Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Clinton begins visit to Lebanon

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Lebanon

US secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Beirut for talks with the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

She will also visit the tomb of assassinated former PM Rafiq Hariri, killed in a bomb attack in 2005.

It is Mrs Clinton's first ever visit to Lebanon and the well-travelled former First Lady and New York senator said she was anxious to see the country.

Mrs Clinton was in Baghdad on Saturday where she insisted the US was committed to supporting Iraq.

In Beirut she will hold talks with Lebanese leaders and lay a wreath on the tomb of Mr Hariri.

His assassination, blamed by many on Damascus, triggered massive demonstrations which put an end to years of Syrian control over Lebanon.

The protest movement was backed by the Bush administration.

Mrs Clinton's short stop here comes at a sensitive time. Legislative elections are due in June and it is expected that Syria and its allies, like Hezbollah, will make a comeback in the polls.

The new US administration is worried about the growing power of Hezbollah but is keen not to be seen as interfering in the elections.

Mrs Clinton is accompanied by the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, a former ambassador to Beirut.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Remarks After Meeting With Lebanese President Michel Sleiman

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Beirut, Lebanon
April 26, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me begin by saying how pleased I am to be here in Lebanon on a beautiful day. I appreciated the opportunity that I had to meet with the president, with the minister, and other members of the government. I am grateful for this chance to deliver a letter to President Sleiman from President Obama, expressing the Obama administration's strong support for a free, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.

And it is important that I stress this special bond that exists between the United States and Lebanon. My country has been enriched by the contributions of many Lebanese Americans. And, even more than that, we have been enriched by a diversity of communities. I know how diverse Lebanon is, and I know that that diversity is a source of strength as it is in my own country.

Over the past several years, Lebanon has gone through many challenges. And I want to commend the many courageous citizens from all different groups who have worked to build an independent and democratic nation. The parliamentary elections that are coming up in June will mark another milestone.

We believe strongly that the people of Lebanon must be able to choose their own representatives in open and fair elections without the specter of violence and intimidation, and certainly free of outside interference. And we join the international community in supporting the Lebanese government's efforts to achieve that goal. We will continue to support the voices of moderation in Lebanon and the responsible institutions of the Lebanese state that they are working to build. Our ongoing support for the Lebanese armed forces remains a pillar of our bilateral cooperation.

The United Nations Security Council resolutions make clear that the Lebanese armed forces is the only legitimate armed force in Lebanon, the only force that is accountable to all of the Lebanese people. And I want to commend the Lebanese armed forces for its efforts to defend Lebanon's borders to fight terrorism and fully implement Security Council Resolution 1701.

I also am here to pledge our continuing support for the special tribunal for Lebanon. I will go from here to pay a call of respect at the memorial of former Prime Minister Hariri. There needs to be an absolute end to an era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon. It cannot, must not, be used as a bargaining chip. When I visit former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri's memorial, I will honor his memory, and pay my respects to all those who have been killed while defending Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.

The guiding principles from the Cedar Revolution that followed his death, sovereignty and freedom for the Lebanese people, is a core value that we respect and will honor and work to translate into a perpetual reality.

I believe that Lebanon has a key role to play in the long-term efforts to build lasting peace and stability in this region. And President Obama and I and the administration that I represent, as well as the government and people of the United States look forward to ongoing partnership and cooperation.

Thank you very much, and I will happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: You mentioned the forces of moderation and your visit happens two months before the elections and on the very anniversary day of the Syrian withdrawal. I was wondering, coming here today, if you intend to express your support for the current majority.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I intend to express my support and President Obama's support for the people of Lebanon, and for a free, independent, and sovereign Lebanon, and for elections that will be free of any intimidation and outside interference, so that the people of Lebanon are able to peacefully make their decisions in these upcoming elections.

QUESTION: How can you (inaudible) is going to deal with the new Lebanese government in case the opposition or Hezbollah wins the election?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am not going to speculate on the outcome of your election. That is for the people of Lebanon to decide. The Lebanese people have a lot at stake in this election. And I know how seriously all of the candidates are campaigning throughout the country.

But we certainly hope that the election will be free of intimidation and outside interference, and that the results of the election will continue a moderate, positive direction that will benefit all the people of Lebanon. That is our hope. We want to see a strong, independent, free, and sovereign Lebanon. And we believe that this election will be, obviously, an important milestone on that path.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, welcome to Lebanon. (Inaudible) on this question. I know you don't want to speculate about the results of the elections, but it does look likely that Syria's allies, including Hezbollah, will make a strong come-back. How will that affect your support for the Lebanese army that you just discussed, you said it was a pillar of cooperation between the two countries? Would you re-evaluate that cooperation with the Lebanese army?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, first let me say that it's a great delight to have you with me on this trip. As some of you know, Kim is Lebanese, and has been so excited about coming back to a country that she loves, and I am pleased that I could be the reason she got to come back at this particular time.

I don't want to speculate about the outcome of the elections. Obviously, as an outsider, which is all that I am, and representing our President and our government, we hope that the election is free and fair of intimidation, we hope that the people of Lebanon make a decision that will continue the progress that we have seen over the last several years.

