« ÎnapoiContinuați »
The restriction on the use of the U.S. passport and a strong travel warning began in the 1980's as a result of our continuing concerns about the security threat to American citizens. The restriction was extended annually until January 1994. Since then, it has been extended for periods of 6 months in order to review the security situation on a more frequent basis. The restriction will expire on July 31, and Secretary Albright will review the restriction prior to that date.
Regulations also allow for circumstances in which the State Department may grant an exception to the passport restrictions. The State Department, through the Consular Affairs Bureau, adjudicates such Lebanon validation requests on a case-by-case basis and on an expedited basis for emergency travel. In 1996, we responded to a request from Senator Spencer Abraham and other Members of Congress to then Secretary Christopher for a modification of the humanitarian passport validation category by expanding the definition of the family allowed to travel under that category. As a result, more Americans have received validations for travel to Lebanon for family reunification and family emergencies.
Other restrictions have long been in place on the purchase of airline tickets with itineraries including Lebanon, the use of Beirut International Airport, BIA, by U.S. carriers and U.S.-registered aircraft, landing rights in the United States by Lebanon's flag carrier Middle East Airlines, and some restrictions on air cargo originating in Lebanon.
In 1995, the United States eased ticketing restrictions to allow the purchase of airline tickets in the United States for non-Americans and Americans with properly validated passports. These groups were previously forced to buy their tickets in third countries. These instances demonstrate that we are prepared to make changes in our restrictions and relax aspects of them as conditions warrant.
While the United States has no trade sanctions against Lebanon and no special export license requirements apply, we are aware that the restrictions make it harder for U.S. commercial interests to compete for business in Lebanon. But a growing number of U.S. companies do successfully conduct business in Lebanon, usually through partnership arrangements.
Our embassy commercial section and our ambassador also make every effort to be of assistance. We are advocating forcefully on behalf of U.S. business on several major projects. Our colleagues at the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, the Eximbank and other agencies are actively supporting U.S. business efforts in Lebanon.
The United States remains one of the major exporters of products into Lebanon. Much remains to be done to restore Lebanon's infrastructure and fully revive its economy. We are pleased that the government is beginning to focus on reconstruction and rehabilitation outside the Beirut area. On the other hand, we are troubled by recent legislation restricting the import of agricultural and other products.
We look forward to the day when the security situation in Lebanon will have improved to the point that all travel restrictions can be lifted. More importantly, we look forward to the day when Lebanon, at peace with her neighbors and free of all foreign forces, resumes her traditional place in the Middle East.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have, and also Mr. McKune will be here to help on any of the terrorism-related issues. Thank you very much.
Chairman GILMAN. Thank you, Mr. Welch.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Welch and Mr. McKune appears in the appendix.]
Chairman GILMAN. Mr. McKune, did you want to add anything at this point?
Mr. McKUNE. No, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
Chairman GILMAN. Mr. Welch, many Americans are deeply concerned about Syrian involvement in Lebanon. In October 1995, Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad announced President Harawi's term in office would be extended for 3 years. Eight days later, the Lebanese Parliament passed a constitutional amendment to permit the extension, and President Harawi was sworn in for an extended term the following month.
Although the State Department frequently states it supports Lebanon's independence and territorial integrity, it doesn't appear to be making any attempt to address the basic issue of Syrian occupation. Can you tell us what the State Department is doing about Syria's occupation of Lebanon?
Mr. WELCH. The first element of our policy is the one I described at the outset of my remarks, and that is support for the Government of Lebanon in its efforts to reconstruct its country, build a better future for its people.
In terms of the Syrian presence in Lebanon, the Government of Lebanon has informed us that, in its view, Syrian troop withdrawal would be premature. It considers the presence of Syrian forces necessary to its internal stability and security.
Our position on this is clear. We are committed to Lebanon's independence, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and to a Lebanon free of any foreign forces. We believe that that can be addressed in a couple of manners, through the peace process and through the fulfillment of the so-called Taif Accord and that through these vehicles, Lebanon can achieve that future.
Chairman GILMAN. But what are we actually doing to bring about the implementation of Taif, for example, or to bring about an actual withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon? What, essentially, is our government doing in that direction?
Mr. WELCH. Well, you know the answer to that on the peace process, Mr. Chairman. We are trying to pursue the Palestinian track as the first priority, but we are exploring with the governments involved what other basis there might exist to resume the other tracks as well.
On Taif, that is, in the first order, a Government of Lebanon responsibility. Our views on the presence of foreign forces there are as I expressed them. We think that Lebanon should be free of all foreign forces. But it is the Government of Lebanon's judgment that they have the Syrian forces there, for now, for the purposes of their own internal stability.
Chairman GILMAN. You know, you have stated principles, but you still haven't told us what actual steps we are taking to try to find a way to bring about the independence of Lebanon. You mention all these principles and the agreements. What are we doing in trying to implement some of that?
Mr. WELCH. Well, I think we consider Lebanon to be independent now, Mr. Chairman. It has an agreement with Syria on their relationship, and it is up to them to modify that were they to seek our assistance in doing so, we would lend our hand. They have indicated their priorities are otherwise for now.
Chairman ĜILMAN. Do you consider Lebanon to be an independent government right now?
Mr. WELCH. Yes.
Chairman GILMAN. Strange. Some of us question whether it truly is an independent, free country with all of the Syrian troops surrounding and taking part in having Syrian officials in Lebanon.
In 1989, Lebanese political leaders sought the agreement at Taif to end Lebanon's civil war and undertake political reforms. Does the Accord ultimately call for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanese territory or does it only call for redeployment of those forces to positions in the eastern part of Lebanon closer to the Syrian border?
