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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss

Joint Press Conference
Beirut, Lebanon, September 4, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

PRIME MINISTER HOSS (in Arabic): Welcome to you all.

Let me welcome first the U.S. Secretary of State to Lebanon, hoping that her trip will help in determining dates to launch the peace process again starting from the point that was reached in 1996.

Our meeting was good. I confirmed during the meeting our commitment to the peace process within the framework of adherence to the Lebanese and Syrian tracks, in the sense that we are concerned with the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Lebanon, and we are also concerned with the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the Golan.

I also confirmed our commitment to UNSCR 425 that calls on Israel to implement complete withdrawal from all Lebanese territories to the internationally recognized borders. Also, there is consensus among the Lebanese to support the resistance activity against occupation so long as there is a piece of Lebanese territory under Israeli occupation. I also raised the issue of Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon and I said that Lebanese and Palestinians agree on a unified position, which is the legitimate Palestinian right to return to their homeland. This is their legitimate right, and the Lebanese agree unanimously on rejecting Palestinian implantation in Lebanon. This issue was agreed upon when a text (on this issue) was included in the Ta'if accord and the preface of the Lebanese Constitution.

I also raised the issue of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, who number 181, and hoped that efforts would be exerted to free them.

That will suffice. I will give Mrs. Albright a chance to deliver her remarks.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister.

Good afternoon, I am delighted to be here in Beirut and pleased to have been able to land at Beirut International Airport--the first American Secretary of State to have done so in sixteen years. Let us hope that, throughout this region, what was once considered extraordinary will more and more become routine.

I greatly enjoyed my visit here in 1997, and appreciated the chance today to meet with the Prime Minister and other officials. The United States and Lebanon have a long history of close ties. The Lebanese-American community is a rich contributor to my country. And our peoples share a deep belief in democracy.

As I told the Prime Minister, the United States is committed to the full independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon.

We look forward to the day this country is free of all foreign forces, and from the threat of terror and violence. To that end, I have come to the region to explore the possibilities for resuming progress towards a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including Lebanon.

In recent months, despite some tragic incidents, the climate for peace has warmed. The question is whether regional leaders can develop concrete proposals that are flexible and creative, and that will make it possible for the process to go forward.

At the same time, it is essential that there be calm in southern Lebanon. The opponents of peace would like nothing more than a new round of violence. The friends of peace, and I include both my government and Lebanon's in this category, must work to prevent this by supporting the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group and urging maximum restraint on all sides.

My discussions with the Prime Minister extended beyond the peace process to bilateral issues, including the need to resolve past cases of terrorism and hostage taking. We also discussed the U.S. assistance program and our shared desire to see Lebanon reach its economic potential.

Let me say how encouraged I am by the increased number of Americans visiting Lebanon. We have resumed our Fulbright exchange program. And I am convinced that my decision two years ago to lift passport restrictions was the right one.

Although my visit today is brief, it is a vital part of my trip, for without Lebanon, no discussion of this region would be complete. Nor, without Lebanon, will lasting peace be possible.

I want to thank the Prime Minister and the Lebanese people for their hospitality, and express my hope that we will continue to work together to the benefit of both our countries and the future of the Middle East.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, can you tell us what the initial assessment of Syrian leader Assad was to the assessment that you brought on the status of the Syrian-American track and did he ask you or your people to come back soon?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say that I believe that we would both agree on the fact that we had a useful and constructive meeting in Damascus. I think it was evident that both the Syrians and the Israelis want to find a way to come to an agreement, and we will be working with each side in the days and weeks ahead to see what we can do. I felt that I was encouraged by my meeting, and I look forward to others.

QUESTION: Mrs. Albright, the Lebanese and the Syrian governments support the Lebanese resistance in the south. Do you see that this contradicts the efforts towards peace?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we're obviously, as I mentioned in my remarks, concerned about the activities in southern Lebanon, and we have called on all parties to exercise restraint, and I think that it is essential that Israel and Syria and Lebanon, that we all work together to try to do everything to make sure that the environment in southern Lebanon assists the work that we're all doing to try to bring peace. I do believe that the activities of the Hezbollah undermine those prospects and I hope very much that we are able to have restraint by all.

QUESTION: Madame Albright, my name is Suha Amer, I am from the National News Agency. I would like to ask you a question concerning the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. There have been lots of reports talking about a certain plan being prepared for settling the Palestinians in Lebanon in return for writing off Lebanon's international debts with the World Bank and the IMF. How true are these reports and what is your country's proposition concerning this obstacle between the Lebanese stand and the Israeli stand concerning this subject?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say that clearly, and the Prime Minister described to me at some length the difficulties created in Lebanon by the large number of Palestinian refugees, and of his desire, speaking on behalf of the Lebanese people, to obviously, to have this situation resolved. And I responded to him as I do to you, the refugee issue is a permanent status issue and one that will be discussed within that context.

QUESTION: Has Syria given you a pre-condition for holding talks with Israel? When they refer to what they think is a commitment or say is a commitment to turn over the Golan Heights for the right terms, is that a pre-condition, can talks get started under any other basis, and if it is a precondition, is it your task to persuade Israel to engage on that basis?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Barry, I am not going to go into the details of my discussions today. I am going to stay with the statement that I made, which is that I believe that my talks were productive and useful, and that we will be working with each side in the next days and weeks, to try to move the peace process forward and build on what I consider a very positive atmosphere in the region now to move the process forward.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am not going to go into any details on this.

QUESTION: Welcome to Lebanon, Madame Secretary, and I hope you will have a successful trip. As a U.S. investor and representatives of American companies in the field of engineering and power, we were involved in several projects in Lebanon a few months ago, and the biggest concern was whether Israel would attack projects of that sort, and the answer came three days later with a big yes. Do you feel that the U.S. government at this point is ready to protect U.S. investors and investments and projects in Lebanon or at least restrain Israel from further attacks.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that this again goes back to an answer I gave. We are calling on all parties as far as south Lebanon is concerned, to exercise restraint and the genuine need here to try to build an environment of trust and confidence so the whole peace process can go forward successfully. I do think that it is important generally for the climate in Lebanon, both in terms of security issues as well as in terms of economic issues and a proper investment climate to be open and welcoming to as many companies as possible, obviously the more American, I think, then that pleases America.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. stand on the resettlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As I have stated, I can understand that the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is clearly, according to what the Prime Minister told me, creating a burden upon this country, and that the refugee issue is one that is part of the permanent status discussions.

QUESTION (in Arabic): Was the American position clarified during the joint discussion about the Palestinians in Lebanon.

PRIME MINISTER HOSS: We are directly concerned with the issue of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, so we can not really accept saying that the matter will have to be relegated to the final status talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We think that Lebanon should be a party to any such talks because it is hosting such a large number of refugees.

[End of Document]

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