It won't surprise you to hear that I think moderation is important in the affairs of states, because that gives people from all backgrounds, and all different beliefs and convictions, an opportunity to participate. So that is up to the Lebanese people to decide, but we certainly look forward to working with and cooperating with the next Lebanese government.

QUESTION: Any settlement with Syria - that Lebanon could be paying the price for – especially regarding the international tribunal and why you don't meeting (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, with respect to my schedule, this was a very short trip, because of the necessity that I have to turn around and get back to Washington after having been in Iraq and Kuwait. But I really was here to send a very strong signal of our support for the free, fair elections, and of the state of Lebanon, symbolized by the president. And, therefore, I met with the president. I was very honored to be received by him and other ministers in the government of Lebanon.

I hope to return. I told the president that I feel very unhappy that I could come for such a short period of time. It's like seeing this great banquet laid out, and all I am permitted to do is eat a tiny little appetizer. Because I have heard so much about this beautiful country, I have so many Lebanese-American friends that have told me about the beauty of Lebanon and the hospitality of the people. So I do hope to come back and spend more time here.

With respect to Syria, we are heartened by the exchange of ambassadors that was agreed to between Lebanon and Syria. Obviously we think it's important that Lebanon have good relations with their neighbors, including Syria, but that Lebanon is an independent, free, sovereign nation. And there is nothing that we will do in any way that would undermine Lebanon's sovereignty. We don't have a right to do that, and we don't believe that would be the right thing to do.

So, I want to assure any Lebanese citizens, that the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people. You have been through too much, and it is only right that you are given a chance to make your own decisions, however they turn out, amongst the people who call Lebanon home, who love this country, who are committed to it, who have stayed here and done what you can to navigate through these difficult years. It's a complicated neighborhood you live in, and you have a right to have your own future. And we believe that very strongly.

Thank you very much.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

U.S. Embassy Sends Internal Security Forces Members to the United States for Training

April 22, 2009 The second group of Internal Security Forces (ISF) members participated in the U.S. sponsored Police Training Visitor's Program from March 29 to April 10.  The first program took place in August, 2008.  The third session will take place in September.
The Lebanon Law Enforcement Visitor Program honors the highest-achieving students, instructors, and officers who have completed training in Lebanon in the U.S. supported police training program.   On this visit, the participants met with their professional colleagues in Washington D.C., Kansas City, Missouri, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
This bi-annual visitor program strengthens the trainees' knowledge and complements their training at the ISF Academy.  While in the United States the group participated in police patrols, toured the training centers of the bomb detection canine training unit at ATF, a U.S. law enforcement agency, the National Parks Mounted Police Academy, and visited counter-narcotics units, detention units and emergency operations centers in Kansas City and Salt Lake City.  Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams demonstrated search warrant implementation and specialized equipment.   In each of the cities, the group learned about community policing programs that strengthen the trust and cooperation between the community and the police.
These high achieving police officers and recruits will bring their knowledge back to Lebanon and the ISF, where they will use their skills to benefit Lebanon, and share their new knowledge with their professional colleagues in the ISF.   The $80 million U.S. assistance program to the ISF strengthens the professional capacity of the ISF and is part of the overall U.S. security assistance program to Lebanon. 

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Clinton: US will not sacrifice Lebanon in Syria agreement

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that the US would not reach any agreement with Syria at the expense of Lebanon. During a testimonial for the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee, Clinton stressed the need to cooperate with the international community to adopt a strategy of openness toward Iran.

She added that the US would not deal with or finance any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, "unless Hamas abandons violence and recognizes Israel."

As for Syria, Clinton was quoted as saying that the US would not forge an agreement with Damascus at the expense of Lebanon.

Source: The Daily Star

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

U.S. Delivers the “Caravan” Combat Air Support Aircraft to the Lebanese Armed Forces

The United States delivered a "Caravan" combat air support aircraft to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) on April 15.  This aircraft is the latest equipment support delivery for the LAF in the ongoing U.S. military assistance program to Lebanon.  The U.S. program assists the LAF as it protects Lebanon's borders and the Lebanese people.  The United States has already provided $90.7 million to the LAF in 2009.  President Obama's administration has requested that the U.S. Congress approve additional assistance in the amount of $98.4 million.  The total amount of assistance for the LAF in 2009 would be $189.1 million.
The "Caravan" will be an integral component of the LAF's "Sensor to Shooter" system which also incorporates the "Raven" unmanned intelligence aircraft as well as other LAF ground, air, and naval resources.  The "Caravan" provides precision 'air to ground' support to the LAF particularly in urban environments.  It is equipped with advanced day and night sensors and "Hell fire" missiles, the same type used on the U.S. "Predator" combat air support drone.  The "Caravan" is in use by the Iraqi Air Force where it has been successful in the counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq.
The U.S. Departments of Defense and State worked to expedite delivery of the "Caravan" and other military items to show steadfast support for the LAF and the Lebanese people.   The security assistance program to Lebanon, which includes equipment and training, will enable the LAF to fulfill its mission to protect Lebanese citizens, combat militants, implement UNSCR 1701 and extend government control over Lebanese territory.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

