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I'd like to say that with my crystal ball I was able to predict a timely hearing at an exciting time in the Middle East. Unfortunately, we're just lucky to have you here at the very moment a succession is taking place in the last bastion of the old Middle East of Syria.
Although this is a hearing about Lebanon, the death of Hafez al-Assad makes it all the more important that we hold this hearing today. We cannot speak about the future of Lebanon without discussing Syria's continuing occupation.
In recent weeks we've seen the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in accordance
with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 425. I expected to see the
administration put strong, serious pressure on Syria to remove its 30,000 troops from
Lebanon as well. Disappointed to see that that has not occurred. I hope you can enlighten
me on the administration's efforts to put pressure on Syria to remove those troops from
It is time that this administration looks at the reality of what has been going on in Lebanon for decades. Syria has turned Lebanon into a satellite state with a puppet government so demoralized that its leaders will not even appeal for their own independence. Syria and its allies in Tehran manipulate the Lebanese people with weapons and with threats; they pit Christians against Sunnis, Sunnis against Shi'ites; they sponsor and finance terrorist groups that attacked Israel and others, operating like parasites on Lebanese soil, and that all continues to take place.
There's no reason the U.S. should be subjugating our national principles again and again in the desperate hope for a page in the history books.
We do need to stand up for the democracy for the people of Lebanon and for the people
of Syria, for an end to occupation for Lebanon. And above all, we need to stand for the
disarmament of terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, who do nothing more than exploit the
people of Lebanon for the benefit of extremists in Damascus and in Tehran.
With all that is going on, our administration witness has a quite difficult job and a difficult time, as well. I am happy to welcome you here, Assistant Secretary of State Ned Walker. It's a pleasure to have you in front of the subcommittee. It almost always seems like we are talking about very difficult circumstances; it's a difficult part of the world. We look forward to your testimony. We also have two additional witnesses, private witnesses; Dr. Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, and Colonel Charbel Barakat of the South Lebanon Army, who will also be testifying later on. Secretary Walker, thank you for joining us, and I look forward to your testimony and our question and exchange.
MR. WALKER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I agree, it is a very timely time to consider our policy towards Lebanon and Syria and towards the region as a whole. Actually, while difficulties arise from events that have taken place, there are also opportunities that arise in such occurrences, and we look forward to efforts to try to exploit those opportunities in the future. I am very pleased to appear before you.
After 22 years of occupation during which both Israel and Lebanon suffered many casualties and endured constant disruptions of civilian life, Israeli forces have withdrawn from Lebanon. The United Nations expects to formally confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 425, this week. And we expect the Security Council will expeditiously issue a presidential statement endorsing the withdrawal.
The withdrawal and its aftermath have been relatively peaceful. Apart from some sporadic looting and some stone throwing by Lebanese youths at the border, south Lebanon has remained calm. It will take an active effort from all of the players to ensure that calm prevails.
Hezbollah fighters are in close proximity with the Israeli forces on the border. This arrangement is clearly not desirable now or in the future. It is critical that there not be incidents across the Israel-Lebanon border. We do not envision that the death of Syrian President Assad will adversely affect the implementation of 425 or the calm that now exists in the south, at least in the short term.
Security Council Resolution 425 outlines three tasks for UNIFIL: to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces, to restore international peace and security in the south; and to assist the government of Lebanon, ensuring the return of its effective authority to the area. With the withdrawal virtually complete, the focus now is on the second and third tasks.
UNIFIL is currently in the process of deploying using its present level of forces, augmented by several battalions drawn primarily from current contributors. UNIFIL units are actively patrolling the Lebanon-Israel border area, along with military observers from the U.N. truce supervisory organization.
UNIFIL will continue to occupy key points to help maintain stability. UNIFIL is working to establish a joint operations center with the government of Lebanon that will coordinate the smooth deployment of Lebanese forces. Clearly, the Lebanese leadership and UNIFIL must work together to ensure that security returns to the South.
We, the United Nations, the French and, indeed, many Lebanese have specifically called on Lebanon to deploy its armed forces in areas vacated by the Israelis. We are pleased by the government's recent announcement that it will deploy more than a thousand security and army officers to the South. We in the international community believe a strong military presence, Lebanese military presence, is crucial to the government's reestablishment of its sovereignty and order. Lebanon needs to return its effective authority in the area to fulfill its responsibilities under Security Council Resolution 425.
Secretary Albright has been in direct contact with Lebanese President Lahoud and Secretary-General Annan to stress this point.
