Thursday, June 19, 2008

State Department on incident with Amb Sison

US Department of State

Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 18, 2008

QUESTION: On Lebanon, do you have any more details for us on this event involving the chargé who was in a convoy being stoned, apparently?

MR. CASEY: Oh, I did get a little bit of information for you.  I think some people may have already heard a little bit about this, but let me just sort of try and walk you through what we know. 

Michele Sison, who is our Chargé d'Affairs in Lebanon, was on a previously scheduled visit outside of Beirut. She was in a couple of smaller of towns outside the city visiting a number of different programs where the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Government has supported initiatives. That includes the Women's Progress Association, a local school for girls, and a social center which is where our American Corner is housed, and also looked at some other AID projects while she was out there. 

And my understanding is during her visit to the village of Nabatiyeh, one of the cars that was in her convoy had a mechanical problem, broke down. They decided to stop for lunch at that point. The Chargé was having lunch with a local family while the car was being repaired. After the car was repaired and they were getting ready to go, there was a small crowd that gathered around them – gathered around the vehicles. 

And at one point, about approximately a dozen individuals – I understand, basically, young men – starting throwing some stones at the vehicles. The Chargé was able to be – get into the car and depart without any particular incident. There were no serious injuries. I do understand that one of our security guards, one of the local Lebanese security guards, did get hit in the leg by one of the stones that was thrown, was not – did not require any kind of medical treatment or, certainly, hospitalization, as I understand. Chargé Sison was able to carry out the rest of her visit and ultimately returned back to the Embassy in Beirut. So that's the basic nuts and bolts of that for you, Kirit.

QUESTION: Was that her car that was being – you said there were a couple cars in the convoy, getting --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: It was her car that was getting --

MR. CASEY: Well, there were -- you know, as you have all seen from your travels too, when we do this, there's -- the vehicles are all kind of lined up next to each other, so I think there were two or three cars involved. And, you know, I don't know, it depends – I guess it depends how good these guys' aim was, whether they were aiming at a particular car or just in general at the direction. But they were certainly – they were part of the convoy and part of the vehicles she was traveling in.

QUESTION: How – how close were they?

MR. CASEY: How close were the individuals?

QUESTION: These stone-throwers?

MR. CASEY: That were stoning the car? You know, I couldn't put it for you in terms of feet. They were in the general vicinity. They certainly weren't, you know, blocks or, you know, hundreds of yards away or anything.

QUESTION: You said that she departed without incident?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. I mean, it was --

QUESTION: Well, it seems to me that there –

MR. CASEY: Well --

QUESTION: Without incident? I mean, this seems to be an incident.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, Matt, look, I --

QUESTION: Without further incident?

MR. CASEY: What I base it – what I meant to imply with my usual imprecise wording is that she was able to get in her vehicle; she was not assaulted or in any way prevented from doing so. And the convoy was able to leave and go on its route. She did not have to modify her plans for that day or otherwise change her schedule as a result.

QUESTION: This was today?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And do you know if this is going to alter any sort of further movements by the Chargé or other officials in the Embassy?

MR. CASEY: No, I -- obviously, our security people look all the time at both where folks are going when, and make assessments as to what's appropriate or not. Certainly, I would expect that the Regional Security Office and other folks at the Embassy will take a look at this incident, see if there's anything particular they can learn from it. But I don't think it would have any kind of fundamental change in the status of our Embassy or our personnel's ability to go out. 

And it's important that not only the Chargé, but other people at the Embassy do have the opportunity to be able to visit some of these projects to be able to talk to people, not only in the government, but folks outside of Beirut, and to get a chance to understand the country. It's something that's difficult in places like Lebanon, where there are a lot of security concerns. But it's part of what we do.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, final question. Do you know if these young men were associated with any group at all or if they --

MR. CASEY: You know, I think the assumption was that they were at least, in some way, shape or form, Hezbollah supporters. But I don't think – you know, I don't think anybody's stopped and asked them.

QUESTION: What about the region, though? I mean, these – you know, there was the village itself. What groups lived there or, you know --

MR. CASEY: You know, I don't – I think for us, the most important thing is there's Lebanese people there who are benefitting from a variety of different projects that the United States and others in the international community are sponsoring. I don't know, to be honest with you, what the, you know, ethnic or other breakdown of the village itself is.