U.S. Embassy Inaugurates Enhanced Cybercrime Unit for the Internal Security Forces

April 16, 2009 Showing the U.S. Government's continuing support for the Internal Security Forces (ISF), Deputy Chief of Mission Bill Grant joined, the representative of the Director General of the ISF, head of the judicial police, General Anwar Yahya, to inaugurate the ISF's enhanced cybercrime and intellectual property unit.  The U.S. funded the unit through a grant to the Lebanese Intellectual Property Association (LIPA).
Others participating were Mr. Joseph Sader, the president of LIPA, Mr. Assaad Salhab, the president of the Brand Protection Group, and Mr. Aly Harakey, the spokesperson for the National Committee on Intellectual Property Day, were also part of the ceremony.
The Department of State awarded a $143,000 grant to LIPA to strengthen the ISF's Bureau of Cybercrime and Intellectual Property in order to combat intellectual property and internet technology crimes in Lebanon.  LIPA provided technical assistance, equipment, software and training, created an interactive website and drafted new legislation relating to cybercrime.  Part of the project focused on raising public awareness about the ISF's important work through promotional materials and creating a website and "hotline" that informs citizens and allows them to contact the ISF directly about intellectual property and cybercrimes.
The U.S. Government is providing $80 million to the ISF over a four year period to strengthen its capacity.  The law enforcement assistance program assists the ISF to enforce the rule of law and protect the Lebanese people within their sovereign state.  The professional development of the ISF is critical for Lebanon's sovereignty and security.  The U.S. Government is committed to supporting Lebanon, the ISF and the Lebanese people. 



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U.S. Embassy Commemorates the 1983 and 1984 Bombings

April 16, 2009 Today, Ambassador Michele J. Sison presided over the annual commemoration ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Awkar honoring those who lost their lives serving the United States in Lebanon.   American and Lebanese staff members of the U.S. Embassy, survivors of the attacks, and guests remembered their lost colleagues and friends knowing that each of them had worked for the strong and enduring relationship between Lebanon and the United States.
The ceremony occurred adjacent to the granite memory on the Embassy grounds.  This memorial honors the fifty-two Lebanese and Americans who died April 18, 1983 when the former Embassy was bombed, the nine who died September 20, 1984 bombing of  the Embassy annex, the 241 U.S. servicemen who were killed in the October 23, 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps Barracks, and those who were lost in other  tragic incidents from 1976 to 1995.    The memorial is an enduring reminder of the sacrifices made by so many who believed in the relationship between Lebanon and the United States.
At Ambassador Sison's request, participants observed a moment of silence in honor of  all of those who died working for the cause of peace and democracy in Lebanon.



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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

United States Supports the Ministry of the Interior for Elections

April 14, 2009 Showing U.S. support for the Lebanese electoral process, Ambassador Michele J. Sison witnessed the signing of an agreement between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Lebanon Mission Director Denise A. Herbol and the Minister of Interior and Municipalities Mr. Ziad Baroud to provide technical assistance. 
Ambassador Sison noted that:   "The Ministry's role in these elections is key in a variety of areas, including voter registration, certifying candidates, support for Lebanese and international observation missions, and the tabulation of election results."
USAID will provide $1.7 million in assistance to the Ministry through its partner, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems or IFES.  The expert assistance from IFES will assist the Ministry to carry out its responsibilities regarding the upcoming national elections.
Interior Minister Ziad Baroud developed a master plan for donor countries wishing to provide assistance for the 2009 elections.  With this assistance, the United States is showing its support, including support for election monitors.  Over the last several years, the United States has provided $10.5 million for programs to assist Lebanon to carry out fair, transparent elections and to improve the functioning of its democracy.
USAID works in several areas including education, environment, economic growth, and with Lebanese citizens to promote democracy and good governance.  The over $1.3 billion of U.S. assistance since 2006, including security assistance

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lebanese Armed Forces Pilots Receive U.S. Training on “Raven” Aircraft

The United States will provide the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with twelve Raven unmanned aircraft in the coming months. The provision of this aircraft was discussed during recent visits to the United States by General Jean Kahwaji, Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Minister of Defense Elias El-Murr.
LAF Air Force personnel are currently receiving training on the "Raven" unmanned aerial vehicle in the United States. The Raven has an advanced, day and night electronic sensor providing immediate intelligence information and is an integral component of the LAF's "Sensor to Shooter" system that incorporates the armed "Caravan" aircraft and other LAF ground, air, and naval resources.
The "Raven" performs remote reconnaissance and surveillance, identifies targets, provides protection and security, and, reports on military operations in urban areas and the results of battles. The U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Special Operations Command, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are using the Raven in combat operations throughout the U.S. Central Command Area of Operations.
This training course, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), is one part of the comprehensive, robust U.S. military assistance program to Lebanon. U.S. military assistance to Lebanon, which totals more than $410 million since 2006, includes aircraft, tanks, artillery, small boats, infantry weapons, ammunition, Humvees, cargo trucks, training, and parts for all equipment, including the helicopters. Assistance focuses on needs the LAF leadership identifies.

