printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Lebanon

FPC Briefing
David Hale
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Colin Kahl, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
April 8, 2009


Date: 04/08/2009 Location: Washington, DC Description: David Hale, Deputy Assistant Sec. of State for NEA and Colin Kahl, Deputy Assistant Sec. of Defense for Middle East Policy Briefing at the Washington FPC on Lebanon State Dept Photo

2:15 P.M. EDT



MODERATOR: I am Haider Karzai with the Foreign Press Center here in Washington. Thank you all for coming. And it’s my distinct honor to introduce our briefers today, our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mr. David Hale and Mr. [Colin Kahl] of U.S. Department of Defense. We’ll begin our session with opening remarks (inaudible) and then we’ll open up to Q&A.

With that (inaudible).

MR. HALE: Should I start?

MODERATOR: Sure.

MR. HALE: Okay. Well, first of all, thank you all very much for joining us to talk about the visit of Defense Minister el Murr, which is one of great importance to us. But before we get into the details of his visit and of our support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, I thought it might be helpful for me from the State Department to talk a little bit about the wider policy context in which this visit occurs.

It occurs in the framework of a very strong U.S. commitment to our objectives in Lebanon, which is support for Lebanese sovereignty, Lebanese independence, Lebanese territorial integrity. We’ve devoted since 2006 over a billion dollars to reaching those goals in U.S. foreign assistance, and that is a reflection of the importance and significance of this effort for us.

And you might ask the question why, why is it important for the United States to reach those goals. The answer, I think is very simple, that a democratic and free Lebanon, a Lebanon that’s prosperous economically and living in security at home, is a country that will be contributing to stability and security in the neighborhood, attributes that unfortunately are in short supply.

We implement this policy not by supporting individual factions or individual people, but by supporting institutions of Lebanon. So whether it’s the presidency or the judiciary or the parliament or the tribunal that’s seeking that justice be done, whether it’s supporting the economy as an institution, or for the reason we’re here today, to support the Lebanese Armed Forces and the security institutions of Lebanon, it’s all about support for the institutions of the Lebanese.

Now, the Lebanese Armed Forces, in our mind, is a very key institution on which to build. All Lebanese, in my experience, cherish the Lebanese army. All Lebanese are impressed by the bravery that’s been shown by the personnel of that army in situations like in Nahr al-Bared. And all Lebanese, I believe, would like to see the Lebanese Armed Forces even more effective and even more present on all the territory of Lebanon today. So would we. We support those goals, and we see it in those terms as well.

Last fall, the Joint Military Commission was held between the United States and Lebanon for the first time, and I participated in those talks. And the Lebanese Armed Forces leadership was very clear in setting forth a couple of goals for the armed forces: implementation of 1701, fighting terrorism, and being sure that the Lebanese people and Lebanese territory were secure. We were impressed by the way they presented those goals. We support those goals. Everything we do for the Lebanese army is a reflection of the needs identified by Lebanese Armed Forces leadership as necessary in order to meet those goals.

So that is the context of what we are doing. We’re also helping Lebanese Armed Forces build from the grassroots up to reverse decades of neglect. And it takes time and effort. It’s a long-term commitment, a long-term commitment we will stick with which we very much value and believe in, and support Michel el Murr -- sorry, support Elias el Murr in that effort as well.

QUESTION: And that was a very important slip of the tongue. (Laughter.)

MR. HALE: Yes, he exercises leadership in reaching those objectives as well. I’ll stop there. Colin, I turn it over to you.

MR. KAHL: A few – probably a few more details. I don’t think I’ve met any of you before, so I’m Colin Kahl. I’m the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East. I work directly for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, and my office covers basically how the Office of the Secretary of Defense defines the Middle East is Egypt through Iran, so that’s kind of my purview.

And I just want to provide a few more kind of specific details about Minister Murr’s visit and our relationship with the Lebanese Armed Forces. I mean, as David said, the U.S. relationship with Lebanon is growing ever stronger, and across the board our policy is to support Lebanese institutions. And as evidenced by Mr. Murr’s visit and the recent visit by the Lebanese Armed Forces Commander General Kahwagi, who is the first ever LAF commander to visit the United States, I think we see this as symbolic of a deep partnership that we have with the Lebanese Armed Forces.

