March 23, 2019
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo speaks at a press availability with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 22, 2019. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]
The American Mideast Coalition for Democracy vigorously applauds Secretary Pompeo for his courageous, non-nonsense remarks made in Beirut alongside Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. We have reproduced his remarks in full below:
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. Thanks for hosting me here today. It’s great to be returning to Lebanon to – and for I think the third or fourth time, but the first time as Secretary of State. As the foreign minister said, I represented southcentral Kansas, home to a thriving population from – that came to the United States in the 1890s – successful entrepreneurs, doctors, leaders, capable immigrants that came to the United States and integrated successfully. It’s that same flourishing that we see of the Lebanese people in southcentral Kansas that we hope for everyone here in this great country.
I had the chance to meet today with President Aoun, with Speaker Berri, with the prime minister, and now with the foreign minister. I have other meetings on my schedule for later today and tomorrow. In each of my discussions, Lebanese leaders conveyed their hopes for a better future of peace and security and prosperity for their country and for their people. Every citizen of Lebanon should know that the United States wishes precisely the same.
But we have to confront the facts. Hizballah stands in the way of the Lebanese people’s dreams. For 34 years, Hizballah has put the Lebanese people at risk with unilateral, unaccountable decisions on war and peace, and life and death. Whether through political promises or outright intimidation of voters, Hizballah sits inside the national assembly or other state institutions and pretends to support the state. Meanwhile, Hizballah defies the state and the people of Lebanon through a terrorist wing committed to spreading destruction.
Hizballah’s armed campaigns are squarely opposed to the interests of the Lebanese people. How does the expanding of – expending of resources and lives of those constituents in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria help the citizens of south Lebanon, Beirut, or the Bekaa Valley? How does stockpiling tens of thousands of rockets and missiles in Lebanon territory for use against Israel make this country stronger? Moreover, Hizballah does these nefarious activities at the behest of the Iranian regime. Its foot soldiers serve at Tehran’s bidding. Hizballah and its illegitimate militia put the entire country of Lebanon on the front lines of Iran’s misguided proxy campaigns.
Rest assured, Hizballah’s Iranian patrons don’t want the status quo in Lebanon to change. They see peace, prosperity, and independence for Lebanon as a fundamental threat to their political interest and their hegemonic ambitions.
Finally, Hizballah’s global criminal networks – its drug smuggling, its attempts to launder money through the international system, and its interference with customs and other trade controls – place Lebanon under the microscope of international law enforcement. Indeed, Hizballah robs the Lebanese state of resources that rightfully belong to its people.
The Lebanese people should no longer be made to suffer for the political and military ambitions of an outlaw nation and its terrorist affiliate. It will take courage for the nation of Lebanon to stand up to Hizballah’s criminality, terror, and threats. It will take effort to ensure full respect and independence for the Lebanese Armed Forces and other national security interests.
To be clear, we understand the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. This is another dimension in Iranian aggression, and we support their return to Syria in a secure and voluntary manner as soon as conditions allow.
I want everyone in Lebanon to know that you will continue to have a friend in the United States. We will continue to support the legitimate state institutions of Lebanon and all of its people. In 2018, this year past, the United States provided more than $800 million in assistance to Lebanon. A fair question: What did Hizballah and Iran contribute? They contributed coffins of young Lebanese returning from Syria and ever more Iranian weapons. Qasem Soleimani and Hizballah’s other Iranian backers continues to undermine Lebanon’s legitimate security institutions and jeopardize the safety and security of the Lebanese people. It’s plain to see which country is a force for good in Lebanon.
The United States will continue to bring unprecedented pressure to bear on Iran until it ceases all malign behavior, including that which is carried out by Hizballah. Iran’s support of Hizballah poses a threat to people – to Arab people of all faiths, it weakens the Lebanese state, and undermines the prosperity of future generations. It also increases the likelihood of conflict and undercuts opportunities for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The clerics in Tehran provide Hizballah with as much as $700 million each and every year. This is a staggering sum, especially given that up to 90 percent of Iran’s labor force has long lived before – below the poverty line.
Our pressure on Iran is simple. It’s aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists, and it’s working. On March 8th, Hassan Nasrallah begged Hizballah supporters to make new contributions. And we believe that our work is already constraining Hizballah’s activities. The United States will continue to use all peaceful means – everything at our disposal – to choke off the financing, the smuggling, the criminal networks, and the misuse of government positions and influence that feeds Iran and Hizballah terror operations, and we will not hesitate to call out those who active – actively and passively support these activities and betray the trust and hopes of the Lebanese people.
I’ve had a chance to discuss each of these issues with Lebanese leaders. I expressed hope that the new Lebanese Government would be able to meet the needs of the Lebanese people. In that regard, I shared concern about both external and internal pressures upon the government, including coming from some of its members which do not serve an independent, thriving Lebanon.
Frankly, Lebanon and the Lebanese people face a choice: Bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hizballah to dictate your future. You all know the history. Lebanon has paid a terrible price over the past half-century for the sake of its independence. As I traveled from the airport, I was reminded powerfully of this past suffering. I passed the site where 35 years ago the predecessors of today’s Hizballah murdered U.S. Marines on a peacekeeping mission. I passed near the site of the U.S. embassy where the same terrorist thugs killed America’s diplomats as they worked. I viewed the memorial to Mr. Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, brutally assassinated for his courageous opposition to cruel tyranny of the Assad regime over Lebanon.
But from that bitter past a better future beckons, and it is all around us. Neither Iran nor its partner Hizballah have the right to exact more suffering from the Lebanese people. Beirut is rightly seen as a symbol of rebirth out of ashes; of coexistence out of separation; of mosques, churches, and synagogues rebuilt side by side in what was once a bitter green line that divided family from family and friend from friend.
Mr. Foreign Minister, you should know and I want all the Lebanese people to know the United States will continue to stand with the Lebanese people as they seize the opportunities they so richly deserve, to live as a free people.