The Lebanese government's ability to consolidate peace and security in South Lebanon will depend in large part on its success in developing the infrastructure of the area. Economic assistance will help Lebanon rebuild after two decades of conflict. We believe the United States and the international community should support this effort which will benefit the region. We will need to work with Congress as we look at ways to be helpful.
As Resolution 425 moves forward, we will continue to press ahead with our bilateral agenda with the government of Lebanon, comprehensive regional peace, stronger business and commercial ties and greater cooperation on counterterrorism and law enforcement issues. In the meantime, we continue to support the resumption of negotiations on both the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. This effort remains a priority of our foreign policy in the Middle East. Peace is the best vehicle for change, in Syria and Lebanon. We also believe that the Lebanese people, through their own democratic process, can make important decisions about their future relationship with Syria.
The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon is a momentous development in the Middle East, and a very positive one. The border between Lebanon and Israel is quiet for now. We must continue to exert every effort to ensure that it remains so, first by supporting the U.N.'s efforts to implement Resolution 425 in a peaceful and orderly manner; second, by garnering international support to assist in reconstructing the South; and third, by keeping the door open for a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and Syria and between Israel and Lebanon. That ultimately is our best chance for achieving lasting regional peace and stability.
Mr. Chairman, I'll be pleased to take your questions.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Thank you, Secretary Walker.
The United States has sold and granted military equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces with the understanding that the LAF would secure southern Lebanon after an Israeli withdrawal. Now, you noted some promise in the future of moving a thousand soldiers into that region. However, what happened right after the Israeli pullout was the Hezbollah fighters filled the vacuum, filled in. Will military sales to Lebanon cease if the Lebanese Armed Forces do not secure the South?
MR. WALKER: Mr. Chairman, I think that the key here is to get the Lebanese Armed Forces to move south in greater numbers. Both U.N. Security Council resolutions in the past and -- have called for the Lebanese army to move to the border and to secure it. The secretary has been pressing the Lebanese, along with other members of the international community, particularly the French to move the army south. We think it's a good first step to have the strike force established which has elements of the army in it. The IFF, the -- I mean, the Lebanese security forces and the army combined should be able to do a reasonable job of filling the vacuum, but it's not enough. We're going to continue to press to do so so that indeed organization like Hezbollah will not be able to fill this vacuum. And I might add that it's also important that the reconstruction efforts take place under the auspices of the Lebanese government so that they can gain the support and the loyalty of the people of the south and the economic improvement of their conditions as well.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Well, Secretary, this was no surprise that the Israelis were pulling out of south Lebanon. It was announced, it was -- they stated they were going to do it, this was going to happen. Why didn't the Lebanese armed forces move in immediately or have a plan to move into the region? Was the administration pressing them to move into the region immediately after the Israeli withdrawal?
MR. WALKER: Yes, we were, and we have made that very clear. I think that first, there were some doubts in the minds of both the Lebanese and the Syrians as to whether there was sincerity on the part of the Israelis. We never had any doubt of that. We knew the minute that Prime Minister Barak made the pledge in his election campaign that he was serious about it and he would go forward in it. It took some time for that message to sink in in Lebanon.
We have been pressing the Lebanese army to prepare for this eventuality. They, for their own internal political reasons, and for the reasons of their relationship with Syria -- which you know very well about -- had had doubts about this, about moving the army in in full measure. We think those doubts have been resolved now, and we expect that they will fill that vacuum.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Well, it's -- why so late, though? I mean, isn't this going to be much more difficult to do at this point in time rather than earlier, right after the Israelis pull out?
MR. WALKER: No question about it, Mr. Chairman. Our preference would have been to have contact redeployment in effect, with the UNIFIL actively engaged as well. But the process came a bit earlier than was expected of the actual withdrawal. It was not announced in advance precisely. We knew that it would take place before July 7th, but we didn't know precisely when. Contract withdrawal was not possible. I think that the situation in the south, however, still lends itself to full Lebanese government control and authority in the south, and that's our objective.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Will the United States government stop sales of military equipment to the Lebanese armed forces if they don't fully deploy and secure the south?
MR. WALKER: Mr. Chairman, I'm not sure of precisely what's in the works on the arms side of assistance with the Lebanese. We have a program of economic support. I do know that the Lebanese army has improved immensely in the last three to five years in its ability to enforce its authority in the region. And assuming that we're able to encourage the army to move south, and to the extent that the internal security forces are able to provide the security, I hope, and our expectation is that this issue won't arise.
