US Congress calls for more aid to Lebanon to cope with Beirut blast
The incoming Biden administration will be tasked with overseeing humanitarian aid to Lebanon and facilitating border disputes with Israel
The US Congress is requiring the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase humanitarian aid to Lebanon next year while funding programmes to facilitate negotiations over Lebanese-Israeli border disputes.
Congress included the Lebanon aid provisions in its gargantuan $2.3 trillion spending bill, which includes a $900 billion Covid-19 stimulus package, which passed the Republican-held Senate 92-6 and the Democratic-controlled House 359-53 on Monday.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the spending agreement into law. But it will fall to President-Elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration to implement the lion’s share of the massive bill, including the Lebanese aid provisions.
The Trump administration had requested $62.2 million in economic aid to Lebanon for fiscal year 2021. But as in previous years, Congress ignored the proposed aid cut and instead appropriated $112.5 million in Lebanese economic assistance.
The report accompanying the comprise legislation says that the State Department and USAID “shall increase humanitarian assistance, primarily through local NGOs, to help communities impacted” by the Beirut port explosion in August.
The August 4 explosion of ammonium nitrate that had been sitting in Beirut’s port for six years killed at least 204 people, injured another 65,000 and left approximately 300,000 others homeless by destroying large swathes of the city, causing $15 billion in property damage.
The report also clarified that the Beirut port explosion qualifies as a “catastrophic manmade disaster,” thereby enabling Lebanese universities to draw from the $50 million in aid that Congress sets aside for higher education institutions in the Middle East and Asia.
The compromise spending bill also provides $12 billion in scholarships for Lebanese students and another $8 billion in scholarships for refugees residing in Lebanon.
Additionally, the report notes that the spending agreement “includes funds to support programmes to facilitate the resolution of border disputes between Lebanon and Israel.”
The Trump administration is brokering talks between Lebanon and Israel to resolve a maritime border dispute. However, the talks have hit a series of snags in recent weeks.
“Regrettably, despite goodwill on both sides, the parties remain far apart,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement regarding the talks on Tuesday. “The United States remains ready to mediate constructive discussion and urges both sides to negotiate based on the respective maritime claims both have previously deposited at the United Nations.”
The congressional report accompanying the spending compromise also requires the secretary of state to submit a report on Lebanese-Israeli border talks within three months after the president signs the bill into law.
Mr Biden has nominated his national security adviser, Tony Blinken, to serve as secretary of state – but his appointment is subject to the Senate’s approval.
Published: December 23, 2020 01:53 AM