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to restore a sense of security and get back to normalcy. We appreciate that, and indeed we want to further that, and we are working with the Lebanese Government in that respect.
But look at Hizbollah; Argentina, 1992. Look at the decision of the German court in April of this year with respect to the Mykonos Restaurant attack in 1992. Three of the four convicted people there were members of Lebanese Hizbollah.
They do retain a terrorist capability, they do train people, and it would be irresponsible of us to ignore this.
Ms. DANNER. My next question would be, aside from lifting the ban, what are the options that the Secretary is considering, such as creating a business waiver category of widening the humanitarian considerations? And let's focus a little bit on that business aspect of it.
I would hope that, at some point in time, the Department of Commerce would come to you all and speak to you all about the fact that we really preclude most American businessmen and I use that in the broad sense of the word—from doing work in Leb
Mr. WELCH. You are right. We do receive letters from American businesses, visits by American businessmen, and importunities from others in the American Government about the effect of our restrictions on travel to Lebanon. I can assure you that this concern has been quite vocally expressed.
Let me repeat what I said earlier. We are not able to parse the recommendation and decision process for you in this hearing. That would, I think, compromise the ability of our boss to make an informed and objective appraisal based on the materials she receives when it is prepared.
So, to some degree, the questions from you and other Members are getting into the mechanics of that process; and if we are trying to answer them in a general way, it is not to be evasive. It is simply to preserve the prerogatives of this decision process.
Ms. DANNER. My last question: Given that the United States mainly relies on local operatives to provide intelligence on Lebanon, how accurate do you think the intelligence we receive is?
Mr. WELCH. Well, I will answer that in a general way since this is a public hearing. We have considerable confidence in our information from our own resources concerning this and other situations.
Ms. DANNER. Let me just close by saying that, gentlemen, I think that if you had to recommend to my constituents in the 6th district of Missouri, 580,000 people, whether or not they should come to Washington, DC, their Nation's capital, you would have to tell them that they were at risk. Wouldn't you?
Mr. WELCH. Well, fortunately
Ms. DANNER. Using the same criteria that you use with regard to Lebanon, you would have to tell my constituents they are at risk based on the fact that a number of them have had robberies, et cetera?
Mr. WELCH. Our jurisdictions begin at our water's edge, not inside it.
Ms. DANNER. Thank you. I think you made my point.
Mr. ROYCE. Yes. I would like to follow up on something Mr. Hamilton said and see if I could get a definition.
The bottom line, as I understand it, is that when Secretary Shultz imposed the travel ban, he used the words, imminent peril. Then, when you were responding, you basically said, it is still a dangerous place in Lebanon.
My question is: Would you still use the words, imminent peril? I believe there are several thousand U.S. citizens living in Lebanon. There are at least 3,000. Some people say there are 30,000.
Do you have any evidence that any of these people have been kidnapped or attacked recently? Again, I would just ask you if you would use the words “imminent peril”?
Mr. McKUNE. I think circumstances have changed. I wouldn't say imminent peril at this time.
Mr. ROYCE. All right. But that was the justification, that was the rationale in imposing the ban, right?
Mr. McKUNE. Well, the circumstances were correct at that time to use
Mr. ROYCE. OK
Mr. McKUNE (continuing). That term. They are not the same today.
Mr. ROYCE. Do we know, in terms of Lebanese with American citizenship that are now living in Lebanon-do we have evidence as to recent attacks or kidnappings in this circumstance?
Mr. McKUNE. We have no information that any of them have been attacked.
Mr. ROYCE. OK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. CLEMENT. It is good to have both of you here. This is a rather interesting hearing.
What I wanted to ask is also concerning the U.S. business interests suffering unnecessarily because they are not able to compete with European and Asian companies bidding for lucrative reconstruction contracts. How serious is that?
Mr. WELCH. Well, through a number of arrangements, U.S. businesses are active in Lebanon. We believe that we could do more there. The security concerns are an impediment, and I dare say American business certainly believes that our travel restrictions are also an impediment to their ability to fully expand operations in Lebanon in the way they might like to do.
We would like to do more in this area. We are supportive by the means that we have available to us today of American businesses' efforts to, as you say, get at some of the reconstruction contracts. This is a fertile area for U.S. exports of goods and technology, and I think encouraging that interaction is both in our interest and in Lebanon's interest.
Mr. CLEMENT. But you have to say with the restrictions now that it makes it very difficult for U.S. interests to do business in Lebanon?
Mr. WELCH. I would agree that the travel restrictions are an im
yes. I think my judgment is derived from what they have told us, that it does concern them.
Mr. CLEMENT. When is the nearest opportunity to lift these bans? When are you going to review it again and make a final determination?
Mr. WELCH. The review process occurs every 6 months. The decision with respect to the passport restriction must be made by the end of July. Otherwise, it lapses.
How it actualizes is kind of a funny arrangement; but, basically, a decision has to be made in the next month.
Mr. CLEMENT. OK. So you could lift the ban next month or earlier?
Mr. WELCH. That is one of the possibilities. It could also, as the Congresswoman said, perhaps be altered in some way.
Mr. CLEMENT. As you know-
Mr. CLEMENT. As you know, we had that debate yesterday on most-favored-nation status for China. One of the arguments made was, you know, if we have more relations with a country, if we have more economic trade opportunities with countries, both countries benefit, and the people benefit through more prosperity and more respect for one another. Do you agree with that statement?
Mr. WELCH. Yes.