The United States is dedicated to continuing the important effort to strengthen the Lebanese state institutions and support the Lebanese Government’s efforts to extend their authority throughout Lebanon and implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, including the disarmament of militias. And we see supporting the LAF in that context as well.

U.S. military assistance to the Government of Lebanon has been significant and focused on building up the sovereignty of the Lebanese state. In fact, the very definition of a sovereign state is an entity that monopolizes the legitimate use of force within its territory. And specifically, we look to our support to the LAF to counter the influence of terrorist groups and militias. And of the roughly one billion dollars that David made reference to since 2006, $410 million of that has gone in the form of various types of security assistance.

So in support of the Government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces, the United States is scheduled in the coming months to provide a number of important systems that the Lebanese Armed Forces have requested, to include Raven unmanned aerial vehicles to supplement the LAF’s counterterrorist capabilities, close air support assets which we’re providing through an authority called Section 1206 authority which allows us to provide funds in a shorter period of time than is the norm in our budget cycle for pressing counterterrorism concerns. And the United States is also working to facilitate the transfer of 66 U.S.-made M-60 tanks to the Lebanese Armed Forces, and the first installment of that in the form of ten tanks will be arriving shortly.

These tanks and the equipment, I think, reflect the United States’ ongoing commitment to the Lebanese people, and as David, I think, eloquently stated, their goal of a fully sovereign and democratic state.

So I guess kind of with that overview out of the way, we look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: We’ll open it to Q&A and our principals will call upon whoever raises their hand. And please have no follow-up so everyone can get a chance. We’re a little bit short on time.

QUESTION: My name is Assem Kamal from Al Ahram newspaper. You are talking about full implementation of Resolution 1701. Do you know – do you mean that United States will prepare the Lebanese forces army to disarm the Hezbollah by force? And do you ask – will you ask the government to do this action?

MR. HALE: Obviously, there are important parts of Resolution 1701 that are unmet, and we would like to see the Lebanese Armed Forces certainly do everything in its power to build up its own institutional base so that it is the effective body that all Lebanese turn to in order to provide their security, that there will be no need for a militia because it’s going to be clearly evident, as the Lebanese Armed Forces establishes its authority and strengthens its capabilities, that it is the state through the means of the Lebanese army that is providing security for all Lebanese people.

MR. KAHL: I would just add one or two things there. I guess I would phrase it a little differently. We are not asking the Lebanese Armed Forces to do anything. We’re, in fact, working to fulfill their requests for their requirements. So really, actually, we see this as a partnership where we’re not asking them to do anything. We’re meeting – I think we’re meeting their interests and the interests expressed in UN Security Council 1701.

I think really the key here is what the definition of a sovereign state is. A sovereign state is an entity that monopolizes the legitimate use of armed forces. And I think that’s consistent with the spirit and the letter of 1701, and our assistance is given in that vein. I will – also just to echo one thing that David said, I think Hezbollah does tend to use the argument that the Lebanese state cannot defend itself as a justification for maintaining an extragovernmental militia. And we don’t think that argument holds much water, and I think we – our support to the Lebanese Armed Forces helps prove the point even more.

QUESTION: Yes, Joyce Karam with Al Hayat newspaper. Thanks for having us for this briefing. How much of this – your assistance, your support for the Lebanese army will be conditioned on the results of the upcoming election in June 7th? And timing-wise, sending this now – the new assistance before the elections, do you have any concerns of, you know, a new cycle of violence, maybe, or -- I mean, what’s the bigger message on that level?

MR. HALE: Well, you have a couple questions there. I would say, to answer the second part of your question, we do not anticipate any new level of violence. We very much are working hard to make sure that everyone is working toward the path of peace and nonviolence. If you mean within Lebanon, we have a lot of confidence in the Lebanese Armed – in the security arrangements, let me put it that way, because different elements of Lebanese institutions are involved in this. But there are preparations for elections and we think it’s very important that those elections will be held in an atmosphere free of intimidation or any kind of foreign interference.