U.S. military assistance strengthens the LAF and increases its capacity to defend Lebanon's borders. The United States supports the government of Lebanon and the LAF as it safeguards the peace, unity and sovereignty of Lebanon.


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U.S. Department of Treasury Joins Lebanon Special Investigation Commission and Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force in Anti Money Laundering Training

April 8, 2009
Officials from the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Technical Assistance (OTA), the Lebanon Special Investigation Commission (SIC) and the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) conducted a three day training course, March 31 – April 2, in Beirut for representatives of MENAFATF member countries.  Regional training improves the ability of countries in identifying criminal and terrorist related activity through analysis of Suspicious Transaction Reports.   The U.S Department of Treasury sponsored the training with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
MENAFATF, a regional organization based in Bahrain with 18 member countries, promotes the adoption of international standards by its members to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. It is one of eight that have been established worldwide and cooperates closely with the Financial Action Task Force, a recognized international organization created in 1989 and based in Paris, that has issued recommendations to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
Over the past two decades, in compliance with international standards, countries have created financial intelligence units (FIUs) to collect and analyze data from their respective enforcement, regulatory and financial systems where criminal activity is suspected.  The primary mission of the special units is to serve as one of the first lines of defense by identifying possible criminal and terrorist activities through analysis of suspicious transactions reported by financial institutions, and others, when money laundering, terrorist financing or other serious crimes are suspected.  Although they vary in many ways, FIUs share a common definition, which refers to their basic function: serving as a national center for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information regarding suspected money laundering and terrorist financing.
The primary conduit through which FIUs receive AML/CFT information is through the reporting of suspicious transaction reports (STRs) by financial institutions and other reporting entities located in the FIU's jurisdiction.
At the pre-investigation level, STRs can be considered as strong "leads" from the financial community that are further developed by the FIU.  STRs that indicate the strongest suspicion of criminal or terrorist activity are forwarded to national law enforcement agencies that may open investigations based on the analysis conducted by the FIU.  In support of this core function, FIUs have access to a wide range of national and international data that is used to prioritize and evaluate STRs for investigation.
Although FIU analysts use similar techniques as those in enforcement and regulatory agencies to support investigations, FIUs have recognized that the analysis of STR data requires specialized skills, techniques and tools in addition to those used for to support criminal and regulatory casework.
The training provided in the course involved analysts from FIUs across the region and focused on analytical techniques, use of existing data sources and other best practices to improve effectiveness and create a network for sharing information and cooperation in the region.

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U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Lebanon

April 9, 2009 Five members of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress visited Lebanon today.  The members were:   Russ Carnahan (Democrat – Missouri), Mazie Hirono (Democrat – Hawaii), Jim McDermott (Democrat – Washington), Ben Chandler (Democrat – Kentucky), and Diane Watson (Democrat – California).  The members expressed their support for a sovereign and democratic Lebanon. 
Accompanied by Ambassador Michele J. Sison, the representatives met with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Member of Parliament and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Abdel Latif Zein, UNIFIL Commander Claudio Graziano, and American University of Beirut students who receive scholarships with funding provided by the U.S. Government through the United States Agency for International Development.  The Representatives also visited the memorial to Rafiq Hariri in Beirut.
This congressional visit underscores the U.S. Government's commitment to Lebanon, its state institutions and its citizens.  The U.S. Government will continue to support the government of Lebanon as it continues to safeguard the peace, unity and sovereignty of Lebanon.

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Lebanese Minister of Defense Sees Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, Special Envoy Mitchell

Lebanese Minister of Defense Sees Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, Special Envoy Mitchell


Elias El-Murr, the Lebanese Minister of Defense, visited the United States April 5-10 as a guest of the U.S. Department of Defense. 


While in Washington, Minister El-Murr met with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, Special Advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia Dennis Ross, and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan.   The Minister also met with U.S. Central Commander General David Petraeus and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Frank Ruggiero.


U.S. officials discussed continued U.S. support to the LAF to help it maintain internal security, fight terrorism, secure Lebanon's borders, and implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.  Support for the LAF remains a pillar of United States' policy towards Lebanon.  The LAF has an important role to play in performing counterterrorism and border security operations, which will help extend government control over Lebanese territory. 


Minister Murr's visit emphasizes the solid and enduring bilateral relationship between the United States and Lebanon.



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Gates, Lebanese Defense Minister Explore Expanding Bilateral Relationship

Gates, Lebanese Defense Minister Explore Expanding Bilateral Relationship

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 8, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates hosted Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr today at the Pentagon as the two leaders assessed the way ahead in the two countries' military-to-military relationship and U.S. support to the democratically elected Lebanese government. The visit, two months after Lebanese Gen. Jean Kahwaji became the first Lebanese armed forces commander to visit the United States, underscores U.S. efforts to meet the needs and requests of Lebanon's military, which are considered critical to stability in Lebanon and the region, a senior defense official said.