But I would stress that it's not just a question of the army. There are Lebanese security forces which have the precise mission of providing internal security in Lebanon. Those forces are also important in providing for government authority, as well as the movement -- and almost as important is the movement of the various ministries to the south, and the various authorities of Lebanon to the south to provide the services that the Lebanese people should have the right to expect.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Oh, I'd agree they'd have the right to expect it. I think there's going to be a real difference between us, you know, talking and saying, "Look, you guys ought to be doing this. Lebanese armed forces should be securing the south" and us saying, "If you don't take these steps aggressively, we're going to have to take steps to press this issue with you."
MR. WALKER: No question, Mr. Chairman, we will press the issue. But at this point, we have no reason to believe that the Lebanese government will not fill the vacuum in the south.
SEN. BROWNBACK: I would look at it from the other side, and I don't have much confidence that they will, given that the Hezbollah has taken the position in the south. I mean, it seems like that they missed their grand opportunity to do the right thing, and what should make me believe that now they will back up and do it when it's more difficult?
MR. WALKER: Mr. Chairman, let me make very clear you and I have the same concern. We think it's a very dangerous position to have the Hezbollah cheek by jowl against the border with the Israelis. We think it's very important that the Hezbollah not be in such a position, now or in the future. And our efforts will be to engage the Lebanese government in changing that situation and ultimately in disarming all the factions that are in the area that can -- that act as an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty and on the government's authority in the region. Those are our objectives, and we share your deep, deep concern in this matter.
SEN. BROWNBACK: I would hope as well that if Hezbollah strikes across the border at the Israelis, that the administration -- as I've stated on the floor, if -- that Israel should be -= - should see fit to respond as it needs to protect its sovereignty and to protect its security, I would hope the administration would have a similar position.
MR. WALKER: The administration has the precise, exact position, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Very good.
Well, I'm just -- I'm concerned that this has not developed on forward the way that either of us would have hoped. And I'm -- I think you need to put stronger messages with your words, saying that these actions, these consequences, will follow if the Lebanese armed forces do not deploy in the region, because they're going to have difficulty internally dealing with Hezbollah, a great deal of difficulty. And without pressure from us, from outside, of real consequences, I don't know what truly causes them, then, to act to overcome those significant domestic pressures that they're going to have and significant pressures from the Syrians that they have.I'm curious to know, turning to the events of the day, with -- and the future Syria, the administration's position of whether they support the ascendency of the second dictatorship of Assad into Syria, what the administration's view would be there.
MR. WALKER: We -- Mr. Chairman, we're not going to take a position on who should run Syria; that's up to the Syrian people to pursue. However, I can assure you that we do take a position on the policies of Syria and whether they are constructive or not constructive. And it is our hope that a new leadership in Syria would recognize that terrorism is not in Syria's long-term interest, that its closed economy is not in Syrian's long-term interest, and that the peace process is in Syria's long-term interest. And those, in addition to the questions of human rights, would be the issues that we would have on the forefront of our discussions with the new leadership, once it comes into authority.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Are those being -- when will those communications take place? I would presume after some period of time here or --
MR. WALKER: Well, there will be a constitutional -- the constitution, as you know, was amended in Syria to lower the age of the leadership to 34.
SEN. BROWNBACK: I noted to you earlier they did that with quite dispatch.
MR. WALKER: Yes, I understand that. That's very efficient, Mr. Chairman. I think I prefer our system, though.
SEN. BROWNBACK: I -- well, I think I do, too. It has a few more safeguards --
MR. WALKER: A few!
SEN. BROWNBACK: -- and less personal-driven.
MR. WALKER: But I understand that the parliament will be meeting on July 25th, and at that time they would be in a position to nominate a new president, but there would then be a referendum among the people to give authority to that decision and that, at that point, the new leader, whomever that might be -- I think we have a pretty good suspicion -- would take over. And at that point we would be in a position to engage in a dialogue, with a principal emphasis on the subjects I mentioned.
SEN. BROWNBACK: And what will the administration be stating to the new leadership in Syria about Lebanon? What will be your specific items --
MR. WALKER: Our positions --
SEN. BROWNBACK: And how would you intend to press this with the Syrians? What leverage would you intend to use with the Syrians?
MR. WALKER: Well, our position has been staked out for a long time on this question, and it goes quite far back in history. We call for the strict respect of th= e sovereignty, the territorial integrity, the unity, the political independence, of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the government of Lebanon, and we continue to press for that resolution for the problem of Lebanon.