In terms of the pace of our assistance, we have always sought, as Colin has said, to respond to the needs of the Lebanese Armed Forces, and to do so in a timely fashion, but to also make sure that as we provide this equipment, the Lebanese Armed Forces is ready for it with the kind of training and equipping that’s necessary as the kind of boring backdrop of transfers of weaponry and other things.

So this is a long-term process, this is a long-term partnership, it’s a long-term commitment. And what we are doing is trying to move smartly, move efficiently along the path of helping the armed forces of Lebanon reestablish their capabilities as an institution.

MR. KAHL: Yeah, I speak – I’ve spoken a lot with representatives from the Lebanese security forces, and I don’t think there’s any indication from our side or their side that there’s an expectation of security concerns in the lead-up to the election. So it’s really not done in that spirit either. And it’s certainly not done in any way to try to interfere with the elections. In fact, our policy is that no one should be interfering. No external actors should be interfering with the elections and no internal actors should be using violence in any way to affect the elections.

I will say – you asked a question about whether, you know, our support to the LAF in the future is conditioned upon the results of the elections. And, you know, we don’t know what the elections will turn out, but I will say that we see the Lebanese Armed Forces as the most truly national and professional security forces in the country and we expect them to remain that way after the elections. And so I don’t think we anticipate any change in our commitment to the Lebanese Armed Forces as a – you know, a focal point for our efforts in Lebanon.

QUESTION: Hisham Melham, Al Arabiya in (inaudible) and Beirut. Obviously, the timing, whether you meant it or not, will be interpreted in Beirut, especially the new deliveries. I mean, we’re talking about sending ten new tanks, you know, and 60 tanks before the elections and probably some of these unmanned drones before the elections. I mean, this will be interpreted, obviously, maybe to contribute to the security of the elections. But also, it could be interpreted as supporting the government and the parliamentary majority that stands behind this government. I mean, is this a stretch, David, or --

MR. HALE: Well, you know, I’m not here to analyze what different Lebanese elements will be doing by way of interpretation of what we’re doing together.

QUESTION: But your timing and delivery – you decided delivery timing, I mean, obviously.

MR. HALE: We’ve been talking about and working on the training and equipping of the Lebanese Armed Forces for a while now. And these pieces are coming naturally into place as the opportunities, as the equipment becomes available, as funding becomes available, as the Lebanese Armed Forces’ needs that are identified, you know, as gaps are exposed that need to be filled. And my DOD colleague really can elaborate on that.

But the message is one of support for the institutions of Lebanon and the state of Lebanon and the goals that I mentioned of an independent Lebanon. And we certainly have no shame in seeing that those goals are clearly enunciated and our interests described prior to the elections as well as after the elections. We will have to, I think, also judge or evaluate, I think, the new government in terms of our ability to continue to have the kind of relationship that we have today will depend upon the program of that government. We’re focused on the program of the government. The government supports today’s implementation of 1701, supports an independent and free Lebanon. Those are our goals. And our relationship with the next government will be a product of the position of that government on those issues.

QUESTION: May I?

MR. HALE: Please.

QUESTION: Mounzer Sleiman with Orient News. Mr. Hale, you mentioned that you supplied military equipment as a reflection of the needs decided by the Lebanese leadership. And you emphasized, both of you, Mr. Kahl also, on sovereignty of the state. Sovereignty of state also is being threatened by the violation of airspace, land, and sea by the Israeli forces continues on a daily basis. Would you be willing to supply the Lebanese army with the necessary defense, like air defense equipment and others, to deter the Israelis from violating Lebanese sovereignty, since we’re talking about Lebanese sovereignty and we want to protect the Lebanese sovereignty?

MR. HALE: Well, there are a couple of issues in play there. We certainly want to do everything through our diplomatic efforts to ensure that there is no conflict, that Lebanon and all of our allies, Israel as well, need not live in fear of any kind of security or military acts – security violations or military action. So our primary objective is related to – in connection with your question, is related to diplomacy.

I think that it’s very important to emphasize that everything we’re doing reflects the Lebanese plan. It’s a long-term plan to build the armed forces to achieve the three goals that I mentioned, and I don’t think I’ll elaborate further on that.