"The Defense Department sees the Lebanese armed forces as a critical institution to a free and independent and sovereign Lebanon," Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

The United States isn't alone in internationally recognizing the importance of strengthening Lebanon's state institutions, including its military. "U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 basically enshrines the sense of the international community that a free and independent Lebanon that exercises sovereignty over all its territory is something we share as an interest, not just in the region, but more broadly," Kahl said.

But Lebanon has long faced threats from outside as well as within its borders, he said. Sunni and Shiite extremist groups operate within the country. Hezbollah's heavily armed militia provides a direct challenge to Lebanon's sovereignty.

"Lebanon faces a whole array of challenges," Kahl said. "But both in terms of their international and external relations, we see the Lebanese armed forces as playing an important stabilizing and moderating influence."

Toward helping it fulfill that role, the United States has provided more than $410 million in military assistance to Lebanon since 2006. That support has included Humvees, trucks, M-198 howitzer artillery pieces, M-4 and M-16 rifles, body armor vests, MK-19 grenade launchers, shoulder-fired rockets, spare helicopter parts and millions of ammunition rounds.

More recently, the Defense Department has been working with the Lebanese government to expedite delivery of Cessna close-air-support aircraft with precision Hellfire missiles and Raven unmanned aerial vehicle systems. The United States is also working to transfer M60 Abrams tanks to the Lebanese military from other countries in the region, Kahl said.

These systems, expected to be delivered by June, will strengthen the Lebanese armed forces' ability to conduct counterterrorism missions, protect its borders, maintain law and order and confront threats to its internal security, he said.

Kahl called this capability a hallmark of a sovereign state, and critical to stability in Lebanon and the region.

"In Lebanon, this is particularly important where you have a number of groups outside the state that attempt to have militias or engage in forceful activities," he said. "We really think standing up the Lebanese armed forces is an important symbol, and actually a material indication of Lebanon's sovereignty."

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Friday, April 03, 2009

U.S. Embassy Celebrates Fifth Graduation of U.S. Trained Internal Security Forces Cadets


April 2, 2009

The United States Government continues training Internal Security Forces (ISF) personnel as part of the on-going $80 million law enforcement assistance program.  Ambassador Michel J. Sison congratulated the fifth class of 290 ISF police cadets and presented them with their certificates.  She also congratulated the twenty graduates of the second Supervision and Management Course which ended in March. 


The cadet course is a ten-week, state-of-the-art training program, taught by U.S. instructors and curriculum developers with the assistance of Lebanese police and legal professionals.  Cadets learn the latest policing and law enforcement skills and how to apply these to on-the-job situations. 


The Supervision and Management Course focuses on technical and leadership skills development so that non-commissioned officers can effectively lead field police units. 


With these professional courses, the ISF is building its capacity.  The ISF is a critical state institution protecting sovereignty and security.   The U.S. Government is assisting the ISF to enforce the rule of law and protect the Lebanese people.  The law enforcement assistance program emphasizes the United States' support to Lebanon, the ISF and the Lebanese people



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Sison Outlines U.S. Policies and Alliances, Future Relations with Hizbullah‏

April 3,2009    
In an Interview with Naharnet, Sison Outlines U.S. Policies and Alliances, Future Relations with Hizbullah
U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison responded to questions by Naharnet on issues related to Washington's visions, upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections and how the U.S would deal with the next government. The interview also tackled U.S. alliances in Lebanon, the future of U.S. ties with Hizbullah and other topics. The following is the full text of the interview:
Q-What is the reason behind the U.S. Ambassador's decision to change her media policy and start giving interviews more often? Did the U.S. feel that the Lebanese public began losing trust in U.S. policy?

A- Not at all. I tell you when I got here last year in February, even in my first few days a number of Lebanese people said: So what is the U.S. doing? You know, we hear the U.S. supports Lebanon, but tell us what is the U.S. doing? So it seemed to me because we had gone very dramatically in the support – economic support, security support – from about $40 million in 2004 to about one billion dollars by the time I had arrived here that we really needed to do a lot of show and tell, a lot of travel to projects, a lot of events with the army and the police because this is the actions, these are the deeds of the U.S., this is how the support is made evident… We had our elections in the United States in November and we had a new president come in January, and our new president came with a number of new initiatives, a very strong statement on how we were going to move forward on Middle East peace, the nomination of Senator Mitchell, reaffirmed commitment to the two-state solution, the speech outreached on March 20th to the Iranian people, new initiatives on Afghanistan and Pakistan; this is a time when many people here in Lebanon are now asking for more details on what does the U.S. policy mean for the region. What does the U.S. policy mean for Lebanon. So I think it's a good time to chat with our friends in the media and try to detail some of these new initiatives with our new Obama administration.

Q-Do you feel the Lebanese people are afraid of the new policy?

A- I think Lebanese that I talked to, whether these are political leaders, community leaders, teachers, students that we're working with, businessmen – they want to know what it means for Lebanon. There is a lot of focus here in Lebanon on the upcoming June 7th parliamentary elections, so they suggest the position of regional events, the new U.S. administration and the upcoming elections here have led to - many in Lebanon – wanting more information, more analysis.

