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effectively become a Syrian satellite State. Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad admitted as much earlier this year on U.S. television when he described Lebanon as an extension of Syrian territory.
This Syrian influence has prevented Lebanon from developing direct contacts with Israel and from participating in the multilateral track of the Middle East peace process. Syrian dominance has also been associated with the deterioration in Lebanon's human rights record.
This morning, our Committee will be hearing from our witnesses as to the nature and the consequences of Syria's continuing hegemony in Lebanon and how our Nation should respond. The key question before us is, what should U.S. policy be toward a country that is basically friendly to us and with which we have had long-standing cultural ties but, at the same time, is dominated by a larger neighbor with whom the United States has serious foreign policy differences?
This dilemma is especially important with regard to our approach to the Middle East peace process where, all too often, Lebanon's interests appear to be subsumed under the larger negotiating strategy of Syria.
We will also discuss the U.S. response to Lebanon's role as a safe haven for international terrorists. Both Hizbollah and the Kurdish workers party operate in Lebanon in areas under Syrian control.
This link to international terrorism surfaced again last week when our Nation indicted a Saudi Arabian national, Hani Abdel Rahim Al-Sayegh for his role in the June 1996 truck bombing of a U.S. military compound in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 Ŭ.S. service people. Al-Sayegh reportedly belonged to a group in Saudi Arabia that was associated with Lebanon's Hizbollah.
We will also review the State Department's policy prohibiting travel by American citizens to Lebanon. This travel ban was instituted in 1987 after terrorist groups took several American citizens hostage during the civil war.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is scheduled to decide by July 31 whether to lift that travel ban or renew it for another 6 months. Our Committee would be interested in the views of our witnesses on whether Lebanon is now safe enough for the travel of American tourists and businesspeople.
Finally, I will be interested in hearing views on recent developments in Lebanon's economic reconstruction program. We applaud the Administration for hosting the Friends of Lebanon conference in Washington late last year in order to solicit pledges from 30 countries and financial institutions to finance reconstruction plans, and we would like to explore with the Administration our Nation's followup to that conference.
So now I would like to ask if any of our colleagues would have some opening statements, and I yield to our Ranking Minority Member, Mr. Hamilton.
Mr. HAMILTON. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding the hearings. I think this is a very timely hearing.
I want to say to our friends from the State Department that you folks have really kept me confused as to whether you were going to show up this morning. Friday, we heard from you straight out that you would not be here. Didn't hear anything Monday and Tuesday, and I didn't know you were going to be here until I walked in the door a moment ago.
What is going on anyway? I mean, why the reluctance to let us know even whether or not you were going to appear?
Mr. WELCH. Mr. Hamilton, I am the lead witness for the State Department. We had some discussions with staff last week about our availability. I had some travel planned for this week. The Secretary of State changed that for reasons that are not related to this hearing, and I was therefore able to be here. This was communicated to the Committee some days ago. I am not sure exactly when.
Mr. HAMILTON. Well, I understand you have other matters, but it is helpful to me and to the staff if you let us know whether you are going to be here. For me not to be informed until this morning that you were going to be here, it looks to me like it is a little late.
Mr. WELCH. To the extent that I am responsible for that, I am sorry about that lapse.
Mr. HAMILTON. Are you responsible?
Mr. WELCH. I am not sure how this failure in communication occurred, to be honest.
Mr. HAMILTON. OK.
Well, Mr. Chairman, we are glad to have the hearing. We welcome our witnesses here, and we welcome Mr. Rahall and Mr. LaHood here to help us out this morning.
Chairman GILMAN. Thank you, Mr. Hamilton.
I want to extend a welcome to Mr. LaHood of Illinois and Mr. Rahall of West Virginia, two of our experts on Lebanon problems. They have been watching it very closely.
I welcome our panelists this morning, Mr. McKune and Mr. Welch.
Our first witness is David Welch, who is the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; and Kenneth McKune, who is the Associate Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
Mr. Welch is a career Foreign Service officer and has had several assignments in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, including posts in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Pakistan.
