Lebanon Travel Ban Lifted

By McArthur, Shirl | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 1997 | Go to article overview

Lebanon Travel Ban Lifted


McArthur, Shirl, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Lebanon Travel Ban Lifted

Finally! Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced July 30 that she is lifting the 10-year-old restriction on travel to Lebanon by U.S. citizens, replacing it with a strong "travel advisory." At a press conference on the same day, Peter Tanous, founding chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL), welcomed the action, saying that it "opens a new era in U.S-Lebanese relations." Tanous was joined at the press conference by Lebanese Ambassador-designate to the U.S. Mohamad Chatah, Sens. Spencer Abraham (R-MI) and Bob Graham (DFL), Reps. Nick Rahall (DWV), John Baldacci (D-ME), John Dingell (D-MI), Ray LaHood (R-IL) and John Sununu (R-NH), and ATFL executive director George Cody.

Albright's action was anticipated by many people in Washington. Last December's "Friends of Lebanon" meeting in Washington generated confidence among Lebanon's many supporters that former Secretary of State Warren Christopher would either cancel the ban or allow it to expire prior to leaving office on Jan. 20. However, at the last-minute Christopher surprised most observers by renewing the travel ban without public explanation. His action was widely interpreted as a petty, misplaced expression of frustration over his lack of ability to achieve progress in the peace process.

Since January, Lebanon's friends in Washington have stepped up the pressure on Albright and the State Department to relax the ban. House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (RNY) was even persuaded to hold a heating on June 25 on "U.S. Policy Toward Lebanon." While Gilman's main objective was to attack Syria for its occupation of Lebanon (see "Hearings," p. 27), the main subject on the minds of most of the attendees and some of the witnesses, such as former hostage Terry Anderson and American Task Force for Lebanon founder Peter Tanous, was the travel ban.

Representatives LaHood and Rahall, both of Lebanese ancestry, had asked to participate in the heating, and they relentlessly attacked the State Department witness, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, about the ban (which Welch described as not a ban, but a "passport restriction"). Most of Welch's testimony painted a rosy picture of the progress Lebanon has made in its reconstruction efforts and in extending the authority of the central government, resulting in an improved security situation. Yet he concluded that "Lebanon continues to be a dangerous place for Americans."

Under persistent questioning from LaHood and Rahall, as well as other committee members present, Welch's weak defense of the ban led some observers to conclude that he didn't really believe his own words, but was dutifully carrying out orders. Ranking minority member Lee Hamilton (D-IN) asked what Lebanon must do to get the ban lifted. Welch did not answer the question directly, replying instead that he could not forecast what secretary of state Madeleine Albright would decide at her July review of the ban. …

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