US preparing Lebanon assistance package

State Department readies Lebanon aid while pressuring Lebanese leaders to form functioning government

US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale (2-L) and US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea (L), accompanied by Lebanese army officers, tour at the site of last week's explosion that hit the seaport of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on August 15, 2020.   Hale today called for a transparent and credible probe into the explosion at Beirut's port, as FBI investigators were set to arrive in Lebanon to assist authorities.
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The US is developing a humanitarian aid package for the Lebanese public amid political gridlock and a spiralling economic crisis, a key US diplomat revealed on Wednesday.

David Hale, who stepped down as the undersecretary of state for political affairs earlier this month, said the State Department’s work on the assistance package was likely ongoing.

“As I was leaving office, we were working on developing a package, which I’m sure my colleagues are continuing to develop on an urgent basis and getting the support of the Senate,” Mr Hale said at a virtual panel hosted by the Middle East Institute.

“We’re ready to help, but we can’t do it without a Lebanese partner. I agree that there can be no bailout, but I also agree this is a time for strong humanitarian support.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had asked Mr Hale to visit Lebanon at the start of Ramadan last month in one of his last regional trips as undersecretary, as the country's political and economic crisis has continued to deteriorate.

Mr Hale offered a grim assessment of the political elite’s ongoing failure to form a government following his trip, during which he met many Lebanese leaders.

“I encountered, from many of them, a real lack of a sense of urgency, which lies at one of the roots of the problem we’re facing," Mr Hale said.

“I called publicly and privately for greater flexibility by those leaders to overcome the Cabinet impasse that is impeding economic reform. And unfortunately, I have not seen the flexibility that is needed in the past month since my visit.”

Mr Hale, a career diplomat who has lived in Lebanon for eight years, left his position as undersecretary of state earlier this month after the Senate confirmed Victoria Nuland as his replacement.

He remains employed by the State Department and is currently working on a book about Lebanon in his capacity as a distinguished diplomatic fellow at the Wilson Centre.

“I have never seen that level of despair in the country – since the end of the civil war, anyway, in 1990,” Mr Hale said.

“They’re suffering because Lebanese leaders have failed to meet their basic responsibility to put the country’s interests first.”

Although President Michel Aoun appointed Saad Hariri to form a new government after former prime minister Hassan Diab resigned after last year's port blast that tore through Beirut, Lebanese leaders have yet to coalesce into a Cabinet.

People sit outside an art gallery that was reopened after it was damaged due to the massive explosion at Beirut's port area, in Beirut, Lebanon, May 21, 2021. Picture taken May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Lebanon's economic crisis has worsened and protests have erupted across the country. Reuters

The caretaker government has little authority to provide basic services to the Lebanese populace or to enact the economic reforms needed to unlock financial assistance and loans from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.

As the economic crisis worsens, mass protests have swept through the country while the price of consumer goods has skyrocketed.

“Lebanese popular demands are very well known: transparency, accountability and an end to endemic corruption and mismanagement,” Mr Hale said.

He also warned Lebanon against postponing the parliamentary elections that are currently slated for 2022 as the Lebanese political elite continue to jockey for power.

“One key element of US foreign policy will have to be to really insist that those elections occur on time,” he said.