SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Any questions?
QUESTION: Can I ask you what you – one, how quickly are – how quickly would you like to see the situation resolve, at least politically, with the prime minister? Is that just as soon as possible or is there a step-by-step?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Listen —
QUESTION: And then can I just also ask you on a different subject of the Lebanon aid?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I saw your article. Scoop – is that a scoop?
QUESTION: I don’t know about that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, no, it’s true.
QUESTION: I know it’s true.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) I would – but anyway.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I told you last week —
QUESTION: I know.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — that it was going to be resolved soon, resolved – soon.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I’m reliable.
QUESTION: Yes, you are.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. All right, so next?
QUESTION: Sorry – oh, wait a second. (Laughter.) That’s all you’re going to say? I wanted to know what —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: I had the Iraq question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Ah yeah, no, no. Yeah, about —
QUESTION: We’ve got 15 minutes, come on.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, listen – so this is not about personalities, right. Once again, this is about reform. We want the Iraqis to get a government that is responsive to their legitimate demands – reform, anti-corruption. This is a process that should be handled by the Iraqis and managed by the Iraqis. We don’t have parameters for timing. We want to see an end to the violence. We want to see protestors being allowed to protest peacefully. But I’m not going to comment on the timeline here (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Okay, Michael.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up to on Lebanon?
QUESTION: Can I – just a quick one. The – you want to see reform in Iraq and – but the prime minister, the new prime minister is going to be chosen by the very same parliament that was elected in a vote in which there was very low turnout and which picked the previous prime minister. Does the U.S. Government favor – would it be advisable if there were early elections in Iraq to change the parliament so that – to move along the process of reform?
And since we’re on background, can you just please explain the Lebanon thing a little more than you’re reliable? What – what’s happened? Why was it held up?
QUESTION: Has it been resolved?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So on Iraq, there was a number of questions you had.
QUESTION: Do you support early – why not support early elections if you want change?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, so I – listen, I – the Iraqis are amidst a process of electoral reform, right? They have a system that, granted, decades ago we helped design, right – the Iraqi electoral process – but it is one in which Iraqis say that their representatives aren’t necessarily accountable to – to them. It’s a proportional representational system. There are other systems being discussed right now, mixed systems, et cetera. We are rooting for an Iraqi parliament that is once again responsive, more responsive to the Iraqi people. We’re I think one way or the other not talking about early elections.
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is up for the – this is up to the Iraqi people to decide. I’m not going to comment about —
QUESTION: Okay. And can you explain Lebanon, please?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not going to unpack the whole thing.
QUESTION: You don’t have to unpack the whole thing, but just a little explanation.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean – we – Matt, you had a piece that somebody wrote about this, right? You wrote about this before.
QUESTION: Come on, this is a serious thing. You’re [Senior State Department Official]; it’s a legitimate question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, listen, I’m not —
QUESTION: You’re on background.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I know, I —
QUESTION: Whose decision was it to lift this aid?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Listen, as David Hale said during his congressional testimony, there were some disagreements about the efficacy of U.S. aid to the LAF. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Can you confirm —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And – and —
QUESTION: Let him finish.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not going to – I’m not going to comment. There’s been several pieces that have been written about this. I wish I could comment on it; I can’t.
QUESTION: But what’s the current status? It’s been released, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s been – yes, the money is good to go.
QUESTION: So when —
QUESTION: It is gone? It’s gone? Good to go or it’s gone?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s in the process of being gone, right, it’s gone —
QUESTION: Who made that decision?
MODERATOR: This is not a free-for-all.
QUESTION: Sorry, sorry.
MODERATOR: So Nick, you had your hand up, so you go.
QUESTION: So, if you could, when was that decision made? It’s been released or it’s in the process? Explain that a little bit. And I know —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the process is done. It’s released, right.
QUESTION: It’s been released?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Now there is – for any – you know the FMF process, right? There’s letters of request, letters of agreement, et cetera. So that – the process is done, right, that’s – we’re – Lebanon will request certain things, we’ll sign agreements, and they’ll get it. They’ll get —
QUESTION: And then so the fundamental question is: Why was congressionally authorized aid blocked? Aid that was by the State Department and the Pentagon desired as part of U.S. policy?
MODERATOR: He’s already answered that question specifically.
QUESTION: And – I did.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Once again, though, this was a process, right. Nothing that was supposed to get to the Lebanese Armed Forces was delayed in any way.
QUESTION: Just timing wise, can you confirm that it was released before Thanksgiving and that Congress was notified on Monday?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What’s today?