Mr. CLEMENT. Therefore, if we did lift the bans, we could do more business and we could have more opportunities for all people to improve their station in life?
Mr. WELCH. Yes, that is correct.
Of course, were there another security incident involving Americans in Lebanon, I think that would also be reversed.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for allowing me to sit in on this hearing, for your leadership on Lebanon; and, also, I want to say a word to Mr. Hamilton for the leadership that he has exhibited on Lebanon also.
I have a statement. I wonder if it could be made a part of the record, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman GILMAN. Without objection.
[The prepared statement of Mr. LaHood appears in the appendix.]
Mr. LaHood. I just want to say that I think, as both of you gentlemen spoke, you stir up so many emotions in people who care deeply about Lebanon, because much of what you say is not believed by the vast majority of people in this room or the vast majority of people that have traveled to Lebanon.
I was in Lebanon 2 years ago at Easter time. I spent 12 days there and I never felt that I was going to be harmed. I traveled all over the country, north to south. I spent a number of days in Beirut. I went to the northern part of the country, where my grandparents came from. I went to the southern part of the country. Never once did I feel that I was in harm's way. I flew into the airport in Beirut.
My daughter was there 2 months ago. She spent 5 days in Lebanon, traveled all over the country almost to the same extent that I did. She came back and said that she was treated with the greatest of respect by the people there.
For people who have flown in and out of the airport and who have traveled around the country of Lebanon, this idea that Lebanon is a dangerous place is nonsense; and it is not believed by the Americans who have traveled there.
What you are doing to the country by keeping this travel restriction on is inhibiting what-for whatever you say, there may be some American businesses who have hooked up with other businesses; the vast majority of American businesses do not go there because you prohibit them from doing that.
I can tell you when the Prime Minister was here and visited with the President of the United States and former Secretary of State Christopher, he had the feeling that you were going to lift the travel restriction, lift the travel ban. Then, as Mr. Christopher left office, he imposed it for another 6 months.
People can't understand why you are doing it. You don't present testimony here today that justifies it. You simply do not. And for anyone who has traveled to Lebanon, it is not justified.
I am speaking from my heart on this, and I am not being critical of you because you have your job to do, and it is a hard job. This travel restriction has been on too long. It needs to be lifted so that Americans can travel there.
Several months ago, there were innocent people killed in a marketplace in Israel. We did not place a travel ban on Israel, and innocent people were killed.
There have been no Americans killed in Lebanon for how many years?
Now, I know there are hard feelings on the part of some people in the State Department as a result of people who have been killed in Lebanon, going back 10 years; and I hope that is not the residual effect of this kind of policy that exists as a result of the travel restriction. But if you talk to any Member of Congress who has traveled to Lebanon—and many have—or any American who has traveled to Lebanon-and many have—they cannot make any sense out of this travel restriction any longer.
It has been on too long: It is not justified, and I hope and pray that Secretary Albright will come to her senses with respect to this restriction. It is wrong, and it is not justified.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. LaHood, for expressing those views. I personally want to say that I am delighted to share the responsibility of this decision with the Members of this Committee and with others in Congress. I think this is a significant and important choice facing us, and I will convey your views directly to the Secretary of State as she makes the decision, in exactly the words that you expressed.
We, too, believe there has been change. We are not arguing that there hasn't been, and I think my testimony is directed at estabAt the same time, we have a responsibility to exercise whatever we can in terms of protection of American citizens; and that is a serious responsibility. We share it together.
I will take your views back and report them directly.
I don't want to beat this travel ban to death, because I think you pretty well know the feelings of the Members of this Committee. You know the feelings of the Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the Hill. Resolutions have been passed in the past. That is all on record. All the Secretary has to do is go to that file and see the bipartisan support for downgrading.
Former Chairman John Dingell wanted me to expressly convey his opposition to the current ban.
But I want to touch quickly on the travel ban and then I want to move to the overall scenario of a comprehensive peace. On just a couple of issues—and I am sure you are probably sitting there, thinking only in your mind, but not saying to us, counter points to facts that our colleagues have traveled there. I have traveled there, yes, many times both during and since the conclusion of the war. I took my son with me in August 1995. You have got security and so, therefore, you feel safe. Well, that is probably true. But I have been there at times without security, without advanced announcements and not been in any danger.
Then you are going to come back and say, you are Lebanese-looking, so they are not going to hurt you. Well, that could be true, too. But, in 1996 alone, 46,000 Americans traveled there, and I am sure not all of them are Lebanese-looking as I am, and they have been traveling there safely.
Then I just want to touch on one point that my colleague, Pat Danner, mentioned about our intelligence operatives. Since they are being paid—I think there is no doubt in anybody's mind they are getting a financial reward for intelligence gathering on our side would it not be in their best financial interest to continue the rumor mill of threats to Americans in order to continue to get paid? So, you know, let's look at it in that light as well.
If you want to comment on any of the above, you are welcome to. I was going to move on now.
Mr. Welch. Mr. Rahall, among the many reasons you suggest for your safety while you were there, I think the minute that you started talking to them that they would change their impression of who you were. That accent comes through pretty strongly.
Mr. RAHALL. It is not because my grandfathers are from southern Lebanon
Ms. DANNER. You mean you recognize West Virginia?
Mr. RAHALL. That's right. It is not because my grandfathers were born in southern Lebanon. It is because I was born in southern West Virginia. That is where my accent is from.
But let me ask you now, in regard to the question that I also raised and is on everybody's mind in this room and in the Lebanese community about the Syrian influence upon the country of Leb