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The impact that such a ban has on Americans is enormous. It is estimated that as many as one million Lebanese-Americans live in the U.S. today. We must not continue a travel ban that hurts not only our citizens, but also the citizens of Lebanon. The ties between our two countries are too strong, and too many, to justify the State Department's travel ban.
Lebanon is, and has been a good ally of the United States. Historically, Lebanon has been a free, democratic and independent country, and banning travel there is not the proper way to treat an ally. By lifting the ban on travel, we can take a positive first step toward helping the Lebanese rebuild their lives and their country. At the very least, a business travel waiver should be available so that American businesses can travel to Lebanon to conduct business deals and engage in investment and development. The U.S. Department of Commerce has proposed the implementation of a business travel waiver, and adoption of this waiver would be of great benefit to both Lebanon and the United
Therefore, I urge President Clinton and Secretary Albright to consider the severe impact that the travel ban has on the people of our country and of Lebanon. Mr. Chairman, the time has come to lift the travel ban, and it is my hope that this hearing today will help move this issue to the forefront so that we can achieve this goal.
HONORABLE NICK J. RAHALL, II
JUNE 25, 1997
I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to appear with the Committee today. I commend Chairman Gilman for calling a hearing on the issues which continue to affect the land of my grandfathers.
I have traveled in and around Beirut many times during my 21 years in Congress, and twice since the end of the war in Lebanon.
Just this past April and, prior to that, in November of 1996, I met with nearly all religious leaders as well as the President of Lebanon, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, the Foreign Minister, and the Commander of the Lebanese Army. In addition, we met with the heads of the agencies overseeing reconstruction of the infrastructure in Beirut's Central District, and with U.S. Embassy personnel, numerous business leaders, lawyers families and friends.
In my view, Lebanon is greatly deserving of a STRONG commitment from the Clinton Administration concerning its future peace, security and economic development, and I have so discussed it personally with President Clinton.
As I have stated, I have been in Lebanon numerous times -- during and after its 17 years of war. All personal observations I have made and assurances that have been made to me by colleagues who also have visited Lebanon indicate that it is safe for Americans to travel there. My son traveled to Lebanon with me in August of 1995, whose life and safety I treasure above all else, and I had no fear for his safety. And my mother will be traveling there with friends and family at the end of this summer. I am confident of their safety in doing so.
All the airline carriers serving Lebanon are booked daily. Roughly 46,000 Americans traveled to Lebanon in 1995-96, and there was no incidence of violence toward any one of them. American friends tell me how exciting their travel to one of the most historical tourism centers of the world, Lebanon, was. The only group missing out are American companies due to an outdated policy of banning travel by Americans using U.S. Passports - a holdover since the days of hostage taking -- imposed upon American travelers more than a decade ago.
Mr. Chairman, in 1985, the travel ban was necessary because of hostage taking. That is no longer true today.
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For example, Lebanon's national air carrier, Middle East Airlines (MEA), whose entire fleet has been Boeing since 1960, is in the market to purchase ten new aircraft with a 225 to 250 passenger configuration. Officials regard Boeing quality as excellent and MEA personnel are already trained on Boeing aircraft. Ordinarily, Boeing would have the inside track to make the sale to MEA, but it is more likely that Airbus, a French-British-German-Spanish consortium will get the contract.
As noted in a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, increasing resentment of U.S. Policy may dissuade Middle East Airlines from ordering ten new aircraft from Boeing, believed to be valued at more than a billion dollars.
I have in my office pages upon pages of documentation showing numerous multi-million dollar contracts which have gone to the French, Italian, German, South Korean, Finnish, Swedish and other competitive countries due to the travel ban.
As I have done so many times in the past, I again call for the lifting of the travel ban, and its replacement with a Travel Advisory.
Failing that, I call upon the State Department to put in place a Business Waiver that would permit American companies to send representatives to Lebanon to bid on these multi-million dollar contracts. Lebanon has announced its reconstruction plans, with a public investment of $18 billion to rebuild the country's infrastructure, and another $42 billion pledged from private investors.
We may continue to have some concern once a travel advisory or business waiver is put in place of the ban, but such concern should not be more so than we have in many other countries where there never has been, a U.S. Travel Ban.
In my opinion, if we do have safety concerns, our ability to gain leverage with Lebanon to get them to address any remaining security problems will be strengthened, not weakened, if Americans are allowed to go there.
Mr. Chairman, it is a slap in the face of Lebanon, our known ally and friend, with whom we have diplomatic ties, to find itself placed in the same category as such countries as Lybia and Iraq where the U.S. has also imposed Travel Bans and with whom we have no diplomatic ties.
Lastly, but most importantly, I strongly urge the U.S. to intervene in order to move the peace process forward once again. As we all know, this is at the top of the agenda for all leaders in the Middle East and, if Lebanon's future is to be decided during those talks, starting them up again is a step absolutely necessary toward guaranteeing the safety and territorial integrity of Lebanon.
The United States must move beyond being a witness to the signing of peace accords to being a guarantor of such agreement between Lebanon and Israel, whether it comes through a resumption of the Peace Talks, or whether the United States negotiates directly with Lebanon's government to resolve outstanding concerns.
In that context, Mr. Chairman, I have a Resolution pending before your Committee with the goal of stopping the use of Lebanon as the preferred battleground for its neighbors. My Resolution calls upon the U.S. Government -upon the President and Secretary of State -- to negotiate directly with the Lebanese Government in its efforts to bring back Lebanon's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. In my view, the United States need not rely exclusively upon a comprehensive peace in the region in order to remove all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanon.
I call upon both Israel and Syria to remove themselves from Lebanese soil - and demand that all non-Lebanese militia be removed immediately. If that happens, Lebanon has the political will and the military capability to guarantee security along its borders for itself and its neighbors.
The United States commends Lebanon for having held its recent elections, and for its determination to hold municipal elections for the first time since 1963. And in that context, my resolution calls upon Lebanon to respect freedom of the press, human rights, Judicial due process, political freedoms, the right of association and freedom of assembly.
Thank you Mr. Chairman for allowing me this opportunity to speak about my three major concerns regarding U.S. policy toward Lebanon. I hope that by the end of July 1997 the Travel Ban will have been lifted, that the U.S. government will make all efforts to remove armed non-Lebanese militia from the south and north of Lebanon, and that the U.S. Government will, whether the comprehensive peace talks are resumed or not, determine to negotiate directly with the Lebanese Government on its future unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.