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Speech by Frank-Walter Steinmeier before the German Bundestag on extending the UNIFIL mandate, 16 September 2008

16.09.2008 - Speech

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke before the German Bundestag in favour of continuing the German marine operation under UNIFIL. The UNIFIL mission had "contributed greatly to the stabilization of Lebanon" since 2006.

-- Translation of advance text! --

Mr President,

Members of the Bundestag,

Two years ago we decided here that German soldiers should be deployed in the Middle East for the first time. Under the auspices of the UN operation UNIFIL, their mission was to safeguard the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah as well as the reconstruction of Lebanon.

It was not an easy decision for any of us at that time. But we consciously committed to an active German role in this neighbouring region that is so important for us Europeans. Today it is clear that this was the right decision.

So far UNIFIL has successfully fulfilled its difficult task. This is also true of the maritime component, which was led by Germany until the end of February.

It has been possible to prevent weapons smuggling by sea. UNIFIL has carried out over 18,000 inquiries and more than 160 ships have been inspected by the Lebanese authorities.

In this way UNIFIL has been able to contribute to the stabilization of Lebanon and the region. This has been recognized by Israel in particular.

We can be proud of the part we played in this development. We owe a special thanks in this regard to the German soldiers who are serving as part of UNIFIL.

From the outset we have pursued two goals. On one hand, the maritime component of UNIFIL was to successfully fulfil its mission, preventing weapons smuggling by sea.

On the other hand, we have also worked closely from day one with our Lebanese partners, providing bilateral aid. Our intention is to enable the Lebanese side to one day take over responsibility for the security of its own borders.

We have continued this very successful support this year. We have made substantial progress: the coastal radar system, which we reconstructed and whose personnel we trained, was handed over to the Lebanese government.

This is an important step. For the first time Lebanon can assess the situation at sea for itself.

At the same time we are helping the country to improve its own border protection.

Our federal police and customs experts have been able to implement a successful project despite difficult political conditions in Lebanon.

Lebanon's domestic political situation is still complex. However, in the last few months we have seen hopeful developments with the election of President Suleiman and the formation of a new government which includes all crucial political powers. The constitutional institutions are finally able to act again.

A national dialogue led by the President begins in Beirut today (16.9.). Above all, the dialogue will focus on the decisive trigger of the summer 2006 war, the role of Hezbollah as an armed power and the state monopoly on the use of force.

The regional context has also seen an overall improvement. We are receiving constructive signals in relation to Lebanon from Damascus, just as we and the EU have called for again and again.

The indirect talks between Israel and Syria are a further positive development, which have had an impact on the situation in Lebanon.

Yet, the threat of a new conflict between Israel and Hezbollah breaking out is real. This would have far-reaching consequences for the entire region. That is why the UNIFIL mission, along with our political efforts, remains critical.

On 27 August the UN Security Council extended UNIFIL's mandate unchanged for an additional year. The mission remains essential, as does German participation. Lebanon, the people who live there, and the entire region expect us to continue to fulfil our responsibilities.

For all of these reasons I ask you to approve the Federal Government's request.

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