Tuesday, May 06, 2014

“Respect for Sovereignty” by Ambassador David Hale

May 6, 2014

Since last November, the people of Ukraine have been striving to define their own future.  In the process, they have become a symbol of courage and peaceful change for the whole world. The international community remains united behind Ukraine, respecting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and giving its citizens the space and the support to help them determine how their country will be run and what their choices will be.

If any country can understand the negative consequences of having a foreign power occupy and control its land, it is Lebanon.  For too many years, Lebanon was held in occupation.  The Lebanese people overcame that occupation.  Today Lebanon and its people face another historic moment -- the opportunity to elect a president without foreign intervention.

Lebanon must seize this opportunity and, following constitutional timelines and processes, elect a new president without allowing any other country to dictate the results.  The United States supports this Lebanese process.  Just as Ukraine faces its own challenges, so does Lebanon:  an economy that needs rebuilding, security initiatives that require ongoing support, a refugee crisis that calls for compassion and government-wide coordination.  Lebanon needs a functioning presidency, parliament, and cabinet to tackle these and other issues.  The choices must be for the Lebanese alone, but they must be made.  The price of gaps and paralysis is simply too high.  

Above all, the government must work to ensure that all people in Lebanon uphold the wise policy of dissociation from the war in Syria.   Foreign interference led to tragic consequences here in the past, and today we see how involvement in Syria by foreign-supported Lebanese groups harms Lebanon.   The Lebanese groups fighting for Asad in Syria have attracted extremists and rocked the security and safety of Lebanese throughout Lebanon.  This involvement has taken both lives and livelihoods.   It has forced Syrians to flee their homes, with more than one million coming to Lebanon to seek safety.  While Lebanon has received them, the strain is obvious and the burden great.  The United States has contributed more than $340 million in humanitarian aid to help host communities and refugees cope, but the only real solution is finding a political end to the war.  To do that, the Lebanese must not intervene in this foreign conflict.

Respecting sovereignty is not a requirement only for Ukraine, nor only for Lebanon.  It is about basic principles that govern relations among nations in the 21st century.  As President Obama stated in Belgium on March 26, what is happening in Ukraine is a "moment of testing for Europe and the United States, and for the international order that we have worked for generations to build."  This order is based on a set of core principles that include respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Just because Russia has a deep history with Ukraine does not mean it should be able to dictate Ukraine's future.  Nor should any country attempt to dictate Lebanon's future.

The people of Ukraine have the right to determine their future as a sovereign and democratic nation. The people of Lebanon have that same right.

As the United States stands united with Ukraine, so too are we united with the Lebanese people who seek peaceful - and constitutional - ways to address problems in Lebanon, keep Lebanon free from foreign intervention and ensure a safe, secure, and prosperous Lebanon for all Lebanese.

Note: The following op-ed was published today in Arabic in An-Nahar newspaper and ElNashra.com news portal.