Thursday, January 25, 2007

State Department Spokesman on developments in Lebanon-January 25

US Department of State

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 25, 2007

MR. MCCORMACK: We would appeal for calm -- and I've seen certainly on the TV screens and the press reports about the violence that has broken out at one of the universities there. I can't pinpoint for you the origins of this violence, but the initial reporting from our folks on the ground seem -- would indicate that this is an outgrowth of the political tensions that we're seeing within Lebanon today. I understand that there was a loss of life and that's tragic.

Again, I can't pinpoint for you who started this or exactly the motivations behind it, but what you -- it is fair to say that there are certain irresponsible parties in Lebanon who have been provoking an atmosphere of confrontation and antagonism within the political system. And the links between those individuals and groups and outside entities are well known and they have been engaged in a cynical manipulation of public perceptions in the political process.

And I do think it is fair to say that those attempts at cynical manipulation of the political process certainly have had an effect on the overall atmosphere in Lebanon and I think it is fair to say likely played a role in these kinds of tensions that you're seeing manifested at -- today in Beirut and at the university.

QUESTION: Could it affect the results of Paris-3 conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think what it underscores is the fact that we and the international system stand behind those who are implementing -- proposing and implementing the political and economic reforms that it is going -- that are going to make Lebanon a more democratic, prosperous country. And we stand with those people.

It's well known who is on the other side of that fence, those individuals who are ready to use violence, use extremism to whip up emotions within the Lebanese political process in ways that are unproductive and detrimental to Lebanon and to the Lebanese people.

QUESTION: Sean, do you think that weakened Siniora inside Lebanon, just as he's getting all this international support, to have the violence on the streets? Has that weakened him at home politically?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't do a political analysis for you, but what it -- I guess -- I don't know what the intended effects of this violence were. Again, I can't tell you what the motivations were behind it, but the reaction from the international community is that we stand with the Siniora government and the Lebanese people who are fighting for a better, more democratic, prosperous Lebanon.


QUESTION: Do you think that this money, this $7 billion or so that's been pledged will somehow help the political situation there? Is that your wish that it will somehow embolden the Siniora government and improve his standing within his own people in Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he -- his standing with his own people in Lebanon is quite strong, it would appear. The money is intended -- there is a twofold effect here. One, there are very real, practical effects in terms of budget, support, reconstruction, security assistance. So those are very, very real, tangible effects. But the other effect is an expression of political and diplomatic support for the Siniora government by the international system. And what that is intended to do is intended to support the forces of freedom, democracy, and reform in Lebanon and Prime Minister Siniora is at the lead of those -- at those forces. So the net effect is to strengthen Prime Minister Siniora, I believe, within Lebanon.

QUESTION: But with all of this political turmoil, you have been speaking about seeing various companies that are interested in investing. How are you going to encourage investor confidence in Lebanon when the political situation is so unstable? You have -- you know, riots on the streets, people being killed. It's a very difficult situation.

MR. MCCORMACK: It is a difficult situation and it's an important moment in Lebanon's history, but you have private sector individuals, hard-nosed businessmen who take a look at the situation in Lebanon and say, "We are going to invest in Lebanon." You have countries like -- companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Occidental Petroleum, who say that, despite some of the political turmoil in Lebanon right now, we are making a bet on Lebanon and Lebanon's political future. And -- but that is that the Lebanese people are going to succeed in overcoming the forces of violent extremism and oppression in that country. Now, it's not to say that that is going to be an easy task. The Siniora government and those forces for freedom and democracy in Lebanon need support. They need support from the international community and you just saw a very strong tangible demonstration of that today, not only from governments around the world, but also the private sector, as well.

QUESTION: How much did the private sector put forward? Do you have a number or is it just promises?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a specific number. There was the $150 million OPIC facility that was worked with Citigroup.

QUESTION: Is that a loan guarantee or something?

MR. MCCORMACK: The -- you can check with OPIC as to the term of art that is associated with that. I don't want to get in cross wires with the bankers. But it is a tangible demonstration of support for Lebanon.

QUESTION: Sean, are you confident in the stability of Siniora's government? You said his standing is quite strong? I know there were some concerns awhile back about his government being toppled. Are you guys confident that he can stay in power?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're confident that he has been a tenacious advocate for freedom and political reform in Lebanon and we are going to continue to support him. We believe that he has the support of large swaths of the Lebanese population, despite the best efforts of countries like Syria and Iran and their proxies, Hezbollah, the Siniora government has continued to govern in the face of difficult challenges by those groups, by those countries who want to turn the clock back in Lebanon. And Prime Minister Siniora I think has earned the respect of other leaders around the world and that respect has manifested itself today in Paris with the donations that you've seen.