Mr. Welch was a member of the National Security Council staff at the White House from 1989 to 1991. More recently, he has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia from 1992 to 1995; and during that time served 2 years as chargé in the absence of an ambassador.
Mr. McKune is also a career Foreign Service officer who assumed his responsibilities in the Office of Counterterrorism in 1995. During his Foreign Service career, Mr. McKune served as a counselor for political affairs at the embassy in Riyadh, also, from 1992 to 1995. Mr. McKune has served in U.S. embassies in Lebanon, in Egypt, in Israel, in Kuwait. He is a veteran of both the Peace Corps, where he served in Morocco from 1970 to 1972; and of the U.S. Army, where he served in Vietnam in the late 1960's.
We are especially pleased to have such qualified representatives of the State Department this morning. We look forward to your testimony.
Chairman GILMAN. I understand, Mr. Welch, that you will make an opening statement on behalf of yourself and Mr. McKune and that both of you are available to answer questions. You may give your statement in full or summarize, whichever you feel appropriate. Please.
TATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE DAVID WELCH, ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR NEAR EASTERN AF. FAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Mr. WELCH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am glad to join you today. We are pleased to have this opportunity to talk to the Committee about Lebanon.
I would like to present my statement in full, because this is an excellent opportunity to get the Administration's views on record covering the range of issues involving Lebanon; and also since I am doing so jointly on behalf of the counterterrorism folks at the State Department. Šo Ken will not present separate remarks but, of course, will be available to answer questions.
We understand and appreciate the interest of Members of Congress, Lebanese-Americans and others on this issue. Lebanon is a country with historically warm ties to the United States; and, as you pointed out, Mr. Chairman, in your opening remarks, Lebanese-Americans have strengthened and enriched this country and its institutions.
A stable, independent, economically vibrant and democratically governed Lebanon is an important U.S. national interest. U.S. policy toward Lebanon remains firmly committed to its unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Lebanon can achieve these political and economic objectives through reconstruction, national reconciliation, adherence to free markets, participation in the peace process and the fulfillment of the Taif Accord. We believe these steps will make possible the departure of all foreign forces.
The United States continues to work hard to achieve a comprehensive regional peace and to help Lebanon recover from civil war. We are committed to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, and we have continued to urge both sides to be prepared to exploit opportunities for peace. The Lebanese Government has indicated that it looks forward to proceeding as soon as a favorable atmosphere develops. Israel would also like to see negotiations resume to address its concerns about security along its border with Lebanon.
The Israel-Lebanon monitoring group called for by the April 26th understanding brokered by then Secretary Christopher has held numerous meetings since beginning operations in July 1996. The monitoring group has contributed to easing tensions and avoiding civilian casualties in southern Lebanon and northern Israel by affording Lebanon, Syria and Israel a forum that helps avoid escalation and protect civilians.
The United States also organized a meeting of 30 countries and eight international lending institutions in a consultative group called the Friends of Lebanon to assist in Lebanon's reconstruction. The meeting took place last December 16 and was successful in focusing positive international attention on Lebanon. The meeting also generated various kinds of assistance to help keep Lebanon's reconstruction efforts on track.
We encourage Lebanon's continued adherence to democratic principles. In September 1996, Lebanon completed elections in which all 128 members of the Parliament were chosen. The United States encouraged participation by all Lebanese. The elections enjoyed heavy campaigning and a good turnout in most regions. Despite significant flaws, we believe these elections represented a step forward. They underscore the Lebanese people's desire to put the civil war behind them and to focus on strengthening their institutions and on advancing national reconciliation.
On the other hand, Lebanon has not had municipal elections in over 30 years. We urge Lebanon to take the necessary steps to effect free and fair municipal elections in the near future. In 1998, Lebanon's Parliament must elect a new President, and we look forward to seeing a vigorously contested election.
