Rice Visits Beirut, Works To Open Flow of Humanitarian Aid

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Beirut, Lebanon, July 24 to express U.S. support for the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and to discuss the humanitarian needs of the Lebanese people as hostilities continue between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hizballah militants in the south of Lebanon.

Rice told reporters en route to the region that a major goal of her trip is to “help establish some efforts on the humanitarian side.”

The secretary said most of her recent conversations with Israeli officials have been focused on the humanitarian situation and ways of getting assistance to populations displaced by the conflict.

The United States is “trying to establish corridors in and out of Lebanon, as well as corridors within Lebanon that might make it possible to get humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people,” she said.

During her trip to the region, the secretary also will meet with regional leaders and representatives from other interested countries at a gathering of the Lebanon Core Group in Rome to seek a lasting, stable cessation of hostilities.

“We believe that a cease-fire is urgent,” she said.  “It is, however, important to have conditions that will make it also sustainable.”

The secretary pointed to the 1989 Taif Accords, which brought an end to Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 as appropriate bases for ending hostilities.  Both the Saudi-sponsored Taif Accords and Resolution 1559 call for the disbanding of all militias in Lebanon and the extension of Lebanese government control over the entire territory of Lebanon.

Hizballah continues to maintain an armed presence in the country, particularly in southern Lebanon, the southern suburbs of Beirut and the Bekaa Valley, in spite of these resolutions.  A series of Hizballah rocket attacks on northern Israel and a cross-border operation to kidnap two Israeli soldiers July 12 sparked the current round of violence.

Rice said the framework for a resolution to the crisis clearly would provide for “the Lebanese government’s ability to exercise sovereignty over all of its territory, not to have extremist groups, unauthorized armed groups that are able to use the territory of Lebanon to launch illegal activities and then plunge Lebanon and the region into war.”

She said, “If we end the fighting only to have it restart in three weeks or three months, … then all of the carnage that Hizballah launched by its illegal activities, abducting the soldiers and then launching rocket attacks, we will have gotten nothing from that, we will have learned nothing from it.”

The United States has called on neighboring Syria to withdraw its support for Hizballah, but Rice said she would not be meeting with Syrian officials during her trip to the region because past meetings between American and Syrian officials had proven entirely unproductive.  “The problem isn’t that [we] haven’t talked to the Syrians; it’s that the Syrians haven’t acted,” she said.

She said Syria knows what its obligations are under the Taif Accords and Resolution 1559, and she hopes that the broad international condemnation of Hizballah’s actions will make Syria think twice about supporting such activities.

Following her visit to Beirut, the secretary travels to Israel to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  She will also meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza.  Israel has been involved in military operations in Gaza since Hamas militants tunneled into Israel June 25 and abducted Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit from a post near the Gaza border.

After her meetings in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Rice plans to travel to Rome to meet with representatives of an international contact group focused on the crisis in Lebanon.

The transcript of Rice’s remarks en route to the Middle East is available on the State Department’s Web site.