QUESTION: Could I just -- one more, just --


QUESTION: I mean, do you still have concerns though, first as against him toppling his government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly we are concerned that those who want to turn the clock back. And it's our job as an international system to do everything that we possibly can to see that that does not happen, that the role of the Lebanese people for economic political reform and a better day for Lebanon to succeed.

QUESTION: But, can I --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Go ahead, Charlie.

QUESTION: Well, I want to follow up on part of it which is that earlier you made a comment to irresponsible parties --


QUESTION: -- in talking about today's activities.


QUESTION: And you didn't name anybody in particular. And just now in answer to the last question you mentioned Syria, Hezbollah. Do you include the Government of Syria in terms of irresponsible parties in today's activities?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm trying to make a -- excuse me -- a settle point and that is that I can't tell you exactly who is responsible for fomenting the violence at the university today in Beirut. But what I'm trying to indicate is that the atmosphere that allowed that to move forward was created by those parties like Hezbollah and their outside supporters, Iran and Syria. They have created an atmosphere of political tension in Lebanon where they have directly challenge the role of the Lebanese people for political and economic reform and for freeing the Lebanese people and their country from the oppression that they lived with for 20 years during Syrian occupation. So that's -- I'm trying to get at the point, they have created this atmosphere in which these kinds of political tensions have now begun to manifest themselves in violence in the streets.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: Sean, you have the violence on the streets which seems much more of an urgent, immediate problem than the money that you're pledging today is ultimately for long term reconstruction to help the government with the debt problems, strengthen its hand on the government. But I mean, how can you help with the situation that's on the ground today to prevent it from overtaking the kind of seeds that you're sowing right now for the long term stability of it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in the immediate term, it's the Lebanese security forces that are going to have to deal with the current tensions and the Lebanese political leadership. Now, I understand that across the board, the political leadership has called for calm in Lebanon and certainly that is an important action. But in the immediate term, it is going to have to be the Lebanese that deal with the violence that you're seeing in Beirut.

QUESTION: Three or four months ago, the -- maybe a bit longer - the White House and yourself issued, this is to follow on from Libby's question --


QUESTION: -- issued a very strong statement saying that you feared for Siniora's -- Prime Minister Siniora's life and that there were forces working to get him, basically. Do you still stand by that statement?


QUESTION: Is the situation still the same or is it even more dire than when you --

MR. MCCORMACK: It hasn't -- I can't tell you if it's anymore dire at the moment. But certainly, there are forces that want to stop progress towards a free democratic prosperous Lebanon. We've seen that. We've seen them assassinate and attempt to kill numerous individuals. They succeeded in killing a former prime minister. They succeeded in killing people like Pierre Gemayel. And we have no reason to believe that that threat has abated in any way. It is I suspect that that threat will continue while those forces that are responsible for violent actions feel threatened by things like UN Security Council Resolution 1559, 1701 and the International Tribunal that is going to bring to justice those responsible for the murder for former Prime Minister Hariri. So as long as those -- I would suggest to you, as long as those threats remain to those individuals who are responsible for this violence, then the threat of violence will likely continue.

QUESTION: But do you think it was a good idea for him to leave his country at this time to go to Paris? I mean, doesn't the threat that -- of him being out of the country that things could become even more difficult for him?

MR. MCCORMACK: He's the head of government. He has to be able to represent the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese people. And we think that it is absolutely appropriate and right for him to represent Lebanon and a hopeful future for Lebanon in Paris today.


QUESTION: Sean, how does the U.S. read reports that Saudi Arabia and Iran are basically intensifying efforts to broker a solution in Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look. If we are regional actors who want to play a positive role in Lebanon in trying to help the Lebanese reach the political accommodations that they need to reach in order to move their political process forward, then certainly, that is positive. Amr Mussa has made very, very public efforts in that regard. He has briefed Secretary Rice on those efforts, so we're fully cognizant of those.

If there are other efforts, then certainly, that would be positive as long as they are welcomed by the Lebanese Government. What would be of great concern to us as well as others would be any attempts to negotiate or broker solutions over the head of the Lebanese people and not with the full consent and participation of the Siniora government.

QUESTION: Has the Saudi Arabian authorities been keeping you -- keeping the United States informed about such diplomatic efforts?

MR. MCCORMACK: They can speak for themselves about what they may or may not be involved in.

QUESTION: Are you going to see any positive action to come from Iran regarding the Hezbollah in Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Have we seen anything?

QUESTION: Are you -- do you expect anything like that?

MR. MCCORMACK: They have, over the past 20 years or so --

QUESTION: No, any positive action?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let me just -- let me put it in historical context for you. They -- Iran helped create Hezbollah and they have continued to support Hezbollah during the 20-plus years that they helped create it. And I don't, at this point, see any intention on the Iranians' part, at least any sort of public intention, to try to play a more positive role via Hezbollah in Lebanon's future.