:: Address by the President of the Republic of Lebanon, His Excellency General Michel SLEIMAN before the Diplomatic Corps on the occasion of the New Year Greetings reception
Your Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio,
Thank You for Your kind words, coupled with feelings of solidarity and heartfelt wishes extended to me personally and to the people of Lebanon, in Your name and on behalf of the Diplomatic Corps accredited in Lebanon. I do hope that the New Year will bring to your Excellencies, and to Your countries, Leaders and Peoples Peace and Good. I also hope that You will convey to His Holiness Pope Francis, whom I had the honor to meet at the Vatican City, our truest wishes for continued health and determination to pursue His noble mission aimed at promoting spiritual values and defending human rights and dignity, in the motivating and inspiring style that has characterized His Holiness since His accession to the Holy See, and which has made Him earn the affection and consideration of various peoples.
Seasons are consecutive but never similar. Despite the nations’ endeavors to reach permanent “spring” and stability at the political, economic and social levels, the historical realities show that the course of States often goes through consecutive situations of advance and retreat before settling on new levels of stability and prosperity.
This applies to the “labor” that our Arab surrounding is currently going through. In turn, Lebanon has not been utterly intact from the negative fallout of the tremendous crises whose chapters are consecutively striking throughout the East.
Since 2008, we have strived to consolidate the pillars of stability and promote the conditions of investment and prosperity in our country. At the onset, we were keen on restoring our relations with Syria on firm and equal bases, after the establishment of effective diplomatic relations between the two countries, for the first time since Independence. We have also worked on promoting Lebanon abroad and building networks of communication and friendship with the active countries and with the countries hosting active Lebanese communities on their territories. In fact, Lebanon had the chance to preside over the Security Council after having won the Council’s membership for the years 2009-2010. We have also created favorable circumstances to welcome His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in a calm and fraternal atmosphere that enabled us to restore the glow of our country’s core message as a land of freedom and conviviality.
Internally, we have succeeded to promote the approach of dialog and moderation, especially through the works of the National Dialog Committee, which has contributed to toning down the political and media rhetoric, and to accompany the 2009 parliamentary elections and the 2010 municipal elections, in a sound and transparent manner. We have managed to attract tourists and investors, to increase the economic growth rates up to 8%, after having successfully prevented the negative repercussions of the global financial crisis, and to enhance the atmosphere of political, security and monetary stability.
Nevertheless, our national journey has been struck with serious setbacks since 2011, as a result of the various negative effects of the lingering crisis in Syria on our overall political, security, economic and social situation. Indeed, the domestic arena has witnessed a dramatic rise in sectarian tension that keeps the wound of Tripoli open, and a progressive involvement in the ongoing armed conflict on Syrian territories, as well as a growing influx of Syrian and Palestinian refugees. This has coincided with the return of the wave of sporadic terrorist bombings which have struck innocent citizens, all the way to Hermel, and targeted specifically the houses of worship and the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, as well as security and political figures, the latest being the assassination of former Minister Martyr Mohammad Chatah - who was one of your major interlocutors renowned for his logic and moderation – which has caused a state of grief and condemnation in your circles and in the public opinion; in addition to the violations of the Syrian-Lebanese frontiers, and the shelling of the Lebanese border villages, which has lately caused, in Ersal, the killing of innocent children who have not yet been acquainted with the meaning of hatred.
These bombings will not escape from the hands of justice, as it is the case in The Hague today, where the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has begun its work, in view of unveiling the truth, deterring the criminals and holding them accountable.
On another hand, we have failed to hold parliamentary elections on time in 2013, and we have wasted a precious time in the formation of governments and in caretaking, with the subsequent delay in adopting the Public Budget and enacting the decrees related to gas and oil and to administrative appointments. After a long period of faltering, and following some brave and responsible positions that have emerged concomitantly with the beginning of the historic trial, we are exerting intensive efforts, with all parties with good will, to form a government as soon as possible.
