Thursday, January 25, 2007

Secretary Rice on-the-record briefing en route to Paris III Lebanon Donors Conference

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Paris, France
January 24, 2007

SECRETARY RICE: We have two stops on this trip. The first, of course, is Paris for the Paris III Donors Conference for Lebanon. I'm very much looking forward to meeting with the other representatives of the countries that are supporting the democratically elected Government of Lebanon. Yesterday's events, if anything, make more important a message from the international community that it supports the democratically elected Government of Lebanon and that the -- there should not be violence or efforts at intimidation to try and make governing more difficult for the Prime Minister and his government.

The United States is going to make a significant pledge to Lebanon. The President will request of the Congress $770 million in support for Lebanon, given that will be about two-thirds support for security and projects and about one-third support that's just direct economic assistance. We also have, of course, over the last several months because of the reconstruction assistance, the private sector assistance, the United States has contributed over a billion dollars to -- will have contributed over a billion dollars to Lebanon.

I am also going to meet with the private sector CEOs who visited Lebanon not too long ago. We believe that the involvement of the private sector is extremely important to the rebuilding of Lebanon and to Lebanon's reentry into the international economic system. We've been talking to a lot of countries about the need for support for Lebanon and I think this conference will be an important signal.

Why don't we talk about Lebanon first and then we can go on to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Did yesterday's events signal to you that Hezbollah has the political strength to overthrow the Siniora government (inaudible) they pulled back (inaudible) from their full force with (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I assume that they would not want to plunge Lebanon into open conflict and to kill lots of innocent Lebanese to pursue their political goals. So I think that yesterday was certainly, I believe as the Government of Lebanon said, it was an effort to provoke, it was an effort to intimidate, and Prime Minister Siniora is on his way to Paris and I think it shows that his government is not intimidated.

QUESTION: Do you know if the violence is continuing today? I heard reports of border clashes?

SECRETARY RICE: I have not heard since early this morning, when I think we were told that Beirut was calm. But I don't know what's happened since we've gotten on the plane.

QUESTION: Can you give us a little more detail on the two-thirds that will go towards security and projects?

SECRETARY RICE: Why don't I have someone come and give you the whole breakdown. But the two-thirds security is security and project support. But remember, we have an obligation to help rebuild the Lebanese security forces and so that's one aspect of it. But 300 million of it is outright budget support, 250 in liquid support, cash support, and then 50 in project support.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) any of that support is tied to economic reform on the part of (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: There are, as Lebanon has been very pleased to have, expectations about continued progress on economic reform.

QUESTION: Not commitments?

SECRETARY RICE: There are benchmarks associated with the assistance, but we think that Lebanon will be meeting them. For instance, I know that yesterday the IMF welcomed the Lebanese reform, and so I think the reform plan is one that people will back.

QUESTION: Were you surprised by the (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: The violence is certainly unfortunate, but people can have street demonstrations. I think that's happened before. And by the way, it's happened on both sides, not just on the Hezbollah side. So I think you need to also note that when March 14th has turned out its forces, it's turned them out but it's turned them out peacefully.

QUESTION: What is your understanding of where they're at in terms of (inaudible) talks of a compromise (inaudible) formula which could increase the opposition's role (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: There are several efforts underway. The Arab League one is probably still the most active. As you know, I met with Amr Moussa when I was in Egypt and he described to me some of his efforts. But I don't really want to get into the details of specifically what -- I'm not involved in the details of what each side may or may not be proposing, but I do know that everybody understands the importance of the international tribunal and everybody understands the importance of maintaining the fact that the Siniora government was duly elected and the number of seats in the government reflect that parliamentary election.

QUESTION: Why do you think the government is likely to keeps its promises on the reform this time? As you'll recall, after Paris II in 2003* they didn't keep their promises and, if anything, this is a government that is politically weak and therefore in a harder place to try to pursue tax increases (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's not going to be easy. But I think this is also a government that has demonstrated its mettle, it's demonstrated that it can be very resolute and very tough, demonstrated that during the war. And I think there are a lot of people in Lebanon who understand that the economic reforms are quite crucial to putting Lebanon back on economic footing. For instance with the tremendous debt overhand, economic reform is really the only way to deal with that problem. And so I take the Lebanese Government's assurances that it's going to carry through with the reform program.

