Thursday, January 25, 2007

State Department Spokesman on Lebanon Donors Conference

US Depatment of State
Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 24, 2007
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me just go through a little bit of the Secretary's activities. As you know, she is on her way to Paris at the moment. Nicholas, I'm surprised to see you here. You're missing Paris.

She is on her way to Paris. She'll be getting into Paris 9 o'clock or so tonight local time. Tomorrow she will have the -- attend the Lebanon donors conference that is being hosted by the French Government. She will also have a meeting with Prime Minister Siniora and some American CEOs. And I wanted to bring this to your attention because this is actually a really very interesting part of our support for Lebanon and the Lebanese people, and that is that you have direct governmental assistance, and Secretary Rice is going to talk about the substantial pledge that we are going to be making at this conference, but there is also another important element to what the United States is doing to support the Lebanese people. And that is the private sector commitment to investment in Lebanon and that's what these CEOs are going to be talking about. Dina Powell is one of our assistant secretaries over here, as well as Randy Tobias went to Lebanon several months ago with the CEOs to talk about this important program. And it's important in a number of different respects.

But I would underscore this. That is, long after direct U.S. Government assistance has gone through the pipeline and been delivered, investment by foreign companies and U.S. companies is going to continue to create jobs and opportunity in Lebanon and those places where U.S. -- the U.S. companies have made a commitment to support, countries that are trying to get back up on their feet. Another example is Pakistan in those earthquake zones. I think you all remember that trip.

So I wanted to highlight that for you.

QUESTION: Can I ask one about the trip?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do you expect any of the CEOs to make any announcements about a particular investment, particular jobs they might be creating working with Lebanese companies, or are they there just sort of for moral support?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they'll have something to say about their commitment to the Lebanese people, but I'm not going to try to steal their thunder. You can tune in tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay. So I mean, it's not a sort of general --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not just talk. They're actually -- they're acting.


MR. MCCORMACK: And I think that's a really -- that's really a great part about this effort is that, as I underscored, long after U.S. Government assistance and other direct government assistance has been pledged and delivered and had its effect, those kinds of foreign investments on the ground are going to have continuing effects and you're going to get a multiplier effect through job creation and building up industries in places like Lebanon. So it's a terribly important part, component of the overall effort of the United States, not just the United States Government but the United States and the commitment to helping these countries that are really fighting against the forces of violent extremism around the world.

QUESTION: Is it -- I know that you don't want to talk numbers today, but is it fair to say that the Secretary will make a commitment in the hundreds of thousands of dollars? Is that a --

MR. MCCORMACK: Hundreds of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? We can do better than that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Hundreds of millions. I'm sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's going to be substantial. It'll be substantial. I don't want to get into it. She'll talk about it. She'll talk about it.

QUESTION: A prestigious Lebanese daily quoting State Department officials that the Secretary will make a commitment up to $700 million. Can you deny that? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to let the Secretary make the announcements on that. It's a pretty big number though, isn't it?


QUESTION: You talked about Dina Powell's and Randy Tobias's trip. Why was she going? She's the Assistant Secretary for Education and Cultural Affairs.

MR. MCCORMACK: Exchanges. This is something that the -- our group of people here, Karen Hughes' shop and Dina have been deeply involved in, in terms of public-private partnerships. It is something that -- you know, from the very beginning, the Secretary was interested in promoting. We talked about this, actually, during the transition period and she looked to Karen and Dina, really, to follow through on that and they've done a great job in that regard, in terms of engaging U.S. industry in issues that are of interest to them as well as interests -- issues of interest to us.

They recently had a public-private partnership summit regarding public diplomacy and the interest of -- you know, these American corporations in doing -- seeing what they can do to assist in those efforts. That was just, I think, a week or two ago. So that's -- there are a few examples. You can kind of go down the list and see it, but that's -- the reason why is -- you know, the Secretary saw this, really, as something that fell within the realm of public diplomacy. They, of course, work closely with -- you know, Dan Sullivan and our Under Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs on these things as well.

QUESTION: Just one last one on Lebanon, sorry if I'm monopolizing, but there were reports from the region that Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia and Mr. Larijani of Iran are negotiating a sort of unity government in Lebanon. Do you know anything about these talks that have been going on and do you support a government different from the current government of Prime Minister Siniora?

MR. MCCORMACK: A couple things. One, I've seen all the press reports about Mr. Larijani visiting Saudi Arabia. I'll let the Saudis and the Iranians talk about what they talked about. I don't think anybody wants -- anybody supports -- I don't think the Saudis would support this, as well, anybody negotiating over the heads of the Lebanese people or the Siniora government.

Now Amr Mussa has had an effort working with the various political factions within Lebanon about ways that they might -- ways to -- ways out of the current political impasse that they find themselves in. But this isn't negotiating over the heads of the Siniora government or anybody else. This is -- we're trying to work with them to see what they can do, lend their good offices to that effort. Secretary Rice has talked to Amr Mussa about this. She talked to him about it in Washington as well as in Cairo when she was -- or Luxor, excuse me, when she was there.

So these are -- those are efforts, certainly, that we're well aware of. I don't think anybody -- we certainly wouldn't support any effort to try to negotiate something over and above the heads of the Siniora government.

