Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 13, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President, and thanks, Rosemary, for your briefing. We welcome the Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNSCR 1559, and we share your concerns about the unfolding crisis and the negative effects that COVID-19 is having on the already dire situation in Lebanon.
Late April saw a disturbing turn of events in Lebanon. Peaceful protests that began in October became violent, amid economic distress and major public health concerns. Lebanon’s currency has collapsed. Its banking system is reeling. And inflation is spiraling out of control. We welcome Prime Minister Diab’s reform efforts, and we encourage him to undertake credible and comprehensive measures immediately to help Lebanon weather these crises.
We also recognize the additional hardships that COVID-related measures have imposed on Lebanon and its people. That is why, on April 16, the United States announced $13.3 million in new assistance for Lebanon. Unfortunately, we also remain deeply concerned about the continued operation of armed militias operating outside of government control, as well as Iran’s and Syria’s transfers of weaponry to Hizballah and other non-state actors in Lebanon. These actions only serve to increase already rising instability in the country.
To be frank, each of these semiannual reports enumerates far too many examples of UNIFIL being prevented from accessing sites of concern in its area of responsibility. Once again, the report states – and I quote – “there has been no tangible progress towards the disbanding and disarming of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias,” and that, “no specific steps have been taken to tackle this critical issue” since the adoption of UNSCR 1559 in 2004.
I would wish to emphasize those findings again: “no tangible progress,” and “no specific steps” taken. My fellow Council members, it is perfectly clear that Hizballah is operating contrary to Resolutions 1701 and 1559. This report and others highlight Hizballah’s continued contempt for both resolutions. The Security Council must do more to ensure UNIFIL has unimpeded, timely access to the entire Blue Line, including the ability to inspect areas deemed private property.
We strongly urge Lebanese civilian leadership to facilitate that access. But we also urge the Security Council to address both the incomplete implementation of Resolutions 1559 and 1701, and Hizballah’s illicit activities. The Lebanese Armed Forces is the only institution that can legitimately defend Lebanon’s territory and sovereignty.
The Council should continue how to best implement the arms embargo provision. While it is incorporated in Resolution 1701, I know that many in the Council prefer to discuss the embargo outside the context of UNIFIL. At the last briefing on Lebanon, Mr. Kubis said that there was no information submitted by members, and that, therefore, the UN could not report it. We find this explanation wholly unacceptable. But this onus is not only on the UN. We urge every Council member to treat the arms embargo with the appropriate seriousness.
I know that we all share the Secretary-General’s desire for a secure and stable Lebanon. But we should also all share the Secretary-General’s concern with the twin threat posed by Hizballah: its maintenance of weapons outside of state control and lack of accountability to any state institutions.
Regarding that last point, I want to briefly comment to our Russian colleagues made during last week’s UNIFIL consultations. They suggested that we should avoid focusing on Hizballah because they are a legitimate and important part of the Lebanese government. But do legitimate political parties maintain weapons stored beyond the control of the political systems in which they participate? Of course not. Fellow Council members, Hizballah is fully deserving of our scrutiny. And as the Secretary-General urged in his report, those who have close relationships with Hizballah have a responsibility to insist upon their disarmament.
The Trump Administration is steadfast in its commitment to Lebanon, and we once again urge its friends and neighbors to join us in supporting a sovereign, stable, and independent nation.