QUESTION: Today is Monday.
QUESTION: The 2nd.
QUESTION: Was Congress notified today?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I – I’m not going to talk about the timing.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask what is the argument to the people who took the other side, who said that the aid shouldn’t have gone to the military because they —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I can – I mean, I can – it’s out in the public sphere, the same type of arguments that people have in the U.S. Government, right. So, for example, when I worked at a think tank for 16 years, I’d oftentimes write about U.S. aid to Lebanon, the pros and cons of this. There are people at FDD who write about what a terrible idea it is, right, and they are good scholars, and what you read is – I think is – makes a cogent argument about why it’s not the best idea to do it. Other people have written about why it’s a great idea to do it. And so this is a kind of argument that we see on a broad range of topics that happen inside the government and outside the government, and that it’s just reflective of that.
QUESTION: Sorry for interrupting earlier– whose decision was it to release this hold and —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I thought we were talking about Iraq today.
QUESTION: — and why is it so important – just kind of to build off of what Abbie was saying, why is it important for the U.S. to important the Lebanese Armed Forces?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’ll – I’ll answer the second part, right. This is an institution that is a national institution. It defends Lebanon’s borders. It is an excellent partner to the United States in counterterrorism, in fighting Sunni jihadi Islamists. They have developed in recent years a high level of capability on that regard. They have responded in recent weeks I think in impressive fashion in terms of protecting demonstrators from violence, demonstrating, I think, the fact that they are a national institution.
Now, there are detractors who would point to incidents, isolated incidents, of deconfliction with Hizballah in certain areas. But this is an institution that nonetheless has great merit.
QUESTION: And the first question? And the first question?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s the one I’m not answering.
QUESTION: You aren’t.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sorry.
MODERATOR: Yeah, Shaun.
QUESTION: Sure. I’ll go back to Iraq for a minute.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s an issue of process.
QUESTION: You were mentioning the Iranian influence in Iraq. Could you explain what you’re looking for in terms of the setup of the new government? I know you’ve said it’s not about personalities, but Abdul-Mahdi of course was very close to Iran, but also had a working relationship with the United States. In terms of how the U.S. sees the process now, to what extent do you – does the United States anticipate having some sort of advisory role, if you will, some sort of advice in terms of how to go forward?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we continue to engage with the Iraqi Government. Adil is there; we continue to engage with him, a broad range of Iraqi political personalities. What do we expect, is that the question? Or —
QUESTION: Sure. I mean, what do you expect in terms of the relationship with Iran of the next government?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Listen, I think it’s Adil who says famously – the prime minister – Iran is our neighbor, you are our friend, right. I think we have been a reliable partner to Iraq. I expect that we will continue to be a reliable partner, helping to build their capacity to defend themselves and to exert their sovereignty, to help defeat ISIS and can you prevent a resurgence of ISIS in Iraqi territory. So I would expect that we will continue to have that kind of relationship with the Iraqi Government and also have economic investments in the country, et cetera, going forward.
QUESTION: Just briefly, does the U.S. have any comment on the torching of the Iranian consulate in Najaf?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Generally speaking – and specifically speaking – the United States believes that – the inviolability of the diplomatic facilities.
MODERATOR: One more question, anyone who hasn’t asked. In the back, yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks a lot. There is an American citizen who’s been held in Lebanon that American consular officials have formally raised concerns about his treatment, Amer Fakhoury. Do situations like this, or does this particular situation – are those instances taken into account when deciding whether or how to dispense aid?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the United States is concerned and following closely the situation of Amer Fakhoury. We have routine consular visits with him. He has been removed from his detention facility and is in a medical facility now. We are in routine touch with his family as well. I don’t – I think we are engaged with the Government of Lebanon about his release. I don’t think I have the ability to provide further comment on Amer because of what is – he has to sign certain waivers for that to occur.
QUESTION: These are traditionally separate issues usually, when you’re negotiating a gigantic aid package versus issues like this? I mean, how – do they ever become commingled, is my question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I know historically of times where periodically they have. During the Bush administration, for example, there was the issue of Saad Eddin Ibrahim. And I believe the Bush administration withheld $180 million from Egypt until he was released from prison – also a dual national.
QUESTION: Do you know in that case, was it – is it a LAF facility that he was in or is in now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t discuss all the details of his case. So I —
QUESTION: Well, at some point he was in their – he was in the custody of the army. Do you know if that’s still —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was a criminal proceeding. It was a criminal proceeding. But – and my understanding was he was in jail.
MODERATOR: All right. Thanks, appreciate it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you.