country, that are particularly acute now, and then onward towards clean energy in the future. With regard to your more broad question, we’re doing our business with the Iranians directly in Vienna. They know what they need to do. It has nothing to do with the fact that Lebanon is an essential democracy in a dangerous neighborhood that the U.S. has long supported and that we will continue to support. You have a brand new government. We wanted to come and urge strong action in support of the needs and demands of the Lebanese people.

LBCI: My question is, in the past two months, allies of the U.S. met in the Middle East, met with the high-ranking Syrian officials. Is the new U.S. administration considering case-by-case exemptions regarding the Caesar Act? Thanks.

Under Secretary Nuland: No. Secretary Blinken spoke to our Syria policy at length yesterday in his trilateral press conference in Washington. Our policy towards Assad and his brutal regime has not changed, and we firmly insist on implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254. What I would say is one of the energy solutions that we are working on with Lebanese authorities, which could provide relief in weeks and months, would involve the World Bank and would involve humanitarian relief. So because it falls under the humanitarian category, no sanctions waiver would be required in this instance.

National News Agency (NNA): One question, since you are arriving directly from Russia, was Lebanon the subject of talks there?

Under Secretary Nuland: I’m sorry to disappoint you. We had a lot of things to talk about in Russia. We did not talk about Lebanon directly, although we did talk about security across the Middle East and our joint work with regard to trying to get Iran back to the table for the JCPOA. But no, we didn’t talk directly about the situation in Lebanon. However, I did meet my French counterpart there, and we talked quite a bit about Lebanon.

National News Agency (NNA): Is the decision to help Lebanon by funding the country related to the American green light and [inaudible].

Under Secretary Nuland: Green light?

National News Agency (NNA): [inaudible] Yes. [inaudible] And when will the administration give this green light to the country?

Under Secretary Nuland: I am not sure I understood the question. Did you understand the question Casey? [inaudible]

Under Secretary Nuland: Oh, absolutely. We’re working with our traditional partners around the world who have invested in Lebanon, who care about Lebanon to support you. But again, the hard work has to be done by Lebanese authorities and by the Lebanese people. And as you take those steps to turn the tide, to open the books, to figure out where the money went, to work with the IMF, to clean up corruption, to say no to terror, we will stand with you, as will our allies and partners. Thank you very much.