Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of State John Kerry at the International Support Group for Lebanon

New York, New York

September 30, 2015.

(Delivered by Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.)

Thank you, Mr. Secretary General and Mr. Prime Minister, for chairing this third ministerial meeting of the International Support Group.  My government agrees – and agrees fully — that Lebanon needs the international community’s backing more urgently than ever; that is why we have come together today.

The United States wants Lebanon to be stable, secure, sovereign, and free from foreign entanglements.  We are aware, however, that these goals are threatened by the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, the continued movement of refugees, and the pernicious presence of violent extremists.  Clearly, Lebanon needs the help of its international partners to confront these challenges.
Such support can reinforce but cannot substitute for leadership within Lebanon.  The country’s top officials and opinion leaders must also take decisive measures to strengthen their ability to weather the crisis at hand.
To survive the current turbulence, Lebanon’s governing institutions must be effective and strong.  Sadly, that is not now the case.  Lebanon’s presidency has been vacant for more than 16 months, paralyzing the country’s political institutions at a critical moment.

During these difficult times, Lebanon’s citizens, leaders, and institutions absolutely must come together.  My government urges Lebanon’s leaders of every faction to put aside their differences and to restore a functioning cabinet that will fulfill its responsibilities and meet the needs of the people.  In saying this, I am really echoing the words of Prime Minister Salam, who has been striving with great courage to achieve a political consensus and to move his country forward.  Now is the time for Lebanon to uphold its democratic principles, elect a president, and hold parliamentary elections.  There is no excuse for further delay.

Meanwhile, we must do all we can to strengthen Lebanon’s institutions, and most particularly, the Lebanese Armed Forces.  The army is the sole institution with the legitimacy and mandate to defend the country and its people.  It must have the equipment and training required to do that job.
I am announcing today that the United States will double – to more than $150 million – the amount of  U.S. military assistance  we are providing to the Lebanese Armed Forcesthis year compared to last.  These funds will allow the Lebanese Armed Forces to buy munitions, improve close air support, sustain vehicles and aircraft, modernize airlift capacity, provide training to its soldiers, and add to the mobility of armored units. This is in addition to the $59 million in border security assistance that we announced in Beirut earlier this month.  Rest assured that the United States will continue its strong support of the Lebanese Armed Forces, and we urge other countries to contribute generously as well.

My colleagues, one of the most visible and heart-wrenching effects of the Syrian conflict is the presence in Lebanon of the highest number of registered refugees per capita in the world – more than one million in a country of only four million.  The United States recognizes the immense strain this burden is placing on Lebanon’s resources and its host communities and we will continue to help.  Ten days ago, President Obama announced that we will provide an additional $75.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, bringing our total to more than $964 million since the conflict began.

As members of this Support Group well know, not all the obligations in the Baabda Declaration, and UN Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559 are being fulfilled.  The Baabda Declaration, now three years old, was a clear commitment by Lebanon’s leaders to strengthen national institutions, resolve internal disputes, respect the rule of law, and avoid becoming entangled in the Syrian civil war.  The path set out in that Declaration remains the right one for Lebanon, but concerted actions are required to fulfill its promise.  Of greatest importance, Hizballah’s intervention in Syria – which violates the Declaration and threatens to drag Lebanon into war against the will of its people – must cease.

Ladies and gentlemen, Lebanon may be under enormous stress, but it remains an essential building block of a more stable Middle East.  During this period of prolonged crisis, it must have all the help that governments, the UN system, and humanitarian relief organizations can provide.  It must have the capacity to protect itself from subversion and terrorist attacks.  It must summon the internal will to make its political system function in accordance with the requirements of the constitution and the needs of the Lebanese people.  And to all these ends, it may count on the unwavering friendship and support of the United States.  Thank you.