Colin, did you have any –

MR. KAHL: I think that what we’ve been providing the Lebanese Armed Forces is completely consistent with what they’ve been asking for, so I would just --

QUESTION: They never asked for air defenses?

MR. KAHL: I mean, we’ve – the Joint Military Commission that David made reference to, which met last year, created a bilateral framework under which a lot of these requests have been flowing in. The latest tranche of requests where I talked about the ten tanks and the Raven UAVs and some of the other things that are coming are really just the latest in a string of armaments and security systems that we provide – have been providing the LAF, and it happens in a dialogue with the LAF based on their needs.

And right now, they’re very focused on maintaining on the counterterrorism challenge that they face in Lebanon, whether it be with Sunni extremists in the north, or other challenges that they face in guaranteeing the country’s territorial integrity. So I think I’ll probably leave it at that.

QUESTION: The Russians, they provide them with airplanes, and they will be willing to accept also air defenses. So what would be your reaction if other suppliers are willing to supply them with the necessary means to protect their sovereignty?

MR. KAHL: Well, I mean, Lebanon is a sovereign country, and with sovereignty they have the right to talk to others. And beyond that, I’d say you might want to bring it up with the Russians when they pass through – (laughter) – and ask them what their policy is.

QUESTION: The Hezbollah leadership said that if they win the majority in the coming elections, they’ll be taking Lebanon in a different direction, specifically against any American – what they describe as American intervention. Do you feel that in such a scenario this will undermine the long-term cooperation that you’ve been talking about?

MODERATOR: Can you introduce yourself?

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Hussein Abdul-Hussein with Al Rai newspaper.

MR. HALE: Well, in connection with Hezbollah, I should say that – I think all of you know this to be true – we believe that Hezbollah is inimical to the security interests of the region. We believe Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and therefore we don’t deal with Hezbollah. We don’t deal with Hezbollah now and we don’t – we won’t be dealing with Hezbollah after these elections. I’ve already said, though, that we will be looking at the government in terms of its governmental program and where it stands on these key issues that we’re talking about and the goals that we have shared together, at least today. So that’s going to be the standard by which we evaluate the future of our relationship.

We believe strongly in our partnership and we want to preserve it. And as Colin said, we want to continue on a long-term basis the relationship that we’ve developed with the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Sir.

QUESTION: On the Raven, are the airplanes without a pilot? What are they? (Laughter.)

MR. KAHL: They’re small unmanned aerial vehicles. They have a surveillance capability and they’re really to allow the Lebanese Armed Forces a degree of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability as it relates to protecting their borders and policing their territory internally against terrorist challenges.

But they’re very – I mean, they’re small. They’re not unlike something you might – you know, a large model airplane basically that has a camera on it.

QUESTION: And what’s the total that you’ll supply?

MR. KAHL: Four Raven UAV systems, 12 aircraft.

QUESTION: Four?

MR. KAHL: Four Raven systems and 12 aircraft.

QUESTION: I see.

MR. KAHL: But you are right; they do not have pilots.

QUESTION: Just 12?

MR. KAHL: Not even very small ones. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: When do they get these?

MR. KAHL: They should be arriving in April – this month, I believe.

QUESTION: Sorry, my name is Samir Nader. I’m with Radio Sawa. And --

MR. KAHL: Sorry, that’s incorrect. They will arrive in late May.

QUESTION: What about the --

QUESTION: In May?

MR. KAHL: Late May, yes.

QUESTION: What about the program with the Lebanese army to train Lebanese officers in Georgia or some – to train Lebanese officers in the U.S.? Don’t you have a program for education and training?

MR. KAHL: We do have a program called IMET which does facilitate training of Lebanese forces.

QUESTION: What is the size of this program? How many Lebanese participate in it?

MR. KAHL: I don’t have those figures in front of me, but it’s something I could get back to you on if you want to follow up on it.

QUESTION: Yes. And the programs for the Lebanese internal security apparatus is separate from the army?

MR. KAHL: The Ministry of Interior – it’s our – by tradition, the State Department handles the police training.

QUESTION: Not the Pentagon?

MR. KAHL: Correct.

QUESTION: I see.

