‘We turned the page,’ says US ambassador to Lebanon after order to silence her

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After a judicial order banning her from speaking to local televisions, the US ambassador to Lebanon said Monday that it was time to “turn the page” despite a judge’s non-binding order to silence the diplomat for comments made against Hezbollah.

Ambassador Dorothy Shea met with Lebanon’s foreign minister, Nassif Hitti, following the latter’s summoning over an interview Shea gave to Al Hadath last week. In her interview, Shea criticized Iran-backed Hezbollah for jeopardizing Lebanon’s economic recovery and the country’s stability.

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A south Lebanon judge issued an order Saturday banning local media outlets from conducting interviews with Shea. But Shea said that the Lebanese government apologized and downplayed the order. Lebanon’s information minister said this was not true, in which Shea said, “the information minister doesn’t have all the information.”

On Monday, after meeting Hitti, Shea said, “We turned the page on this unfortunate distraction so we can all focus on the real crisis at hand, which is the deteriorating economic situation in Lebanon.”

Shea said she had a “positive meeting” with the Lebanese foreign minister, where they reinforced the importance of the bilateral relationship between each country.”

US Ambassador to Lebanon Shea speaks during a news conference in Beirut, June 29, 2020. (Reuters)
US Ambassador to Lebanon Shea speaks during a news conference in Beirut, June 29, 2020. (Reuters)

Over the weekend, Shea expressed her surprise at “such a brazen attempt to silence the media and to curb freedom of expression. They really caused quite a tempest in a teapot.”

She said that in her original interview, she called out Hezbollah “on some inaccurate and inappropriate and violent language,” adding that “it’s more reminiscent of what you might see in Iran, not met here in Lebanon.”

Read more: Hezbollah and burned bridges with Gulf have hurt Lebanon, says Gargash

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A week prior, the group’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, said the US was trying to starve the Lebanese people and that Washington was preventing US dollars from entering the Lebanese market. Nasrallah also called out Shea in his televised remarks, before calling on Lebanon to “go East” and strike deals with Iran and China.

China and Iran

Separately, China and Iran’s embassies in Beirut lashed out at Shea and the US Embassy.

“The more she [Ambassador Shea] gossips, the more she insults herself and her country. She does not have the right to attack another country with fabricated claims,” the Iranian embassy wrote on Twitter.

China’s embassy posted a statement on its website. “We hope that the United States can view China’s cooperation with other countries in a correct and objective way. The US side should at least stop impeding others from assisting these developing countries, whereas serving its own political needs at the cost of the developing countries’ benefit,” the statement said.

Shea had said in her original interview that Chinese investment often entails debt traps, loans and opaque business deals. She also said that the deals with China were transactional and geared to benefit the Chinese Community Party.

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