Good afternoon. I am very pleased to be back in Beirut today and to stand with the Lebanese people during this very challenging time in the region -- one with significant implications for Lebanon’s future. I had productive meetings today with President Sleiman, Caretaker Prime Minister Mikati, Lebanese Armed Forces Commanding General Kahwagi, Speaker Berri, and other senior Lebanese leaders.
Let me begin by thanking President Sleiman for his hospitality. The President deserves recognition for his steadfast leadership during this difficult period of political transition at home and instability in the region. In today’s meeting, I emphasized the United States strong and enduring commitment to Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty, and independence, and our desire to continue to strengthen our long-standing partnership with the government and people of Lebanon. I also conveyed to the President our condolences and deepest sympathies for members of the Lebanese Armed Forces and innocent civilians killed and injured in last week’s violence in Sidon. I assured him of the United States unwavering support for the LAF, including training and equipment to assist security forces in their critical role of preserving Lebanon’s unity.
At a time of regional tumult and domestic uncertainty, it is deeply in the self-interest of all Lebanese to exercise restraint and respect for Lebanon’s stability and security, to defend the institutions of the state, and to preserve Lebanon’s democratic traditions. The decisions to delay elections scheduled for this year and boycott the Constitutional Council shake the confidence of the international community in Lebanon’s institutions. More importantly, these actions undermine the faith of the Lebanese people in their own government.
Despite its membership in the Lebanese Government, Hizballah has decided to put its own interests and those of its foreign backers above those of the Lebanese people. We condemn in the strongest terms Hizballah’s actions in Syria -- they directly contradict the organization’s commitment to the Baabda Declaration, stand in direct violation of Lebanon’s disassociation policy, and place the future of Lebanon at risk. We call on all parties to respect the disassociation policy and preserve Lebanese stability and unity.
We recognize the enormous burden the conflict in Syria places on Lebanon. The way in which the Lebanese Government and people have so generously opened their homes, schools, and communities to over 500,000 Syrian refugees has inspired us all.
Last week, President Obama announced an additional $300 million in humanitarian assistance for Syria and its neighbors. The single largest portion of these funds -- $72 million -- will help refugees in Lebanon and their host communities. We will continue to work with other donors and partners to ensure that the international community provides Lebanon with the urgent humanitarian and development assistance it needs.
Again, it’s a pleasure to be back in Lebanon, and now I’d be glad to take a few questions.
QUESTION: Do Hizballah’s actions in Syria reflect on its participation in the new government?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: As I made clear in my opening remarks, the United States condemns Hizballah’s intervention in Syria. That intervention may be in Hizballah’s interest, it may be in the interest of Iran, it may be in the interest of Bashar al-Assad, but it is certainly not in the interest of Lebanon or the Lebanese people. We continue to strongly support the disassociation policy, the policy to which Hizballah committed itself in the Baabda Declaration. We are deeply concerned that its intervention will undercut the interests not only of the Syrian people, but also the people of Lebanon.
QUESTION: Sir, you spoke of assistance to the LAF. Will assistance be in anyway affected by Hizballah’s [inaudible] in Saida alongside the Lebanese army?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Our support for the LAF as an essential state institution in Lebanon, as I mentioned in my remarks, is strong and enduring. We have provided since 2006 nearly a billion dollars in training and equipment for the LAF and for the Internal Security Forces. We are determined to continue to provide that kind of support given the LAF’s role in helping to unite people across Lebanese society. I want to repeat again our condolences for the loss of life from the LAF and also innocent civilians in the clashes that took place in Sidon. I understand there is also an investigation into those clashes.
QUESTION: You spoke about certain measures to support Lebanon, especially as long as they show greater involvement of the Syrian problem in Lebanon. What are these measures? Any actions by the United Nations or others?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: There are a number of different ways in which the United States is determined, as Secretary Kerry promised in his telephone conversation with President Sleiman, to reinforce our commitment. Secretary Kerry’s call, President Obama’s earlier telephone conversation with President Sleiman, my visit, and the possible visit of Senator McCain and Senator Graham over the course of the next couple of days all are clear indications of continuing U.S. support. In terms of diplomatic support, we are going to continue to work with other friends and partners of Lebanon in this region and in the international community to strengthen our commitment to Lebanon’s sovereignty and unity.
I mentioned earlier a third dimension of our support, which is our continuing provision of training and equipment to the LAF and the ISF as well. We are also looking for ways that we can strengthen the economic relationship between Lebanon and the United States, which is important. The United States is already Lebanon’s number one trading partner, and I think there are a number of ways in which we can expand our trade and investment relationship in the future. Finally, I would reinforce our commitment to helping the Lebanese Government and the people of Lebanon to deal with the huge burden posed by refugees from Syria. And by that I mean, the $72 million for Lebanon that was announced recently by President Obama, which is part of our overall $160 million in humanitarian aid for Lebanon. This aid goes not only for Syrian refugees directly, but also to the Lebanese communities that host them – for their schools, for their hospitals, and for the kinds of institutions that are overburdened right now, but which are an important reflection of the generosity of the people of Lebanon. So there are a number of ways in which we’re going to continue to increase our support for Lebanon and for its people. Thank you very much.