Mr. WELCH. My recollection of the Accord-and I must say I don't have it here in front of me—is that there were some stage redeployments called for in parts of it and that the eventual redeployment out of Lebanon was a matter to be negotiated.
Chairman GILMAN. Your assistant, I think, might be able to supply you with the actual Accord language. It seemed to me that they called for a redeployment rather than a withdrawal. Is that correct?
Mr. WELCH. Yes, that is correct. There were redeployments within Lebanon specified in the Accord, and then the eventual withdrawal from Lebanon of the Syrian forces present there was to be negotiated at a further stage.
Chairman GILMAN. Is Syria in violation of the Taif Accords based upon those agreements?
Mr. WELCH. I am not here to judge agreements between Lebanon and Syria. You would have to ask the Government of Lebanon whether they consider them to be in violation.
We consider that this
Chairman GILMAN. Somewhat. But has it redeployed pursuant to the Taif Accords?
Mr. WELCH. No, it has not completed that further stage of redeployment.
Chairman GILMAN. Then Syria is in violation of the Taif Accord, isn't that correct?
Mr. WELCH. I would describe it that some aspects of the Accord are unfulfilled so far and that redeployment from Lebanon to Syria has not been completed; nor has it been negotiated.
Chairman GILMAN. Únfulfilled. Does unfulfilled mean a violation?
Mr. WELCH. Well, what it means for us in terms of our judgment as to whether this thing will be implemented is that there are parts of it that have yet to be done. So it is a less than complete result.
Chairman GILMAN. Wasn't the Taif Accord signed in 1989?
Chairman GILMAN. It would seem to me that all that time-almost 8 years has passed, and they would have had time to complete an implementation of the Taif Accord.
Let me ask you another question. Last week, the Israeli press reported that Israel had approached the Government of France for assistance in brokering an agreement with Lebanon that would enable Israeli forces to leave the security zone in southern Lebanon. Can you tell us what your assessment is of that report and is that report correct?
Mr. WELCH. I know of no Israeli Government proposal in that regard. Chairman GILMAN. You haven't seen those
press reports? Mr. WELCH. I would expect if the Israeli Government has a proposal on something like that it would communicate it directly to us. Chairman GILMAN. And you haven't read those reports at all? Mr. WELCH. I have not seen that particular one, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman GILMAN. Does our Nation look favorably upon other nations' involvements in the details of the peace process?
Mr. WELCH. Well, yes. I mean, there are several parties who have demonstrated an interest in various aspects of it. There are quite a few nations that are involved in one way or another in support of the peace process, in supporting the actual negotiations themselves, for example, in the multilateral track of the peace process, in supporting the peace process through assistance. We seek and respect the involvement of some outside parties in that. I think the greater the international support for an effort to bring peace in that area, the better.
Chairman GILMAN. In the State Department's most recent annual report on patterns of global terrorism, the Administration states that Syria permits a resupply of arms for rejectionist groups operating in Lebanon by way of Damascus. However, the report doesn't state that Hizbollah receives arms from its patron Iran through Damascus. Can you tell us why the report explicitly omits this Syrian support for Hizbollah, Mr. McKune?
Mr. McKUNE. Mr. Chairman, I believe it is an accurate statement, that you just made; and I don't think there is any reason not to have it in the report. We could put it in the report next year.
Chairman GILMAN. I would hope that it would be accurate. Is the Administration trying to work Syria off the terrorism list by this omission?
Mr. McKUNE. No, sir.
Chairman GILMAN. We would hope that in the future it would be a more accurate recitation of what is actually happening with the arms.
I have this statement—you perhaps have seen it—that appeared in the Human Rights Watch in August 1995 from a Lebanese law
yer. I am quoting now. I just want to get your reaction to the statement: "No one in Lebanon will talk about the reality. Our government is not a government. Syrian intelligence forces are controlling this country. We are moving toward a police state here in Lebanon. There are masters and servants. Lebanese Government officials are the servants of Syria.”
Is that an accurate statement?
We have some concerns about various aspects of the government's behavior. But that statement is too sweeping, in my view, and ignores many positive aspects of the performance of the Gov. ernment of Lebanon. I would not sign on to it.
Mr. HAMILTON. What are the positive points? Let's talk about those a little bit.
Mr. WELCH. Well, I think, as I said in the prepared remarks, Mr. Hamilton, we are entering the latter part of this decade having witnessed a Lebanon that is basically free of the civil war that it went through for a decade and a half. That is a substantial achievement for the Lebanese people. Gradually, they are restoring their own authority and control over the country. That process isn't as quick or as complete as we would like, but it is occurring.
Mr. HAMILTON. Is Lebanon today more of a Syrian-client State than at any time in the past?
Mr. WELCH. I would argue that it is not.
Mr. WELCH. Yes, and I would argue furthermore, Mr. Hamilton
Mr. HAMILTON. So you see a situation where the trends are positive and that the Lebanese Government is slowly extending its sovereignty.
Mr. WELCH. Yes, sir.
I think, in addition, that the more we support the Lebanese people in this effort the more likely that that pace will be increased.
Mr. HAMILTON. You know, you described our policy in Lebanon as being in support of freedom and territorial integrity and sovereignty and independence. I think I recall those same words being used 30 years ago. I mean, I just wonder how realistic they are. Those words have become kind of a formula that our diplomats automatically cite when they talk about our policy in Lebanon.
Mr. WELCH. Well, they are in favor
Mr. HAMILTON. It is not really a policy. They are kind of an expression of hope, aren't they?
Mr. WELCH. Yes, but one, I think, that most Lebanese would subscribe to; one that, while it was the case that no reasonable person would say that those conditions obtained during the years of the civil war in the late 1970's and throughout the 1980's, I think increasingly they are not only an aspiration, they are a growing reality.
And all American policies deal in terms of goals. We are trying to support a movement toward those goals.