Mr. Ambassador - Tony, Nicole, Members of Congress, ambassadors, distinguished guests, thank you for this opportunity to represent my government as we celebrate Lebanese Independence Day. I want to convey the best wishes of the President and Secretary Kerry to Lebanon and the Lebanese people.
But I am also here to add my voice to the loud chorus of praise and gratitude you are already hearing as you and Nicole prepare to depart Washington.
Tonight, we pay tribute to you not only for your outstanding work as ambassador here in Washington for more than eight years, but also for a broader career in the diplomatic corps devoted to strengthening the bonds between our two countries.
In addition to the Americas desk at the Ministry back in Beirut, you've served three other assignments in this country: in New York, in Los Angeles, and in Washington many years ago when you first joined the Ministry. I wonder if you ever imagined then as a junior diplomat that you'd one day end up here, your country's representative to the United States.
Together with Nicole, you've turned this residence into the center for our bilateral relations -- a home that has welcomed all Lebanese, and all Lebanese-Americans. You should be very proud of this. Your tireless personal advocacy on behalf of Lebanon and the Lebanese people has defined your tenure as ambassador.
In promoting Lebanon, you have gathered people from far and wide to this home, forging relationships that benefit Lebanon and our relationship. You forged personal friendships with Congress that created new advocates for Lebanon. You testified to Congress on the enormous refugee challenge in your country. You spoke to American students at countless universities across this country. You built a formidable network in the Lebanese-American community, many of whom I see here tonight.
And look at what you've accomplished. The relationship between Lebanon and America has never been stronger. From our assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces as it defends the country from Daesh and Nusra - new airplanes, hundreds of missiles, guns, and training - to major increases in humanitarian and economic aid for Lebanon - wells for communities in every part of the country, full college scholarships for the neediest Lebanese students, blankets and food for refugee families, and infrastructure improvements for the communities hosting them - you helped make all of this possible by making sure that Lebanon's needs were heard here in Washington loud and clear.
Although I know you, Nicole, Georges, Rhea, and Anthony are all looking forward to your retirement and a hopefully lighter schedule, I also know you will miss the work. I know you're leaving with a heavy heart. Lebanon is going through a very difficult time right now. David Hale just departed Beirut with a similar sense that our work for Lebanon is unfinished and that the country faces rising challenges.
I want you to know, however, that the message you have consistently conveyed to us in Washington over the past eight years --- that Lebanon must not be allowed to return to the dark days of the past, and that American leadership in the region is good for Lebanon and good for America -- will not be forgotten.
I can assure you, Tony, that the United States will continue to stand by Lebanon and the Lebanese people - through our bilateral assistance and through our renewed efforts to end the Syrian conflict which has such a negative impact on Lebanon. We want what the Lebanese people want: a Lebanon secure and prosperous. That commitment is part of your legacy here.
We will miss your wise counsel and advocacy on behalf of Lebanon. To Tony and Nicole. On behalf of Secretary Kerry, thank you for your service to your country and to U.S.-Lebanese relations. We wish you further success and happiness in the years ahead. Thank you.