For Immediate Release
Good afternoon. I just had a good meeting with the Prime Minister, who was gracious enough to receive me. I’ve been away from Lebanon and I wanted to catch up on issues that had developed while I was gone. I guess there’s never a dull moment in Lebanon, because I lot had happened since I was away for about 8 or 9 days.
First of all, I wanted to congratulate the prime minister on the successful holding of municipal elections thus far. I think we’ve got two rounds down and the third round will be the day after tomorrow. It looks like things are going very well. It’s a refreshing reminder of the democratic tradition in Lebanon and it’s very heartening for Americans to see Lebanese participating actively in the process. Obviously, the various parties, the candidates, and the lists have been doing a lot. But what was really encouraging was the high turnout in last Sunday’s election (May 15). So we’re very pleased. I don’t have much comment on the results here or there. There are winners, there are losers, and there are some surprises and that is what makes elections fun. The people always surprise the pundits as we like to say.
The other issue that I wanted to discuss with him, which has come up in my absence, has come to the fore again, is the issue of refugees. We discussed the statement that was issued last night or yesterday afternoon by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office here, which I think is a helpful clarification of the situation and the views of the United Nations. Certainly, I think the United States fully supports that statement, that we understand the sensitivity of the issue of refugees in Lebanon. We believe that the preferable solution is for them to (voluntarily) return to their country as soon as conditions allow and if that becomes impossible, that they be taken for resettlement in other countries. Of course, the United States is trying to do our part. The President has already announced an increase in our refugee quotas for this year and suggested that they will be increased further for next year. But it is a difficult issue for all countries and we understand that.