Good afternoon, I just had the pleasure of meeting with Prime Minister Salam, and we discussed a range of topics of mutual interest.
During our discussion, I stressed one critical, underlying message: America’s enduring commitment to Lebanon. Regional developments have not altered America’s policy toward Lebanon, or any of our commitments to Lebanon; nor do they alter our commitment to regional security. I want to make clear to the people of Lebanon: America supports you and will stand shoulder to shoulder with you.
I also want to express my admiration for Lebanon’s army and the security forces on the occasion of the army’s 70th anniversary. The Lebanese Armed Forces have done an extraordinary job of responding to the threats arising from across the Syrian border. The army has demonstrated to enemies and friends alike that it is strong, fully capable of defending Lebanon’s borders and its people, and that it has the support of those people. We are committed to ensuring the army has the capability to meet its responsibilities to defend and protect the borders. America has been, is, and will continue to be the army’s steadfast and foremost security partner. Since 2006, we have provided more than $1 billion in security assistance and critical training. And just as you can count on international support, Lebanon has something no other military has and that is the Lebanese soldier. Our trainers know best; they say that Lebanon’s soldiers, their skills, their professionalism, their dedication to duty, and their commitment to defend their country are unsurpassed.
Now our civilian programs are every bit as important as our security work, if less well known. $220 million to Lebanon’s education sector. $281 million to other sectors, such as water and economic development. New, duty free access to America for the vast majority of Lebanese products. $869 million to help Lebanon and Lebanese communities cope with the refugee crisis. And I am pleased to announce today an additional $20.2 million grant from the United States to the UN World Food Program for its emergency food assistance operations inside Lebanon.
At stressful times like these, the Lebanese justifiably look to their friends abroad for legitimate assistance to state institutions. As I have said, we and many others are responding. It is therefore all the more troubling when political leaders, whatever their motives, take actions or positions that damage the very state institutions which are needed now more than ever. Instead of strength, we see a vacant presidency. Instead of cooperation, we see blockage, including of some international loans and grants that the Lebanese people so rightly want and need to deal with the crushing burdens on this society. We will do our part, and are responding to every request made of us for help. But it is in the power of only the Lebanese to stop this tearing down of the institutions of state, and to start repairing them. When that starts to happen, solutions will follow as well as even stronger international support.
Thank you very much.