British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has ended a one day visit to Lebanon. He met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. Mr. Hammond reiterated the UK’s continued long standing support to Lebanon’s stability, security and independence through working ever more closely with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and helping local communities in strengthening their resilience as they generously host large number of refugees.
He called on Lebanese leaders to elect a President to take the country forward, reiterating that the UK is ready to work with the next President of Lebanon, whoever that may be. A key focus of the visit was follow up to the London Conference on Syria and the Region, one which British Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening wrote to the Prime Minister this week to inform him that the UK has allocated £114 million for programmes in Lebanon for the coming financial year, in support of the priority areas the Lebanese government identified in its Statement of Intent.
Mr. Hammond visited the Lebanese military training facility in North Lebanon, and announced the UK’s intention to provide an additional £4.5m for the training of over 5,000 LAF soldiers, and a further £15.3 million for the training and mentoring of the Lebanese Armed Forces’ Land Border Regiments, over the next three years.
During the joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Foreign Secretary Hammond said:
I am delighted to have visited Lebanon today and to have seen at first hand the incredible resilience, courage of the Lebanese people and I want to take the opportunity to thank you for the generosity you have shown to the refugees which you are hosting in your country.
I have assured Lebanon’s leaders that the UK will play its part, through our ongoing political efforts, through our enhanced support to your army, and through our solidarity with the Lebanese people.
We have had a good discussion and I have been able to reaffirm the UK’s long-standing support to Lebanon’s security, stability and prosperity. I thanked Foreign Minister Bassil for his constructive contributions to the London Conference on Syria a few weeks ago and I particularly welcomed the STEP (Short Term Employment Programme) proposal, which recognises that by making refugees more self-sufficient we can both lighten the burden and help stimulate the economy in ways which benefit all people, refugees and the host community alike while acknowledging that of course refugees are temporary guests while the situation in their own country stabilizes.
We underline the importance of creating the conditions in Syria that will allow refugees to return, once it’s safe for them to do so, and take part in the rebuilding of their country. The UK has committed this week £114 million pounds over the next year towards the delivery of this programme. Many others made pledges at the London Conference and we will do our part in pressing them to turn those pledges into hard cash that allows you to deliver that programme.
Total UK spending on Lebanese stability alone to date is over 365 million pounds. The UK continues to be one of the largest donors to the countries affected by the Syrian crisis.
We are working closely with the government of Lebanon to improve economic opportunities for both refuges and Lebanese communities for the good of Lebanon, and in order to give refugees the skills and expertise to rebuild Syria when it’s safe for them to return.
The UK also recognises the crucial importance of safeguarding Lebanon’s state institutions and we will continue to support the Lebanese Armed Forces to protect Lebanon’s sovereignty and the integrity of its borders.
I was pleased earlier today to be able to announce a further £19.8m to allow us to continue the mentoring the training of the armed forces, including the Land Border Regiments, and to train another 5,000 more Lebanese soldiers at Hamat. Our aim is for Lebanon to have secured 100% of its border with Syria, and for the UK to have trained over 11,000 Lebanese soldiers in the specialist techniques of urban counterterrorism by 2019.
Since 2012, the UK has been assisting the LAF to equip, to train and to mentor the Land Border Regiments, which are defending Lebanon’s sovereignty by preventing illegal incursions across the border and I’d like to commend the bravery and the courage of the LAF’s soldiers, who are successfully preventing, in incident after incident, Daesh penetration of Lebanon.
I had a positive meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam in which I welcomed his efforts to ensure that the Lebanese government is able to function effectively. I also welcomed the issuing of decrees for holding of municipal elections in May this year.
I’ve also had the honour to meet with Speaker Nabih Berri and to hear about the challenges facing the country from his perspective. We discussed the continued presidential vacuum and the need for the Lebanese parliament to elect a president who can lead Lebanon and act as a representative with the international community.
Our view is that Lebanon cannot afford to wait for regional tensions to be settled. The UK looks forward to working with the next President of Lebanon, whoever that may be.
This is clearly a challenging time for Lebanon but I know that you are no strangers to challenging times. Yet, there is much to be positive about. I have seen at first hand the courage and capability of your Armed Forces and your other security services, I’ve heard of the energy and creativity of Lebanon’s youth and I’ve seen the fruits of the dynamism of Lebanon’s entrepreneurs.
You are a resilient and resourceful people that have suffered at many crises over the years and have overcome them and managed to take your country forward in-spite of them and I give you this pledge today, the UK will remain a strong partner to Lebanon as it strives for greater stability, security and prosperity in the future. ‘
This is Mr. Hammond’s first visit to Lebanon since his appointment as Foreign Secretary in July 2014.