U.S. Ambassador-designate Elizabeth Richard vowed to strengthen Washington’s partnership with Beirut and the army and helping the Lebanese authorities exercise full sovereignty throughout the country, while pledging to limit Hezbollah’s role .
“Respect for religious freedom and confessional tolerance lie at the very core of Lebanese identity. We must do all we can to help Lebanon continue to uphold these principles,” Richard told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday during her confirmation hearing.
She said U.S. partnership with Lebanese state institutions is essential to help Lebanon address three major challenges – the role of Hezbollah, the political crisis, and the spillover effects of the Syrian war, including the refugee crisis.
The diplomat told the committee that she was looking forward to “working with Lebanon’s voices for moderation and progress to support Lebanon’s quest for full sovereignty and independence.”
Hezbollah is “a terrorist organization that puts its own interests and those of its foreign backers ahead of the Lebanese people,” Richard stressed a possible reference to Iran, Hezbollah’s key backer .
She slammed the party for fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad against the will of the Lebanese people, saying its “activities in Syria create serious security challenges for Lebanon.”
“My mission will be to do everything I can to support Lebanon to exercise full sovereignty throughout the country and to help build up the Lebanese military, its sole legitimate defender,” she said.
The diplomat stressed that the Obama administration’s “goal is to dismantle Hezbollah’s international financial network while supporting Lebanese institutions and the Lebanese people.”
She vowed to work with the Lebanese financial sector to enhance Washington’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance cooperation.
Addressing the rising threat of extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, she said U.S. “partnership with Lebanon’s security forces has played a critical role in preserving Lebanon’s security against such threats.”
Richard said U.S. military assistance to Lebanon – more than $150 million in fiscal year 2015 – makes a difference on the ground. “The Lebanese army has turned the tide against the IS on the border with Syria.” She said
She called on the Lebanese to elect a president, saying the “people deserve a government that can deliver basic services, promote economic prosperity, and address the country’s most pressing security challenges.”
The diplomat said it was the responsibility of the Lebanese to choose a head of state and have a fully functioning government and parliament.
On the Syrian refugee crisis, the diplomat told the committee that the U.S. contribution to Lebanon reached over $1.1 billion since the start of the crisis in Syria in March 2011.
“If confirmed, I will work hard to help Lebanon address this enormous humanitarian challenge,” she stressed.
The Obama administration decided last July to nominate Richard, a deputy assistant secretary of state in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, as Ambassador to Lebanon
Richard is the coordinator for foreign assistance to the Near East.
A career foreign service officer, she served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, from 2010 to 2013. Previously, she was the border coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
She is a graduate of the National War College in Washington D.C,. and of the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy. She has undergraduate and law degrees from Southern Methodist University and before joining the Foreign Service practiced admiralty law in Texas.
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