Sunday, April 26, 2009

Remarks After Meeting With Lebanese President Michel Sleiman

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Beirut, Lebanon
April 26, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me begin by saying how pleased I am to be here in Lebanon on a beautiful day. I appreciated the opportunity that I had to meet with the president, with the minister, and other members of the government. I am grateful for this chance to deliver a letter to President Sleiman from President Obama, expressing the Obama administration's strong support for a free, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.

And it is important that I stress this special bond that exists between the United States and Lebanon. My country has been enriched by the contributions of many Lebanese Americans. And, even more than that, we have been enriched by a diversity of communities. I know how diverse Lebanon is, and I know that that diversity is a source of strength as it is in my own country.

Over the past several years, Lebanon has gone through many challenges. And I want to commend the many courageous citizens from all different groups who have worked to build an independent and democratic nation. The parliamentary elections that are coming up in June will mark another milestone.

We believe strongly that the people of Lebanon must be able to choose their own representatives in open and fair elections without the specter of violence and intimidation, and certainly free of outside interference. And we join the international community in supporting the Lebanese government's efforts to achieve that goal. We will continue to support the voices of moderation in Lebanon and the responsible institutions of the Lebanese state that they are working to build. Our ongoing support for the Lebanese armed forces remains a pillar of our bilateral cooperation.

The United Nations Security Council resolutions make clear that the Lebanese armed forces is the only legitimate armed force in Lebanon, the only force that is accountable to all of the Lebanese people. And I want to commend the Lebanese armed forces for its efforts to defend Lebanon's borders to fight terrorism and fully implement Security Council Resolution 1701.

I also am here to pledge our continuing support for the special tribunal for Lebanon. I will go from here to pay a call of respect at the memorial of former Prime Minister Hariri. There needs to be an absolute end to an era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon. It cannot, must not, be used as a bargaining chip. When I visit former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri's memorial, I will honor his memory, and pay my respects to all those who have been killed while defending Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.

The guiding principles from the Cedar Revolution that followed his death, sovereignty and freedom for the Lebanese people, is a core value that we respect and will honor and work to translate into a perpetual reality.

I believe that Lebanon has a key role to play in the long-term efforts to build lasting peace and stability in this region. And President Obama and I and the administration that I represent, as well as the government and people of the United States look forward to ongoing partnership and cooperation.

Thank you very much, and I will happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: You mentioned the forces of moderation and your visit happens two months before the elections and on the very anniversary day of the Syrian withdrawal. I was wondering, coming here today, if you intend to express your support for the current majority.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I intend to express my support and President Obama's support for the people of Lebanon, and for a free, independent, and sovereign Lebanon, and for elections that will be free of any intimidation and outside interference, so that the people of Lebanon are able to peacefully make their decisions in these upcoming elections.

QUESTION: How can you (inaudible) is going to deal with the new Lebanese government in case the opposition or Hezbollah wins the election?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am not going to speculate on the outcome of your election. That is for the people of Lebanon to decide. The Lebanese people have a lot at stake in this election. And I know how seriously all of the candidates are campaigning throughout the country.

But we certainly hope that the election will be free of intimidation and outside interference, and that the results of the election will continue a moderate, positive direction that will benefit all the people of Lebanon. That is our hope. We want to see a strong, independent, free, and sovereign Lebanon. And we believe that this election will be, obviously, an important milestone on that path.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, welcome to Lebanon. (Inaudible) on this question. I know you don't want to speculate about the results of the elections, but it does look likely that Syria's allies, including Hezbollah, will make a strong come-back. How will that affect your support for the Lebanese army that you just discussed, you said it was a pillar of cooperation between the two countries? Would you re-evaluate that cooperation with the Lebanese army?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, first let me say that it's a great delight to have you with me on this trip. As some of you know, Kim is Lebanese, and has been so excited about coming back to a country that she loves, and I am pleased that I could be the reason she got to come back at this particular time.

I don't want to speculate about the outcome of the elections. Obviously, as an outsider, which is all that I am, and representing our President and our government, we hope that the election is free and fair of intimidation, we hope that the people of Lebanon make a decision that will continue the progress that we have seen over the last several years.

It won't surprise you to hear that I think moderation is important in the affairs of states, because that gives people from all backgrounds, and all different beliefs and convictions, an opportunity to participate. So that is up to the Lebanese people to decide, but we certainly look forward to working with and cooperating with the next Lebanese government.

QUESTION: Any settlement with Syria - that Lebanon could be paying the price for – especially regarding the international tribunal and why you don't meeting (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, with respect to my schedule, this was a very short trip, because of the necessity that I have to turn around and get back to Washington after having been in Iraq and Kuwait. But I really was here to send a very strong signal of our support for the free, fair elections, and of the state of Lebanon, symbolized by the president. And, therefore, I met with the president. I was very honored to be received by him and other ministers in the government of Lebanon.

I hope to return. I told the president that I feel very unhappy that I could come for such a short period of time. It's like seeing this great banquet laid out, and all I am permitted to do is eat a tiny little appetizer. Because I have heard so much about this beautiful country, I have so many Lebanese-American friends that have told me about the beauty of Lebanon and the hospitality of the people. So I do hope to come back and spend more time here.

With respect to Syria, we are heartened by the exchange of ambassadors that was agreed to between Lebanon and Syria. Obviously we think it's important that Lebanon have good relations with their neighbors, including Syria, but that Lebanon is an independent, free, sovereign nation. And there is nothing that we will do in any way that would undermine Lebanon's sovereignty. We don't have a right to do that, and we don't believe that would be the right thing to do.

So, I want to assure any Lebanese citizens, that the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people. You have been through too much, and it is only right that you are given a chance to make your own decisions, however they turn out, amongst the people who call Lebanon home, who love this country, who are committed to it, who have stayed here and done what you can to navigate through these difficult years. It's a complicated neighborhood you live in, and you have a right to have your own future. And we believe that very strongly.

Thank you very much.

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