US keeps pressure on PM-designate Hariri to reform Lebanon

Key State Department official outlines objectives future Hariri government must accomplish to earn US support

In this photo released by Lebanon's official government photographer Dalati Nohra, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Government via AP)
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Saad Hariri must fight corruption and implement reforms to unlock international assistance for the country’s economic crisis, a senior US State Department official said on Thursday.

“We stand with the Lebanese people as they urge their political leaders to end business as usual,” said the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, David Schenker.

Mr Hariri, who has been prime minister twice before, pledged that his fourth government in a decade would be one of “non-partisan specialists” after Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday chose him for the position.

Mr Hariri resigned last year after mass protests demanding an overhaul of a political system dominated by the Lebanese elite and an end to corruption.

Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in August after the massive explosion at Beirut’s port which killed at least 190 people and levelled areas of the city.

Mr Diab's immediate designated successor, Mustapha Adib, stood down after failing to form a Cabinet.

Mr Schenker called on “any new government of Lebanon to embrace and implement reforms, to embrace transparency, to fight corruption, to hold those accountable for their crimes or misdeeds and to be committed to disassociation”.

The last point referred to Beirut’s stated 2012 policy of staying out of regional conflicts.

“These are what the US has repeatedly said are the preconditions for US support for unlocking the IMF loan,” Mr Schenker said.

Lebanon this year requested a $10 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund as it seeks to cope with a currency and debt crisis.

But any IMF loan would rely on approval from the US, which controls the most shares in the international organisation.

Mr Schenker spent three days in Lebanon last week as part of a tour of the region, during which he met Lebanese political and civil society figures including Mr Aoun.

On his trip, he told one observer that Mr Hariri "deserves a second chance", The National  has learnt.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called Mr Aoun on Friday.

Mr Schenker has refused to publicly make any official endorsements of Mr Hariri’s appointment.

“The United States has not commented or weighed in on specific individuals in Lebanon,” he told reporters.

“There’s a lot to fix, so we’re sticking with principles, rather than people. So, we’re going to reserve judgment.”

Joyce Karam contributed to this report