Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pentagon Officials Monitor Protests Overseas

By Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - Defense Department officials are closely watching protests that have flared over recent days in Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.

"These are three separate, fast-moving situations that the secretary and others here in this department, and ... obviously others throughout the government, are monitoring closely as they evolve," Morrell told Pentagon reporters in a briefing here.

The U.S. military relationships with the three countries vary greatly, Morrell said.

"We have no military-to-military relationship with Tunisia, we have a long-standing military-to-military relationship with Egypt, and we have an evolving military-to-military relationship with Lebanon," he said.

Since Syria pulled its forces out of Lebanon in 2006, Morrell said, the United States has pursued a closer military relationship, providing assistance "upwards of $600 million" to Lebanon in that time.

"In the case of Lebanon, we're monitoring the situation as the constitutional process plays out. We will need to see what the final makeup of the Lebanese government looks like before we make any decisions regarding our relationship, including military assistance," he said.

A Hezbollah-controlled government would "obviously have an effect" on the U.S-Lebanon relationship, Morrell said.

"I think [the State Department] should take it from here, in terms of the ultimate impact that may or may not have on military-to-military relationship and financial assistance," he added.

The White House has addressed the protest situation in Egypt at length, Morrell said. A White House statement on Egypt released yesterday urges all parties to refrain from violence.

"We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," the statement reads, in part. "The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper. The United States is committed to working with Egypt and the Egyptian people to advance these goals."

Defense officials are hosting senior Egyptian military leaders this week for their annual bilateral defense talks, Morrell said.

"That's just an example of how engaged we are with the Egyptians, even as these developments have taken place on the streets of Cairo, and elsewhere," he said.