We would urge the Syrians to respect that call, a call that, I might add, was agreed to in the Taif accords, which were put into effect and have never been completely applied to the situation in Lebanon. And obviously, it was a complicating factor during the period when the Israeli occupation took place of southern elements of Lebanon. That is no longer an impediment, so we would like to see the Taif accords pursued and fulfilled in all of their aspects.
SEN. BROWNBACK: What leverage will you use against the Syrians to try to implement them pulling out and not supporting Hezbollah within Lebanon?
MR. WALKER: Mr. Chairman, there is two forms of leverage; one is positive, one is negative. We will -- we have already negative leverage in force with sanctions. We have options of increasing those sanctions, if necessary. But we like to hope that there will be a change in the attitude and approach of the leadership of Syria towards issues such as terrorism, particularly, and that they will engage constructively in the peace process, recognizing they have national interests, and that, indeed, there will be a modification in the attitude towards Lebanon.
Now, it is also a Lebanon issue, or the question of Lebanon -- the Syrian forces. They have 30,000 troops in the Bekaa and scattered around in a few other places -- the Syrians. The Lebanese, up till now, the government has said it's not timely for these troops to leave, because of the internal security situation. With the Israeli departure, we expect that the situation will be more conducive to the departure of those troops; that the Lebanese government will be able to exert its authority in the south and will control more of its own country, and this should give it the authority and the capability to move forward with a request to the Syrian forces to leave.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Is -- Secretary, you know, as you look at the overall situation -- and for years there has been a huge, if you consider it that way, a logjam in Lebanon with the pieces stuck in place. And the Israelis pulled out in quite a strong move, that they take -- place new leadership in Syria, that there would certainly appear to be a moment here that things could radically change for the better.
It might not. But it would seem to be that this would be one of those moments where you would apply the maximum leverage that you can, both positive and negative, to press this on through, to change the dynamic that's occurring, that's been in place in Lebanon for some period of time and that this would not be a moment to be timid about: We are going to use this sort of leverage or that sort of force.
MR. WALKER: Well, Mr. Chairman, I agree with you on this. I think there are opportunities, serious opportunities, for some change, both in the nature of the approach that Syria's taken towards the world and towards its own internal problems, and towards the question of the security and stability and independence of Lebanon. I might point out that, for example, that the Syrian economy is in desperate need of change. That change will depend on an opening to the outside world. That opening will depend on Syria adopting a different attitude towards questions such as terrorism.
At this point, the Syrian per capita gross national product is about $900 per capita. In Lebanon, it's $4,000 per capita. There is a desperate need for change. We can help in that change. We can be a positive contribution, but it's going to depend on other elements of the Syrian behavior. So as I say, there are both positive and negative levers that are available.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Has Israel requested any increased military assistance from the U.S. to compensate for the loss of its buffer zone in Lebanon?
MR. WALKER: Within the existing foreign military funds that have been available to Israel, we have designated $50 million assist them in removing and changing some of the locations. This is within existing FMF funds. No additional funds have been requested.
What they have requested is that there be a Corps of Engineers contract, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contract, left for the $50 million. The Corps will then submit or put contracts out for bid. Both Israeli and American companies will be eligible to bid on those contracts, and that would be an element of assistance to the Israelis. But there is no additional money.
SEN. BROWNBACK: This in a speculation that, if Syria were to offer an agreement that would solidify Syrian control over Lebanon in return for some sort of peace with Israel, what would the administration's position be? Would they oppose this?
MR. WALKER: Mr. Chairman, we actually think the opposite is the case. We believe that, in the situation of peace agreements between Syria and Israel and Lebanon and Israel, there is the real opportunity for obtaining the full territorial independence and integrity of Lebanon. We see that as part of the solution, not part of the problem. But our position is very clear: We are not in the business of selling Lebanese sovereignty to anybody for any purpose.
SEN. BROWNBACK: So the administration would oppose an --
MR. WALKER: Absolutely.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Thank you.
Thank you very much, Secretary Walker, for a timely presentation, discussion, and responding to my questions. A lot of people use a technique of: "Well, okay. I'll answer your question over a three- or four-minute time period" -- so the questioning doesn't go very fast. I appreciate your willingness to respond directly and=20 quickly.
I hope you will press this, as you stated here, with all speed and ability and all leverage that you have, because it does strike me as a real moment that we have to really change the dynamic.
Best to you. Godspeed.
MR. WALKER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your comments.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Thank you.