MR. KAHL: I mean, the security systems programs in general are run by the State Department and with implementation assistance by the Department of Defense. It’s really together. But typically, assistance to ministries of interior fall outside the purview of the DOD.

QUESTION: Okay. And I have a question to Ambassador Hale. Will Senator Mitchell be visiting Syria and Lebanon? (Laughter.)

MR. HALE: No. There are no current plans to travel there.

QUESTION: One more question. The ambassador of Syria did an interview with the Washington Times yesterday. He said Syrian diplomats participated in a regional meeting at State Department on Monday with Deputy Secretary Steinberg. Can you tell us what’s this meeting about?

MR. HALE: The Deputy Secretary chaired a meeting to brief the Diplomatic Corps on the outcome of the G-20 Economic Summit that the President attended in London. It’s a routine matter.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: My name is Talha Musa, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. There are some contacts between the British and Hezbollah. I want to ask you how do you estimate this contact? Are you supporting such contacts between Hezbollah and other European countries? And is it true that there are some indirect contacts between Washington and Hezbollah? Thank you.

MR. HALE: Well, thank you for raising that. We – you know, you’d really have to ask the British about their contacts with Hezbollah and let them explain why they’re doing this. I mean, we have a different approach. The United States doesn’t understand how anyone can draw distinction between a political and an economic and a social and a military and a terrorist element of Hezbollah. Hezbollah itself makes no such distinction. On the contrary, they’ve gone on the record to say there’s no such distinction. So you know, we don’t understand an approach that tries to draw a distinction between them.

I’ve already said what our view is on Hezbollah. I don’t know if I need to repeat it for you. But no, we do not have an indirect dialogue nor direct dialogue with Hezbollah, and we will not deal with Hezbollah.

QUESTION: I have a question. You always speak about implementing or helping Lebanon to implement 1701.

MODERATOR: Hoda, can you --

QUESTION: Hoda Tawfik, Al Ahram newspaper. Okay. Today we heard a lot about helping the Lebanese to implement 1701 politically. How are you helping the Lebanese to implement 1701 when the government is always complaining that Israel is not implementing 1701 and they should?

MR. HALE: Well, we would like to see all elements of 1701 implemented. We support that resolution and we talk to all the parties that can influence factors related to that through diplomatic means. And then I don’t want to elaborate today on that. We’re here to talk about our support for the Lebanese Armed Forces because of the visit of Michel Murr, and much of that comes in the framework – Elias el Murr. I’m so sorry. (Laughter.) I have to say, I served in Lebanon –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) family, by the way. The father is (inaudible).

MR. HALE: I served twice in Lebanon, but it was at a time before Elias el Murr had returned from Switzerland, so I only met him last summer and I have this habit of continually making that mistake. So there’s no meaning behind it.

But to answer your question, you know, we are working through diplomatic means to ensure that everyone who has responsibility for implementation of 1701 sees the importance of proceeding and doing so. That is our objective.

QUESTION: May I also ask about Senator Mitchell? Is he going to (inaudible) Lebanon? And something else: What is North Africa? Which countries in North Africa is he visiting?

MR. HALE: Well, we’re still working out the itinerary and the details of it, so I don’t have an answer for you about North Africa. I can say that, again, no, he’s not traveling to Lebanon on this trip and there are no current plans.

QUESTION: And where in the Gulf?

MR. HALE: Again, I hesitate to list the countries because the schedule hasn’t been worked out perfectly because there are so many different leaders that we want to meet and make sure they’re there. But the intention is to have a very – very extensive consultations with many, many Arab capitals in the Gulf and in North Africa to talk about the way forward with the Arab Peace Initiative and with Middle East peace.

QUESTION: And what’s new on the Arab Peace Initiative? You want to (inaudible)?

MR. HALE: I didn’t say there was anything new, but to talk about it, talk about its importance and talk about the way forward on Middle East peace.

QUESTION: On the issue of border crossing – the border of Lebanon and the efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces, how would you assess the capabilities today – you know, the technical level, how far do they need to go to, you know, to be able to stop any smuggling on that border?