In the face of these dangers and challenges, I have proposed to the National Dialog Committee, on the 11th of June 2012, to disassociate Lebanon from the conflict of axes and from the negative fallout of regional crises, and the Committee has indeed adopted unanimously the “Baabda Declaration”, underlining the obligation to abide by its content in its following meetings. I have also submitted to it a preliminary conception for a National Strategy to defend Lebanon in the face of Israeli occupation and aggressions, extremism and terrorism, and to address the issue of weapons, and their command, within the terms of reference of the all-inclusive State. This conception has acquired its credibility, and has proven to be a pressing need, in light of the persisting Israeli hostile attitude, the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on the Lebanese situation, and the growing dangers of terrorism. It will become applicable thanks to both available and expected support for the Lebanese Army. I have strived to weave an international safety umbrella for Lebanon, especially by seeking the establishment of the International Support Group for Lebanon which was founded in New York on the 25th of September 2013, in view of helping Lebanon promote its stability and economy, strengthen the capabilities of its Armed Forces, and enhance the efforts underway to face the problem of refugees.
Internally, the Government forwarded to the Parliament a bill for a new electoral law essentially based on the principle of proportionality. We have drafted a comprehensive document to be submitted as a draft law for administrative decentralization, along with a detailed study clarifying all the constitutional problems that have so far hampered the work of institutions, due to shortcomings in the provisions, ambiguity in the text or confusion in the interpretation.
Lebanon was not alone in these endeavors. Indeed, You have accompanied it positively and relentlessly, in Your capacities as ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions accredited in Lebanon. The international community as a whole has demonstrated a clear keenness on Lebanon’s stability and safety, through the welcome by the UN Secretary General and Security Council, the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States, the Ministerial Council of the European Union, of the “Baabda Declaration” which has become one of the United Nations’ official documents. This support has developed into the exhaustive conclusions issued by the International Support Group for Lebanon and adopted by the UN Security Council on 26/11/2013. In this context, I would like to avail myself of this occasion to reiterate our esteem for the representative of the UN Secretary General and for the countries which have contributed to the consideration and preparation phases for the establishment of this prominent international group.
As the New Year kicks off, a lot of work still lies ahead, while the frequency of difficulties and challenges increases in the political, security, economic and social fields.
As we continue to strive to form a new government, resume the works of the National Dialog Committee, prepare for the constitutional deadlines, agree on a new electoral law that allows to hold legislative elections within the determined timeframe, the State will continue its efforts in the coming months that separate us from the presidential elections and beyond, to implement as many reform programs as possible, and guarantee the execution of the comprehensive conclusions of the International Support Group, as well as the relevant resolutions of the international legitimacy. The Lebanese State looks on capable friendly and brotherly countries to help Lebanon achieve these major goals, especially through the following main approaches and frameworks:
First: In terms of support for stability in Lebanon, we look forward to active international initiatives, both bilateral and collective, to encourage the internal parties and the countries that have influence on the Lebanese scene to distance Lebanon from the regional conflicts by committing, in word and deed, to the “Baabda Declaration”, and by working for an integral implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, noting that disassociating Lebanon and succeeding in taking it out of the ring of regional conflict, must be translated in such a manner that alleviates internal tension and facilitate the democratic process, according to the Constitution and the obligations of the National Pact.
Second: In terms of support for the ongoing national efforts to face the problem of Syrian Refugees, we look forward to a direct international support for the ministries and official Lebanese institutions, to help them bear the burdens thrust upon them, especially in the areas of hospitalization, medical care and education; and to honoring – in parallel - the commitments offered during the two Kuwait Pledging Conferences at the onset of last year and this year respectively. We also wish that action is pursued to implement the principle of “resettlement” of numbers of Refugees in capable countries, adopted in the Geneva Conference on Refugees held on the 30th of September 2013, as we extend our special appreciation to the pioneering role undertaken by Germany in this respect. Moreover, there is a need to keep considering the possibility to widen and promote the framework of harboring the displaced inside Syrian territories, and to foster any initiative likely to speed up the negotiating process and reach a political solution that would enable the Syrian Refugees to return to their homes as soon as possible.
Third: In terms of support for the Lebanese economy, Lebanon wishes that the friendly and brotherly States, aside from continuing to work for the promotion of their bilateral cooperation, respond to the effort that the World Bank will call to finance support projects for Lebanon through the Trust Fund to which Norway was the first country to subscribe, marking its launching, in view of meeting the Lebanese needs listed in the Impact Assessment study prepared by the World Bank in cooperation with the General Commission of the European union, the UN specialized agencies and the Lebanese Government, along with the Roadmap set up by the Lebanese Government for priority projects and programs.
Fourth: In terms of support for the Lebanese Army, Lebanon hopes that capable and willing countries will respond to the invitation that will be extended to them by the United Nations and the Italian Government, in coordination with Lebanon, to take part in the international conference to be held in Rome, as a practical implementation of the ISG conclusions that support Lebanon in this respect.
