Monday, November 08, 2010

Transcript of Remarks Made by U.S. Senator John Kerry After Meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail in Beirut

US Embassy Press Release November 8, 2010.
Senator Kerry: It’s a great pleasure for me to be back here in Lebanon, in Beirut. I have had the privilege of knowing Prime Minister Hariri for a number of years now. I always benefit from his insights, not just about the situation in Lebanon, but also about the situation in the region. We had a comprehensive discussion, focusing on the issues that currently face the government of Lebanon, but also facing the questions of Syria, Iran, the peace process in the Middle East. I am very for the insights that Prime Minister Hariri shared with me. We are, President Obama and the United States, are very grateful for the steadfast, steady leadership that the Prime Minister is presenting under difficult circumstances. We all understand the ways in which the government has shared participation and shared responsibility. It’s hard to find consensus. But, we believe that the Prime Minister has shown – not just for Lebanon, but for peace and stability in the region – he has shown leadership and vision. That is very, very important for all of us.

I also had a meeting earlier today with President Sleiman. He also articulated his concerns about the tensions that exist today. So let me say this: I reaffirmed to the Prime Minister, on behalf of both President Obama and the Congress of the United States, our steadfast support for a sovereign, independent, stable Lebanon. That matters to us. In addition, for all the obvious reasons, a strong Lebanon is critical for the Lebanese people. A united Lebanon that is stable and moving forward, both on security issues and economic issues, is good for the Lebanese people. I know that President Obama is deeply committed to helping to bring Lebanon stronger democratic institutions that have the ability to represent all the interests of the Lebanese people. I know that our economic and security assistance will continue in the effort to help build those strong institutions. I can promise you in my capacity as Chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I intend to remain focused on that and remained committed to it.

Now, like the rest of the international community, the United States is firmly supportive of the work and the independence of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Let me remind people, this is a tribunal that was not created by the United States, not created by any individual entity in this region. It was requested by Lebanon, by Lebanese, by people who are tired of the notion that assassination should be a political tool. Lebanon has seen too much assassination of many different leaders. This is not just about former Prime Minister Hariri. This is about all of the assassinations. It is about assassination as a tool of politics. The era of assassinations needs to end. The United Nations, by vote of many, many countries, all of them have come together to decide that this is the moment for Lebanon to find a new future that is free from assassination as a political tool. That’s what this is about. It has nothing to do with Shia versus Sunni versus Christian versus Druze. There is no sectarianism. There is no association whatsoever with any particular entity. The United Nations is looking for the truth. So we stand in full support of the independence of this tribunal and the ability of Lebanon to move beyond that kind of violent, destructive tool that has been employed.

Now, let me make it clear. Prime Minister Hariri doesn’t have the power to change the Tribunal. Lebanon doesn’t have the power to change the Tribunal, because it was created by the United Nations at the request of this country. It would take the votes of many countries to change what is happening. So for those who are trying to make it an issue, those who oppose it, they need to think carefully about rule of law, about the institutions that have put this Tribunal together, and what it is trying to accomplish, well outside of your prime minister’s ability to affect. We will continue. I know there are strong views here in Lebanon regarding it. The Tribunal has a very important opportunity to contribute to set a new precedent. Nobody knows what the findings will be. I don’t know the findings. I think whatever those findings are, they are not directed at a whole group of people. They don’t reflect one sectarian, or one religious, or one other point of view. They reflect what some individuals may have chosen to do. That is they way in which this tribunal needs to be judged. Violence should no longer be a political tool in Lebanon.

Later today, I will travel to Damascus. I will meet with President Asad. There, I will have further conversations regarding the challenges facing the Middle East. I have personally long advocated that the United States needs to be more engaged with Syria. We need to work together to find a resolution to the conflict between Syria and Israel and find a path to peace. I believe that path to peace exists. So we will continue to work to improve and normalize Lebanon’s bilateral relationship with Syria. I certainly will have discussion with President Asad about some of the issues that I talked with Prime Minister Hariri about today.

Let me make one point absolutely clear to all of the people of Lebanon: Nothing that we discuss, and nothing that we agree to with respect to Syria will ever come at the expense of Lebanon or the people of Lebanon. That, I can guarantee you. Finally, let me just say that I am encouraged by the steps that Lebanon has taken in the last years, both economically and otherwise. But it would be naïve for me to stand here and not say that this is a moment of tension here in Lebanon. I ask both parties that are in a position to make a difference in the decisions that need to be made in the days ahead to think about the potential for Lebanon for the future, to think about the economic opportunities and the global opportunities, the opportunities of tourism, the impact on the economy of Lebanon – all of which can be greatly impacted by the choices that are made in the days ahead. I know that President Obama remains hopeful that the right decisions will be made, that the larger mission of the possibilities for Lebanon are what will govern those decisions. I can guarantee that we will remain – we the Untied Stated – remain committed to an independent, democratic Lebanon in which all the people of Lebanon can share in the possibilities of that future.

I’d be delighted to answer questions if there is any. Maybe just a couple of quick ones.

Q: [inaudible]

Senator Kerry: I think I just addressed that. President Obama is committed to the independence of this tribunal. We, the United States, we don’t know what is happening with the Tribunal. We don’t have anything to do with the management of the Tribunal. The Tribunal is an international entity, put together by the United Nations, with Beirut, with Lebanese membership and with carefully-chosen international experts who have the ability to engage in this kind of activity. President Obama believes the Tribunal is important because it speaks to all of the people of Lebanon, not to one group or another, but because it speaks to the possibility of a political life in this country that is free from the fear of assassination, that is free from the tool of assassination in its politics. You’ve lost too many of your leaders. I’ve met some people who have been the targets of assassination. I’ve met people that have gone through many medical operations as a result. They’ve lost their children, members of their families. Maybe we’re spoiled in the United States. We’ve had occasion in history when unfortunately a leader has been struck down, but we’ve always been able to bring people to justice and we’ve always moved forward without the kind of division that others seem to want to play to. I think that the President encourages Lebanon to be calm, respect the law, respect the international process that is in place here, see what the findings are, and move to use this opportunity to build a stronger Lebanon, with stronger democratic institutions. That’s what we hope will come out of any decision that is made.

Q: [inaudible]

Senator Kerry: I’m going to ask the second part first. The President has nominated an ambassador. We had hoped that that ambassador would have been already confirmed. Our committee has passed that ambassador out to the full Senate, but we have many, many nominations that regrettably have been held up in partisan politics in the United States. Our hope is that when we return, we’ll be able to move together to get an ambassador there soon. To some degree, that will depend on Syria’s behavior itself. So, we will look to Syria to play a constructive role in these next days in what happens here in Lebanon. I will have that conversation with the president today. We want Syria to be a constructive force for peace, with Lebanon, with Israel, in the region to help us with respect to the challenges with Iran. You know, there’s an enormous amount of benefit to Syria in the relationship with the United States and the West that can follow from that kind of action. We are very, very hopeful that Syria is going to be a very constructive player in the days ahead.

On that note, I need to go to the airport. Thank you all very, very much. Thank you.