QUESTION: Well, it's very difficult to imagine that the Iranians who are part of this would be willing to -- or would be interested in preserving this government, given that the Hezbollah doesn't agree to this government staying in office. So what is your understanding of what exactly they're negotiating?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nicholas, I can tell you, you talk to them and -- you know, I'm not in any way going to confirm the substance of this particular report because I can't. I don't have any information on it. As for your point about whether or not Iran would support the Siniora government, I think that that -- that the reality of it is they probably wouldn't because their proxies, Hezbollah, are doing everything they can to undermine the Siniora government out in the streets of Beirut and otherwise.

And their motivations really lie in doing what they can at the behest of the Iranians and the Syrian Government to try to stop any forward progress on this -- on the Hariri tribunal as well as stop any progress to Lebanon fully getting on its feet and really putting the past of Syrian domination behind them.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: But to follow up on that, would the U.S. Government be ready to work with a national unity government in Lebanon, including Hezbollah?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't meet with Hezbollah ministers. There are Hezbollah ministers in the current government. We don't meet with them.

QUESTION: So it's not a problem if they are more --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're not going to change that -- again, we're not going to change that policy. We support the elected government of Lebanon led by Prime Minister Siniora. As for any political arrangements or accommodations that Prime Minister Siniora might come to with the various factions in Lebanon, those are going to be decisions for him to make. But we won't work with individual ministers from Hezbollah and we won't meet with them.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Lebanese army role played yesterday during the demonstrations?

MR. MCCORMACK: In what regard?

QUESTION: The Lebanese army -- what did he do yesterday during the demonstrations? He left demonstrators, cut the roads, put blocks on the road and something like that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Michel, I'd have to look into it for you. I'm happy to work with you afterwards and look into it.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering, the Secretary didn't stop in Beirut on her last trip and with this building over the past few months -- well, since the summer, I'm just wondering why she didn't go.

MR. MCCORMACK: She stops in places where she thinks that regarding the timing and the contents of the visit, she can do some good work. She's been in good, constant contact with Prime Minister Siniora. I think her support for this government and those forces for freedom and democracy in Lebanon is quite clear. I'm sure she's going to go back to Beirut. She's been there a couple of times already during her tenure as Secretary of State and I expect she'll go back.

QUESTION: So you don't think that a stop last time would have been able to prevent the upheaval we're seeing right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, because look, these -- what you're seeing manifested in the streets of Beirut is an effort to sidetrack Lebanon from the direction in which it's headed right now. And that direction is a more stable, democratic, prosperous Lebanon. They are trying to distract the world's attention from the fact that those forces started a war with another country in that region that cost the Lebanese people dearly. They made a lot of promises about reconstruction and getting international assistance to ironically help rebuild those things that were destroyed by the war that they started. They haven't come through on those promises.

So as a result this is -- what you're seeing is actions designed to distract the Lebanese people from those facts and they're also designed to try to undermine the efforts of this government, Prime Minister Siniora's government, to move forward on the Hariri tribunal so that the Lebanese people can know who murdered their former Prime Minister. I think they have a real interest in that. But there are people in Lebanon and outside of Lebanon who don't want to see that go forward. And so again that's another reason why you see these demonstrations in the streets. So what we think we can do is we can rally the forces of the international system to support this government and the good work that it's doing on behalf of the Lebanese people.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: What do you make of the argument that the donors conference and all this international support is competing with a country like Iran that's pumping a lot of cash into Hezbollah for reconstruction of that country and it's really a battle for hearts and minds in Lebanon between the West and the moderates and Iran who's furthering this kind of extremism?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it's no secret that there are -- if you look around the Middle East, including in Lebanon, that there is a ideological struggle that is ongoing in the Middle East. You can see it in places like Lebanon. You can see the forces of violent extremism at work in Lebanon and they are -- in 2006 they punch back. The forces of freedom and democracy in Lebanon had a good year in 2005, but the forces of violent extremism punched back in 2006. And our job as an international system and our job as a country that has an interest in seeing greater freedom and democracy in the Middle East and an interest in supporting the Lebanese people in their struggle for a more stable prosperous state is to stand with them and make it clear to the Lebanese people and make it clear to those forces of violent extremism that we are going to stand in their way. We're going to stand in their way in their efforts to bring about a Middle East that is more that is more oppressive, that is less prosperous and is going in the opposite direction from the rest of the world.

QUESTION: But just to follow up very quickly -- but can you fight this battle, like in the pocketbook? I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's -- I made this point the other day that you shouldn't just look at the Lebanon donor's conference as people making pledges and signing checks. That's important. It's important in a couple of ways. One, it actually can help the Lebanese people rebuild some of that infrastructure and build their country, so there are real physical effects on the ground. But there's also an important political and diplomatic statement that that makes. Just the fact that you have this conference and you have these countries gathering together at a very high level, President Chirac convened this conference, there are going to be a number of countries represented at senior ministerial levels that demonstrates the support of the international system for what Prime Minister Siniora and his government is trying to do on behalf of the Lebanese people. So it is as much a statement of political and diplomatic support as anything else.