On this occasion, we would like to express our acknowledgements to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to His Majesty the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques who has informed me of his determination to provide an exceptional support to the Lebanese Army that amounts to three billion dollars, after it has been agreed to purchase new weapons adapted to the needs from the friendly State of France which initially contributed to the establishment of the International Support Group. The assistance shall comprise the areas of equipment, arming and training, and shall considerably enhance the chances of success of the Rome Conference.
It pleases me that the National Defense Strategy which was submitted to the National Dialog Committee and to the people of Lebanon, and whose platform was lauded by the UN Secretary General, has begun to gain credibility and practical feasibility thanks to the support which has already been provided and to that which is expected in the future.
In all cases, I do hope that we always seek to develop the cultural and human relations between our peoples and States, for they are the basis and the most guaranteed intellectual hub to promote common understanding and consolidate the culture of dialog, justice and peace.
Although Lebanon strives to distance itself from the negative repercussions of the Syrian crisis, it is certainly committed to the just Palestinian cause, and interested in the course of the ongoing events in Syria, and their outcome that will mark the future of that country and the nature of its relations with Lebanon.
As today marks the start of the implementation of the international agreement on the Iranian nuclear file, which represents the beginning of a solution for that file, after a mechanism has been put forth to get rid of the Syrian chemical weapons, Lebanon follows in parallel, and with great interest the efforts exerted to ensure the success of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as it wishes to remind with insistence that there can be no actual peace in the Middle East without finding a just and comprehensive solution to all the aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the problem of the Palestinian Refugees, and the issue of the Final Status of the city of Al-Qods (Jerusalem) and the Holy sites, pursuant to the resolutions of the international legitimacy, the terms of reference of the Madrid Conference, and the Arab Peace Initiative. This historical Initiative has guaranteed, in one if its articles, the non-settlement of the Palestinian Refugees in the Arab countries whose special situations do not allow such a settlement, notably Lebanon. We hope that the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the region in the coming spring will coincide with a substantial progress in the quest of a just and comprehensive peace, and in the promotion of dialog between civilizations, religions and cultures. We also hope that our Arab world will witness a steady progress towards reform and true democracy that would enable all its civilizational components to live freely and safely within the unifying State, and to take part in running public affairs in an effective and equal manner, regardless of their numeral sizes, but in a way that helps them remain deeply rooted in the Arab Levant to which they belong and to whose renaissance and prosperity they have contributed throughout ages. Indeed, the results of the Constitutional Referendum held in Egypt a few days ago are but a confirmation of that prevailing trend towards moderation and keenness on the foundations and requirements of a dignified coexistence on the basis of citizenship.
In relation with the Syrian issue, Lebanon will participate in the Geneva II Conference that will take place in the City of Montreux in two days. Lebanon has already taken part in the preparatory meetings for this Conference, and it had the chance to express its core stance about this issue, as per the following principles:
1- Lebanon is committed to disassociating itself from the negative fallout of the lingering Syrian crisis, and opposes any foreign military intervention in this conflict.
2- At the same time, Lebanon is particularly interested in finding a political agreed upon solution for the Syrian crisis, that allows to restore stability in this neighboring and brotherly country, and to preserve its unity, dignity and the rights of all its components, away from the dangers of fragmentation, oppression, extremism and terrorism.
3- Lebanon hopes that the desired political solution in Syria will allow the return of the Syrian Refugees to their lands and homes, and the launching of the country’s reconstruction process as soon as possible.
4- Lebanon also hopes that the international interest in helping it overcome the negative impact of the Syrian crisis over its overall socio-economic situation will continue.
As we meet in this gathering occasion to exchange the greetings and wishes for the New Year, we look up, together, to the deadlines that await us in the coming months, most notably the presidential elections for which I will spare no effort to ensure suitable conditions to have them held in a democratic and calm manner. I am confident that the friendly and brotherly States, as well as the international community as a whole, shall stand by Lebanon to support it in its endeavors which are constantly aimed at preserving, protecting and guaranteeing the continuity of its independence and legitimate institutions, promoting its national unity, for our country to remain in this East, a beacon of freedom, democracy, culture, modernity and diversity within unity, and a living and interactive laboratory for conviviality and for the logic of dialog, consensus and moderation.