Thank you, Secretary General Ban. Prime Minister Salam, it’s an honor to be with you. During a period when the Lebanese Presidency is vacant and when the people of Lebanon are confronting a number of threats and difficulties, you have shown extraordinary leadership. As Secretary Kerry told you earlier today, your commitment to Lebanon has never mattered more and each of us is grateful for it.
At this gathering last year, Secretary Kerry said that Lebanon had rarely faced such a daunting moment. And yet, each of us comes here today knowing that Lebanon is facing an even greater set of challenges, none more pressing than the threat of violent extremists near and inside Lebanon’s borders. Last month’s extremist attacks in Arsal underscored the dangers and the risk of violence spiraling out of control. Since these attacks, members of ISIL and al-Nusrah have murdered three LAF captives in cold blood and continue to threaten Lebanon’s security.
The Lebanese people have borne the horrible brunt of suicide bombings. Mohammad Chatah, a man respected all over the world for his work as an economist and for his service to Lebanon’s people, was assassinated two days after Christmas. Rockets have been fired from southern Lebanon and Lebanon’s sovereignty has been routinely violated by the Asad regime.
Through these struggles, the Lebanese government has done its utmost to provide for refugees fleeing Syria. Through the attempts of others to destabilize and further divide the nation, Lebanon’s leaders have shown remarkable unity. And through daily threats and the danger of extremist violence, the nation’s security services have stood together with courage and resolve.
The Lebanese people have been tested and continually prove their strength. But in spite of all of this, Lebanon’s situation remains dire. The need for the international community’s immediate, coordinated, and tangible support has never been greater.
Together, we can do more to ensure that Lebanon’s security forces have the training and equipment they need to defeat the extremists and insulate Lebanon from the crisis in Syria. And together, we need to do much more now to help Lebanese communities cope with the refugee crisis. The work of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other relief providers on the frontlines of the refugee challenge deserve our strong and continued support. We’ve been proud to be the top donor during this crisis and will continue to sustain our support during the critical months and years ahead.
With our recent commitment of $103 million to help meet the needs of refugees and their Lebanese host communities, we are ensuring that parents can send their children to school and see a doctor when they get sick. We are helping families pay rent and put a roof over their heads. These are very basic needs that can’t be met, that won’t be met, unless we and the rest of the international community provide urgent support.
In total, the U.S. has provided over half a billion dollars in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon since the start of the Syria crisis, much of it focused on strengthening critical infrastructure and educational institutions. We are prioritizing our assistance to support the needs identified last fall by the World Bank, so that we can provide immediate relief where it is needed most.
Our contributions to Lebanon’s security and stability are essential. But the most critical task fall on Lebanon’s leaders themselves. The Lebanese people need them to elect a president, and to do it now. The men and women who make sacrifices every day for their country in Lebanon’s security forces deserve to have the political backing that only a fully empowered President and cabinet can provide. Upholding the spirit of the National Pact as well as the letter of the constitution requires the election of a new president. The new president will be charged with protecting the best interests of the Lebanese people, which include respecting Lebanese sovereignty and upholding the Baabda Declaration of disassociation.
The Lebanese people can count on the support of partners across the region and across the world, as well from the United Nations and multiple Security Council Resolutions. Ultimately, Lebanon’s most pressing political challenges can only be met by the Lebanese themselves. But the United States will continue to stand with them along the way, working together to realize the promise of a free, democratic, and secure Lebanon.
Thank you very much.