Good morning and Ramadan Kareem. I came to Lebanon at the request of Secretary Blinken to underscore the Biden Administration’s continued commitment to the Lebanese people and our shared desire for stability and prosperity in Lebanon.
Over the past three days, I have met with many Lebanese leaders to discuss the prolonged political gridlock and deteriorating economic conditions here.
The Lebanese people are clearly suffering. They’re suffering because Lebanese leaders have failed to meet their responsibility to put the country’s interests first and to address the mounting socio-economic problems. People have lost their life savings, can no longer access basic health care, and struggle to feed their families.
I visited Lebanon in December 2019 and again in August 2020. I heard then an unmistakable call for change from Lebanese from all backgrounds. These demands are universal: for transparency, accountability, and an end to the endemic corruption and mismanagement that have caused such hardship. If these demands had been met, Lebanon would be on the road to fulfilling its tremendous potential. Yet today, there has been very little progress. But it’s not too late.
We have long called for Lebanon’s leaders to show sufficient flexibility to form a government that is willing and capable of reversing the collapse under way. The time to build a government, not block it, is now. The time to build a government is now. The time for comprehensive reform is now. And America and the international community are ready to help. But we can’t help, as I said yesterday, without a Lebanese partner.
Those who continue to obstruct progress on the reform agenda jeopardize their relationship with the United States and our partners and open themselves up to punitive actions. Those who facilitate progress can be assured of our strong support.
Hizballah’s accumulation of dangerous weapons, smuggling, and other illicit and corrupt activities undermine legitimate state institutions. They rob the Lebanese of the ability to build a peaceful and prosperous country. And it’s Iran that is fueling and financing this challenge to the state and this distortion of Lebanese political life.
This brings me to America’s renewed negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. A mutual return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal is in our interest and in the interest of regional stability, but it would only be the beginning of our work. As we address the other elements of Iran’s destabilizing behavior, America will not abandon our interests and our friends here in Lebanon.
Finally, I’d like to reiterate, as I did today, that America stands ready to facilitate negotiations on the maritime boundary between Lebanon and Israel on the basis on which we initiated these discussions. These negotiations have potential to unlock significant economic benefits for Lebanon. And this is all the more critical against the backdrop of the severe economic crisis the country is facing. As needed, international experts can be brought in to help inform all of us.
Thank you again for your time this morning.