Q-Have your allies in the March 14 forces lost confidence in President Barack Obama's new approach, prompting you to reach out in order to convince these allies that there is no change in U.S. policy in support for Lebanon?

A- I think those who watch our actions and our work have already seen that within a very short few weeks after taking office, President Obama from the White House put out a very strong statement of support for Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy, in February, with the statement of support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. A very strong statement of support also came out from the new secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. So the statements from Washington have been very strong. I think the actions have also been strong. As you may have noticed we had a very important visit by the Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Gen. Jean Qahwaji to Washington recently. We will have the Defense Minister, Elias Murr, visiting Washington very soon as well. The regional focus is also going to involve Lebanon. Of course Lebanon is an important part of this Middle East region, and we were just talking about Senator Mitchell's new role here as a Special Envoy for the Middle East and although the mandate for Senator Mitchell is very clearly a comprehensive peace for the region and he's been focusing very much on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Lebanon, being an important part of the region, Lebanon will be playing a key role in any long-term solution for Middle East peace. So there are, I think, many aspects where you see the White House, the State Department, the Embassy putting a very positive focus on Lebanon whether it's the support for the institutions of the state, the increase in assistance to the army – there have been several announcements of military equipment and training, even in the last couple of months since the new Obama administration took over, you saw the invitation of Gen. Jean Qahwaji. Tomorrow (today Thursday) there will be another Internal Security Forces graduation at the Werwar Academy because of course support not only the army but the police, as another important institution of the state. So, you've heard also statements of support, not only for the Special tribunal from Washington, but also continued statements of support for all of the U.N. Security Council resolutions- 1701 and 1559 - from our new president. So I think anyone watching or listening to the statements should feel very secure in the knowledge that the United States is fully committed to Lebanon's sovereignty. I've said it before and I'll say it again: There will be no deals at Lebanon's expense. There will no deal-making with regard to the Special Tribunal, because that's a question that many people have asked me over the past few weeks.

You know, we see as allies in the steps forward for Lebanon all who espouse moderate views, all who value Lebanon's democracy, all who value Lebanon's sovereignty, all who wish for prosperity and stability and security in Lebanon. That stands not only for March 14th but for a number of independent voices as well. We will be observing, soon, all of us here, the upcoming elections in June and there will be candidates it seems running from a number of political parties but also some who are standing under their own name as independents. So I would say that anyone who has a democratic, moderate stance who supports Lebanon's sovereignty would be someone we would be very interested in engaging with.

Q-Do you think you can find such people among March 8 coalition?

A- You know we take of a lot of time and a lot of care within the embassy and in also programming our visitors to meet a wide spectrum of Lebanese society, a wide spectrum of Lebanese political life. The question of who we meet with is always quite interesting because perhaps the focus is often on the visitor who comes for a day or two, or the ambassador. But those who live and work here I think certainly see that whether it be from the political parties, the business community, the media, we seek to meet with the widest range possible for the diversity of views.

Q-U.S. envoys visiting Lebanon have not been meeting with members of the opposition, particularly Gen. Michel Aoun and Hizbullah. If the opposition wins the elections, will the U.S. boycott a Hizbullah-led government?

A- By U.S. law, by our foreign terrorist organizations law (FTO), we are actually precluded from dealing directly with Hizbullah. So, no, our visitors and our embassy do not engage with Hizbullah.

Q-What if Hizbullah wins the elections?

A- We anticipate that the shape of the U.S. relationship, the shape of the U.S. assistance program, will be evaluated in the context of the new government's policies and statements. This is a normal thing. No one has a crystal ball at this point. I think we are eight weeks away from the elections. So I won't hazard a guess for the 128 seats what the margin will be or won't be. I think day by day, even those who keep score here are having trouble keeping up with all of the developments. It's a very interesting time politically here. We have said it before but I'll say it again: We have a long standing policy in effect. Hizbullah has actually been on the FTO list since 1997. So we do not meet with Hizbullah. Now, should Hizbullah renounce terrorism; should Hizbullah renounce terrorism both in Lebanon and abroad and submit to the rule of authority, the rule of law and the authority of the state and the authority of the state institutions -- the army -- as the sole bearer of weapon. Then, that would give room for reconsideration of this status. But that's by our law.

Q-The U.S. stresses that the elections will be held without foreign interference. What guarantees do you have that such interference will not take place? And what would your reaction be if it took place?

A-The upcoming elections are going to be an opportunity for Lebanon to continue reinforcing Lebanese democracy. There will be a number of domestic election monitors, domestic observers as well as international observers. And we expect that the National Democratic Institute, the Carter Center, the European Union, the Arab League; perhaps other groups coming from European and Arab countries, maybe even some other U.S. visitors will be here. Now of course it's the U.S. firm belief that it is up to the Lebanese to make their choices and each of the 128 districts to make their choices for what kind of government, the shape and composition of the next government. But I do think that the presence of both domestic and international election monitors, election observers, can do a lot to inspire confidence in the electoral process, to inspire confidence in the outcome so when you ask about the question of outside interference I think that Lebanon's friends and Lebanese themselves as domestic observers can do much through these actions of election monitoring and observation to give confidence to the Lebanese people that these elections will be free, transparent, free from intimidation or violence.