Also, I mean, Israel was clear about some reservations about giving weapons to the Lebanese army, mainly because the fragility in the army. It has been divided in the past. And I know you said it’s unified, but I mean, what are the concerns or the assurances today that, you know, this unity will be maintained in the army?

MR. KAHL: On the border crossings, I think that the capability is increasing. And you know, one of the important reasons for providing unmanned aerial vehicles is to increase the capacity not only to police the territory inside the country but also to police the country’s borders. So much of our assistance programs are done in that – with that in mind, and building up that capability over time. As you know, no country completely controls its borders, to include our own. So every country has a ways to go, but we’re working with the Lebanese Armed Forces to address that issue.

As it relates to Israeli concern, the two things that I would put in – keep in mind is that security assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces – if there’s a concern about fragility, that’s an argument for supporting the armed forces so that they become more capable, more professional, more able to exercise sovereignty and keep Lebanon independent over time.

And the only other thing I would say is that I think we think that the support for the Lebanese Armed Forces is conducive towards stability in the region as a whole, and as a result is in the interest of all of our other allies and partners in the region who have a shared stake in a stable Middle East.

QUESTION: When do you – oh, sorry.

QUESTION: Is there anything in the pipeline other than the weapons systems that you mentioned? Because there was a talk in the past about Cessnas and Howitzers.

MR. KAHL: Yeah, I mentioned the Cessnas. So I mentioned close air support assets and that includes a Cessna caravan aircraft with a Precision; so far, one. There’s some requests in for additional ones that we continue to work with the Lebanese Government.

QUESTION: Did he ask for anything new?

MR. KAHL: In the meeting with the Secretary today, he did not ask for anything new. I mean, we have a number of things that are in train that we continue to work with them on, so – but there were no specific asks of, you know, we haven’t spoken about these things before, here’s a shopping list. There was not a discussion on that today. I think you’ll have to ask the minister and his representatives personally, but I got the impression that, you know, he was satisfied with the degree of the commitment and understood that that commitment was ongoing and – et cetera.

But you did mention a number of other systems. So there’s the Cessna, which also has a precision-guided missile capability –

QUESTION: Hellfire?

MR. KAHL: Yes. A number of Howitzers, the tanks we mentioned, Humvees, night-vision scopes, a number of bombs, Zodiac boats, machine guns, sniper rifles, and ammunition. And it’s kind of a comprehensive suite of things. And like I said, it’s part of a continuing effort.

QUESTION: David, this is –

MR. KAHL: I think we’re going to have a fact sheet, is that right? We’ll have a fact sheet that has – so, you know, I understand writing all these things down. We’ll have a fact sheet that tells you exactly the numbers and everything else that we’ll hand out at the end.

QUESTION: So this part (inaudible) the program, not new requests, right?

MR. KAHL: These are requests that have already been made. And you know, our system takes a while to work its way through. And so these are deliveries on systems – requests that were made some time ago, and we expect, you know, that relationship to continue.

QUESTION: I mean, this is a defense minister, but the visit has clear political resonance. And he met with Mitchell, he met with Dennis Ross, and of course with the Secretary. What’s the significance of these political meetings with the defense minister?

MR. HALE: Well, first of all, I should say many defense ministers meet with officials other than our Secretary of Defense, so he’s not – this isn’t unique in that sense. But we have placed a special emphasis on making sure that Defense Minister el Murr has a broad range of meetings with our leadership because of our great interest in Lebanon, and because we want to send a signal, both a symbol itself, and then have tangible discussions about how to implement our support for an independent Lebanon. And while we support many different institutions in Lebanon – I don’t want to just emphasize the military here – we have a – you know, more of our assistance goes into building other institutions, by about 60 percent. Support for the budget, support for parliament, support for economic development; I can go on through a long list of things that we’re doing supporting good governance.

So – but the Minister’s here, and that is a tangible, political signal of the meaning of this relationships for us and of our common goals.

MR. KAHL: I would actually add one thing. I think that there – separate from any unique symbolism to this visit, I think that this is – you’ve seen through a whole set of moves by this Administration to signal that while we change administrations in this country, we don’t change interests. We have fundamental interests in that part of the world, and one of those interests is a sovereign, independent, and democratic Lebanon. And we want there to be no confusion as we move out to re-craft a – you know, a set of strategies in that region as a whole. We want no confusion about the fact that our underlying interests have not changed just because we have a new administration. I just want to make that clear.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout of his meeting with the Secretary of Defense today?

