US steps up support for Lebanese military as violence in Beirut overshadows diplomat’s visit

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A senior US State Department official on Thursday announced an additional $ 67 million in aid for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) during a visit to Beirut that has been overshadowed by deadly clashes in the capital.

Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, number three in the State Department, led a delegation on a day-long visit to meet Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the Speaker of the House Nabih Berri.

“I am happy to announce an additional $ 67 million in new US support to the Lebanese military, bringing our total support this year to $ 187 million,” Nuland said at a press conference at the end. of his visit.

LAF chief Joseph Aoun is expected to visit Washington at the end of the month, The National has learned.

The State Department said Ms Nuland had also met with representatives of Lebanese civil society.

Ms Nuland’s visit comes as armed clashes erupted in Beirut during a Hezbollah-led protest against the investigation into last year’s massive port explosion. She reaffirmed the importance of American security support in Lebanon.

“We join the Lebanese authorities in their call for calm and the de-escalation of tensions,” she said.

“The health and future of Lebanese democracy depend on the ability of its citizens to resolve the difficult problems facing their country, peacefully and through dialogue and with confidence in the rule of law.

She also highlighted US support for an independent judiciary in Lebanon and the investigation into the port explosion led by prosecutor Tarek Bitar.

Hezbollah attacked Bitar for requesting subpoenas from figures loyal to the militant group.

“An independent, clean and impartial judiciary is the guarantor of all rights … the Lebanese people deserve no less, and the victims and families of those lost in the port explosion deserve no less,” he said. Ms. Nuland said.

Without citing Hezbollah by name, she said that “terrorists and thieves” have deprived people for too long.

“After years of suffering, all Lebanese deserve better,” she said.

The United States designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.

Asked about recent Iranian fuel deliveries to Hezbollah in response to fuel shortages, she called it a “publicity stunt”, with Iran offering “a bunch of trucks full of dirty stuff that is unsustainable for the Lebanese people” .

Its meetings in Beirut discussed a US-backed plan to help ship fuel and gas from Egypt and Jordan to Lebanon via Syria, the International Monetary Fund talks and the maritime dispute with Israel.

“We also call for caution and responsibility in the use of the IMF’s more than $ 1 billion in Special Drawing Rights. This money belongs to the Lebanese people and must be used for their benefit, ”Ms. Nuland said.

She underlined the importance for Lebanon to organize free and fair elections next year.

Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, saw the security situation in Beirut as an alarming sign for Washington.

“Ms. Nuland today witnessed a bad scenario that Lebanon could sink into, but it also confirmed the need for the United States to continue its policy of supporting the ALF,” Ms. Slim said. The National.

But beyond military support, humanitarian aid to Lebanese and Syrian refugees, and mediating maritime negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, Slim said the Biden administration was unlikely to get more involved. in Beirut.

“They will continue to outsource the Lebanese file to French and regional countries which retain interest and influence in Lebanon,” she said.

Update: October 14, 2021, 5:41 p.m.

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