Q- If the U.S. were to accept the results of the elections in Lebanon, why didn't it accept the results in Gaza when elections brought Hamas to power? Both Hamas and Hizbullah don't recognize the state of Israel.

A-Now again, both Hamas and Hizbullah appear on that list of FTO, foreign terrorist organizations. This is U.S. legal status.

Q-You encountered some problems during one of your visits to the south last year. You experienced what it is like to be in an area where the dominating political viewpoint differs from your own. Considering that trip and how you were treated, how is it possible to have impartial elections in areas that are off limits to certain political groups and their viewpoints?

A-I think it's very much in the interest of the Lebanese people to have impartial elections, as a state, and this is what all Lebanon's friends want for Lebanon.

Q- Is it possible to have such free elections?

A- Again, having the elections held transparently, free from intimidation and violence. This is important that these elections are carried out without this type of interference. It's important so that the next Lebanese government has a clear mandate to govern. Now, we spoke a minute ago about election observation and elections aren't just a technical process, with ballot boxes and paper ballots. There is a lot of technical detail that is very important to carry out elections properly, but elections are much more than that. They are a right; it is the right of the Lebanese citizen, of any citizen, it is a fundamental human right to exercise this power of the ballot, this power of the vote. By supporting both domestic and international election observation, the friends of Lebanon hope that there will be democratic progress, that there will be peaceful and open campaigning, and that there will peaceful vote and results tabulation. You mentioned a visit many months ago. I'll say that it was an interesting day on that particular visit because on that day, I was able to visit five terrific projects in that location – a municipality, a high school, a youth center, a library. But there was one stop that certain people didn't like; one stop where certain people did not like the idea of a diversity of opinion. You know it's this diversity of opinion I think that is so precious in democracy. So hopefully with the domestic and international election observation that will help make an impartial and accurate appraisal of the electoral environment and both to respect for the outcome both to respect for the process.

Q-Is holding impartial elections dependent on non-interference by external powers? With regard to Hizbullah's arms and the areas that fall under its control, do you believe Lebanon can have free and fair elections in light of the presence of these weapons?

A-I say that we do have concerns that Hizbullah continues to receive weapons from Syria and Iran and this is a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. So in that regard Hizbullah does remain a danger not only to Lebanon but to the region. Again, having said that, I believe that the Lebanese people very sincerely, very strongly desire peaceful elections; elections that bring about 128 MPs going to the parliament to carry out the important work of the state. So once again I do think that the presence of these observers – international and domestic – should help promote confidence in the electoral process and in the outcome.

Q-In the last elections in 2005, the March 14 coalition won the majority of parliamentary seats but it couldn't rule the country because of Hizbullah's armed capabilities. Do you think that the situation will be different in the future if March 14 wins the next elections?

A-Again, I mentioned that the shape and composition of the government is something for the Lebanese to decide. This is Lebanon's moment upcoming on June 7, and so all the friends of Lebanon, including the United States, sincerely support that idea, that this is Lebanon's choice. Now you mentioned Hizbullah arms in that question, so I want to tie that into some of what we are doing to strengthen the institutions of the state. The U.N. Security Council resolutions, the international community, has already come together to support Lebanon in the notion that it should be the state that maintains security; it should be the state that is the sole bearer of weapons. The U.S. government responded very quickly to the adoption of 1701 in 2006 and we responded quickly because we truly believe that it's the government of Lebanon and not any militia that has to exercise sovereignty throughout the country. So this is why we are providing the LAF with substantial training, substantial equipment and welcoming the very senior-most leaders of the LAF and the ministry of defense in Washington.

Q-Does the U.S. military assistance to the Lebanese army in any way match Iranian military aid to Hizbullah?

A-The composition of the military assistance we provide to the LAF and the police assistance that we provide to the internal Security Forces is developed jointly with both the LAF and the ISF. Our focus on the LAF here because we are talking about sovereignty and the control of Lebanon's borders and the ability to prevent another Nahr al-Bared type of situation developing. So the equipment assistance that has been provided so far has been very robust, has been very strong. We've delivered Humvees, trucks, body armor, ammunition, made it possible to put more of the Lebanese Armed Forces, armored personnel carriers on the streets and helicopters in the air. Also we have announced a delivery of M-60 tanks, of small unmanned aerial vehicles, and close air support to help the Lebanese Armed Forces counter terror capabilities and ability to control borders and provide security for the Lebanese people. So I do believe that not just the United States, but other friends of Lebanon are working in a very coordinated way to be able to bolster and to strengthen the army and the police so that Lebanese themselves are in charge.