MR. KAHL: Sure. I mean, loosely, it was about a half an hour discussion. It was a candid exchange. The Secretary reinforced his support to Minister Murr and the Lebanese Armed Forces. The minister was thankful for that support and kind of gave an update on the security situation and kind of the joint activities that the Lebanese Armed Forces, with our assistance and the assistance of others, have been involved in. Like I said, it lasted about half an hour. There were no controversies. There were no – you know, no special requests. It was just a way for us to renew our friendship and our partnership.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Joe Macaron with the Kuwait News Agency. Do you – did you decline any requests before by the Lebanese army in the past month? And I’m just interested to see how you see the role of Lebanese army. You see it as a counterterrorism security force, or you perceive a role for it in the future to play beyond counterterrorism?

And my question for David is: Does Mitchell carry any message for (inaudible) Lebanese Government about the Lebanese track with Israel, or this was just a political meeting?

MR. HALE: Colin, do you want to start?

MR. KAHL: Yeah. The answer on specific requests – I’ll have to get back to you on specific requests. I can tell you that, in general, we work very closely with the Lebanese Government to frame a set of requirements that meet their interests, and then seek to do our best to find the funding for that from various – from various streams. So I can’t promise you that we’ve never declined a single request. I would find it unusual. We have security assistance relationships with many countries around the world, and I’m sure not every request is honored in the vast majority of those cases.

But I think the more important point is that I think the Lebanese Armed Forces and certainly Minister Murr seem to be, you know, satisfied with the level of assistance, and I think took heart from the commitment to continue that relationship moving forward.

On the – you know, what do we have, what model do we have for the Lebanese Armed Forces, I wouldn’t really frame it quite that way. I think that they have a set of interests. They happen to coincide with ours, which is, you know, a country that can provide for internal order and territorial integrity, that can be a protector of the country’s democratic institutions. And you know, I suspect the – you know, Lebanon’s gone through a lot of turmoil and changes over the last couple of decades. And as the Lebanese Armed Forces continue to mature, they’ll go from stage to stage. And right now, there’s a heavy emphasis on counterterrorism, but in the future, it will continue to develop.

MR. HALE: In terms of Senator Mitchell’s meeting, no, there was no specific message that was being conveyed through that discussion. It was a brief meeting. Many, many – he has many, many meetings with visiting officials from the Middle East, and from around the world, in fact. It’s an occasion just to, you know, familiarize himself, discuss the areas of common interest that we have.

QUESTION: The opposition in Lebanon, be it Michel Aoun or Hezbollah, I mean, last time or maybe the time before, that’s when, Ambassador Hale, you were in Lebanon discussing the military assistance, they shot down a helicopter for the Lebanese army and later they apologized. And Aoun and his party has been, you know, doing every effort to undermine this assistance, saying it’s nothing, it’s guns, it’s all of this – what is the message from this to this bloc, and do you think Hezbollah is threatened by a strong army?

MR. HALE: The message is, in short, that the United States is responding to the Lebanese Armed Forces’ needs to meet its mandate. That’s going to take a long-term commitment and a long-term effort to build, to build up an army from the grassroots, as I said earlier, after decades of neglect. We’re not building a militia here. We’re not using militia tactics and buying things on – you know, the Lebanese Armed Forces isn’t buying things on the black market. It’s a state-to-state relationship, one of several the Lebanese leadership has chosen to pursue.

Now, I think in the long run it’ll be shown that that benefits the Lebanese people far greater than anything else in providing them true security.

MR. KAHL: I mean, I would only add that I think we would all agree that no parties should use violence in any way to interfere with the conduct of the elections or cast doubt on their legitimacy, and that at least in my discussions with elements of LAF and other representatives of the Lebanese Government, I think they’re fairly convinced that the security for the elections will be good and that the delivery of security assistance that we expect between now and then will only strengthen what I think is already a pretty good plan to make sure those elections go off well.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

# # #