US senior official to visit Lebanon next week

The National has learnt that undersecretary of state for political affairs David Hale is heading to Beirut

TOPSHOT - Protesters chant slogans as they march during a demonstration outside the Interior Ministry headquarters in the Lebanese capital Beirut on December 11, 2019.  / AFP / IBRAHIM AMRO
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US undersecretary of state for political affairs David Hale will be in Lebanon next week as negotiations over government formation intensify and anti-corruption protests approach their third month.

Mr Hale, who served as ambassador to Lebanon, will be flying to Beirut next week, sources in Washington confirmed to The National.

He will be the highest level official to visit the country since the protests broke out on October 17 and led to the government resigning.

The Lebanese presidency has tentatively scheduled consultations for forming a government on Monday, but there is no consensus so far on naming a prime minister or the nature of the next cabinet.

Protesters have been advocating a government of technocrats to address the urgent economic crisis.

Two candidates for the position, Samir Khatib and Mohammad Safadi, have withdrawn their candidacy after being met with uproar from demonstrators.

Lebanon’s political elite has also failed to attract financial support from the international community, as economists warn of a looming crash.

Those attending a meeting for Lebanon’s support group in France this week made it clear that no bailout or financial assistance would be granted without serious reforms.

They agreed to give technical advice to Lebanese institutions but will not provide the bailout that caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri requested, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, David Schenker, told AP.

“There’s no aid package, there is no bailout,” Mr Schenker said. “Lebanon is not being saved from its financial mess.”

Firas Maksad, a professor at George Washington University, said Mr Hale’s visit was to emphasise that there would be "no free bailout".

“The US administration is adamant in conditioning any future aid to Lebanon on the formation of a government that can deliver on the people’s demand for meaningful reforms," Mr Maksad said.

"David Hale will be delivering this firm message to officials in Beirut.

“The US approach combines traditional American values of supporting peoples’ legitimate demands, with its more immediate geopolitical objectives in pressuring Iran’s regional allies including Hezbollah.”