Q-Weapons are still flowing into Lebanon from Syria. You did enough to stop the flow of insurgents from Syria into Iraq. Why don't you make a similar effort to stop arms smuggling into Lebanon? What is the point of having a maritime taskforce monitor the Lebanese coast if arms continue to enter Lebanon through the Syrian border?

A-I think you'll be glad to know that there is an active donor coordination, mechanism and an active and dynamic conversation ongoing right now with the government of Lebanon on this very question. As you know, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 among other issues calls upon the government of Lebanon to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry into Lebanon without its consent. We are working closely with a group of international donors to support the government of Lebanon's national border strategy and operational plan for border control. And so this is support for what will one day be a common border force for the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Internal Security Forces, General Security and Customs. So there is an active program that is coordinated amongst the donors: Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, and the United States This is the group of donors that is sitting with the government of Lebanon to support a national border strategy and an operational plan. And so this plan that incorporates technical assistance, upgrading of equipment and facilities, communications, training the future common border force officers, establishing a command and control system. So this is, right now, a very much a high priority not only for the government but for the donors and we are one of those donors.

Q-Do you think Syria would accept to cooperate with these countries?

A-The United Nations has set up two teams to look at the Lebanese-Syrian border issue –LIBAT1 and LIBAT2. So those recommendations which were issued in public reports are to be adopted by both countries involved. So this is incumbent not only upon Lebanon but of course also upon Syria to do what is needed.

Q-The U.S. continues to call for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 but mainly stresses the need to disarm Hizbullah. How will the U.S. deal with the presence of Palestinian arms inside and outside the refugee camps in Lebanon?

A-The issue of arms, again, falls under 1701. So, writ large, we look forward to the full implementation of UN Security Resolution 1701 and look forward to progress in the delineation of the Syrian-Lebanese border because that is also key here; the activation of a joint border commission will also be very helpful in this regard. This demarcation of Lebanon's borders and promoting the normal and regularized relations between Lebanon and Syria. Diplomatically, it's important for Lebanon's sovereignty, I believe. We've seen that Hizbullah's arms have been subject of considerable internal discussion here in Lebanon. President Suleiman has called together the round table of the national dialogue a number of times, and there has been a lot of discussion on the formulation of a national defense strategy and the question of how to incorporate Hizbullah's military capabilities into the Lebanese Army, for example. So, that is happening as an internal Lebanese discussion. The U.S. is focusing on support for the Lebanese Army, support for the Lebanese Internal Security Forces because it's our strong belief that by supporting these key institutions of the state and strengthening the goal of the state and ensuring Lebanon's sovereignty and preserving Lebanon's sovereignty, that's the best and most helpful thing we can do as a friend of Lebanon.

Q-Don't you think that Palestinian arms are related to the situation in Palestine, especially in Gaza?

A-With President Obama having come in, in January, with a very strong vision for a comprehensive Middle East peace. We're no longer talking about a peace process; we're talking about Middle East peace. He has sent Senator George Mitchell to the region. He has sent Secretary Hillary Clinton to the region. He has made a number of strong statements on where we are to go as the United States in moving ahead. With the formation, yesterday, of the new Israeli government; this has been noted again in Washington as an opportunity for us to outline again our vision for a two-state solution and to be able as the United States to outline our desire to work with all parties concerned for this comprehensive regional peace.

Q- New Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman refused to accept the Annapolis conference. What do you think about it?

A-Well, we are going to be meeting with the new government, and in those discussions explain in detail what the U.S. policies are and to tell our support again for the two state solution, and to outline how we would see a way forward. We look forward to working not only with the new Israeli government but with all governments in the region, including Lebanon's government to advance the cause of a durable and a lasting peace, and durable and lasting stability in the Middle East, this is critical, and President Obama has very clearly stated his strong desire and strong intention to move the parties, all concerned parties, in the direction of a comprehensive peace and a two-state solution.

Q-Knowing that the stability of the Iranian and the Syrian regimes in the past 30 years has helped Tehran maintain the same policy of spreading the Islamic Revolution, and Damascus exert efforts to control Lebanese and Palestinian decision-making…
Don't you think that the continuous changes of U.S. policies due to changes of administrations could be considered as a disadvantage for U.S. strategy and goals in the Middle East?

A-President Obama has come in with a big mandate from the American people and he has set out some new approaches and as we saw on March 20th, when President Obama made his statement on the occasion of Nauruz and he spoke directly to the Iranian people and he outlined his commitment to diplomacy, to address the many issues before us in this region both connected with Iran and elsewhere and in pursuing constructive ties between the United States and others in the region. He outlined that honest engagement grounded in mutual respect would be the key to his approach, to America's approach. We've got a number of differences, policy differences with Syria and with Iran, this is no secret, but the United States does believe that honest engagement grounded in mutual respect can lead to a path forward.

Q-Do you think they are using this approach for more maneuvers?

A-I'm going to go back to the words of our President: We're seeking engagement that is honest; we're seeking engagement that is grounded in mutual respect. There are choices to be made on the part of those that the United States is now seeking to engage with. So President Obama has set out a new approach and we now await the choices of those we are seeking to engage with.


taken by Chamoun Daher

Source: Naharnet

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