But there is lots of help going to Lebanon that is not specifically tied as well. I think that if you look at some of the reconstruction assistance, that's obviously direct to the Lebanese people. The humanitarian assistance is direct to the Lebanese people. And so it's simply when you want to do budget support that you want to make sure that the budget support is actually going to have an effect. That's why you have economic reform tied.

QUESTION: To what extent does either direct support or anything else in this basket of aid kind of answer the Hezbollah going around giving out checks (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it certainly shows that the international community and the United States in particular are very committed to Lebanon. You know, you'll have to rely on your own sources, but my understanding is a lot of the reconstruction in the south that Hezbollah promised hasn't gone forward. And so people should look not just at promises but also at what's going forward.

And let me just make clear, the President will request this from Congress. That's how it should read.

QUESTION: How great do you think the danger is in the violence yesterday that Lebanon (inaudible) sliding towards a kind of sectarian violence (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: It's a very complicated situation but it really does require then all of Lebanon's political segments, all of its confessional groups, to be responsible in what they do. And I think what you saw yesterday was irresponsible in the violence that erupted.

Okay, enough on Lebanon? Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Why don't we do Afghanistan on the way to Brussels, all right?

STAFF: I'll get you guys something more in terms of the specific breakdown (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, right.

QUESTION: If I could ask you one North Korea one.


QUESTION: North Korea and Iran question. A report in the Daily Telegraph newspaper citing a senior European defense official who is nameless as saying that he believes that North Korea is providing assistance to Iran to conduct underground nuclear tests. Do you have any reason to believe that there's anything to that?

SECRETARY RICE: I've only seen the report too, and I don't even -- I don't know what it's based on. I don't see that it's based on anything that I've seen.

QUESTION: Any updates on the (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: I was (inaudible). We're going to have some conflicting schedules, but I think we're going to -- I really do hope in the next few weeks. We want to get -- I want to get out to the Middle East again, certainly before the end of next month, but I think well before that. So get your bags packed.

QUESTION: Would you rather do that meeting on the Middle East someplace in Europe?

SECRETARY RICE: I think it doesn't matter so much where the meeting is. I'm going out to the region anyway, wherever the meeting is held. But it would be good, I think, to -- frankly, to be able to do it in the region would be good.

QUESTION: Do you still think, like, basically before Valentine's Day though, right? I mean, you still think basically the first half of February or --

SECRETARY RICE: I'm sorry, (inaudible) I didn't hear you.

QUESTION: You still think it'll be in the first half of February or what?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I would say middle of February is what I would think. But you know, don't go print middle of February because I don't have a date yet. I'm just giving you a heads up.

QUESTION: Moving further south on the map, in Somalia (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that everyone is looking to see how the Transitional Government might be broadened and obviously there has been some hope that on an individual basis some of the elements that were involved with the (inaudible) might prove to be a broadening influence. But obviously that's going to be up to the Transitional Government. I think the issue here is simply to understand better the intentions of the Sheikh and to get -- to have that conversation.

But you know, the Transitional Government is obviously not going to reach out to or take in people who are not going to play by certain rules, not allowing terrorists to occupy is extremely important, not allowing terrorists safe haven is extremely important, some recognition that the -- well, recognition that the Transitional Government is, in fact, the internationally recognized governing entity for Somalia at this point. But exploratory discussions to reach out to a variety of people and see how broad the base could be, I think it's a useful thing to do but it's also going to be up to the Transitional Government how this evolves.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the U.S. was involved in further military action this morning (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: I can't. I can't, because I don't have anything for you.

QUESTION: What do you think about the beginnings of the Ethiopian withdrawal?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Ethiopians have always made very clear that they did not want to sit in Mogadishu and that's what -- in fact, this was said to me very -- not long after Ethiopia went in to Mogadishu. But they also recognize a responsibility not to leave a security vacuum and I think that's why you've seen very accelerated efforts by the AU to try to get forces that can play that role.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one or two (inaudible)? How did your talk with Foreign Minister Song go?

SECRETARY RICE: I did talk with Foreign Minister Song. I talked with the Japanese Foreign Minister and the Chinese Foreign Minister yesterday. We're hoping for an early resumption. I think it's time to do that. We've had productive preparatory discussions with all of the parties, including with the North Koreans. But it isn't going to be an agreement -- there's not going to be an agreement until we're in the six-party context, and so I think people would like to get to an early resumption of the talks.

All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.