As we have documented in our human rights report, we are concerned about certain steps the government has taken in the area of human rights and civil liberties, especially as regards the implementation of the media law, other media restrictions and the arrests of government opponents after a shooting incident last December. These arrests took place without due process under Lebanese law. We have taken such issues up directly with the government and will continue to do so. We were pleased that all the arrestees were released.
The Lebanese Government has gradually expanded its authority but still does not exercise control over all Lebanese territory. Syria maintains between 25,000 and 30,000 troops, mostly in the Bekaa Valley. Israel maintains approximately 1,000 to 1,200 troops in southern Lebanon and supports another 2,000 allies in the South Lebanese Army.
Hizbollah exercises primary control in parts of Beirut's southern suburbs, areas in the Bekaa Valley, including training camps, and parts of southern Lebanon. That said, there has been a marked improvement in the security situation since the last U.S. hostages were released in 1991, and there have been no terrorist attacks against Americans or other Westerners in over 6 years.
Another important reason for this progress has been the restoration of the Lebanese Armed Forces. At the end of the civil war in 1990, the Lebanese Armed Forces, the LAF, were a small, spent and divided army. Thanks to strong leadership and modest American assistance, the LAF is now a disciplined, multi-confessional force numbering 60,000. The LAF has played a major role in creating a more secure Lebanon and is one of the most respected government institutions in the country. The LAF cooperates closely with the United States and dedicates significant assets to securing our embassy.
The United States is also beginning a small police training program which we hope will also foster the rule of law and increase cooperation on counternarcotics, counterfeiting and other law enforcement issues. We note that while drug labs and transit problems still exist, Lebanon has done much to eradicate drug crops in the Bekaa Valley. Overall, law enforcement cooperation has been good.
The government has limited the activities of many violent individuals and some groups in Lebanon. For example, in 1996, Lebanon extradited to Germany for prosecution a suspect in the April, 1986, Berlin Disco bombing in which two U.S. servicemen were killed. We continue to pursue with the Lebanese the investigation of those responsible for terrorist crimes against Americans in the 1980's.
The Lebanese Government has also taken other steps to combat terrorism and has acceded to nine of the ten international antiterrorism conventions. The tenth is now before Parliament, and we expect approval in the near future.
The government continues to provide personal security to many high-profile Americans visiting Lebanon. In early 1997, Lebanese authorities arrested and are trying five members of the Japanese Red Army who had been resident in the Bekaa. We also note that the Lebanese Government spoke out forcefully against recent threats to Americans in Turkey by a spokesman of the PKK, whose remarks were made in Lebanon and in answer to threats of domestic violence by former Hizbollah Secretary General Subhi Tufayli.
Within the country, Lebanese authorities have also made progress in upgrading airport security measures, but travel to or through Beirut International Airport is not risk free. Most travelers using BIA transit the airport road. That road passes through Hizbollah-controlled areas of southern Beirut and near several Palestinian refugee camps. A new, safer airport road is now under construction, however.
Despite these positive steps, we judge that Lebanon continues to be a dangerous place for Americans. Lebanon remains a safe haven for armed, organized groups with
a demonstrated history of terrorist attacks against Americans. These include Hizbollah, the Abu Nidal organization, the PFLP-GC and other groups.
Chairman GILMAN. Mr. Welch, I regret interrupting your testimony. We are being called to the Floor for a vote, and we have a few minutes left. We will momentarily recess the hearing, and we will come back as soon as the vote is over.
The Committee will stand in recess until our vote is completed.
I had been discussing the security situation in Lebanon, and I would like to resume where I left off, because I know this portion of the testimony, given your introductory remarks, is of interest to you. I will try and be quick.
Despite these positive steps, we judge that Lebanon continues to be a dangerous place for Americans. Lebanon remains a safe haven for armed, organized groups with a demonstrated history of terrorist attacks against Americans. These include Hizbollah, the Abu Nidal organization, the PFLP-GC and other groups.
These groups are not completely restrained by the government and continue to demonstrate a hostility toward the United States and our citizens. They still retain a capability to take actions if they choose. We receive occasional reports of surveillance of Embassy Beirut and its personnel.