First senior US official under Biden to travel to Lebanon this week: State Department

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Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale will travel to Beirut this week, the State Department said Monday, where the US official is expected to discuss the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel and the stalled government formation.

"He will underscore America’s concerns with the worsening socio-economic conditions throughout the country and the political impasse that is contributing to the deteriorating situation," the State Department said in a statement.

"Under Secretary Hale will press Lebanese officials and party leaders to come together and form a government capable of and committed to implementing economic and governance reforms so that the Lebanese people can realize their full potential," it added

Al Arabiya English first reported that the US diplomat was scheduled to head to Lebanon to revive maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel. The US has dispatched several envoys over the last ten years in a bid to mediate a solution to the disputed waters.

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Hale, the number three official at the State Department, will soon be replaced by Victoria Nuland.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale thumbs up for volunteers as he visits their main NGOs in Beirut, Aug. 13, 2020. (Reuters)
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale thumbs up for volunteers as he visits their main NGOs in Beirut, Aug. 13, 2020. (Reuters)

The disputed area is a little over 800 square kilometers, and Washington successfully brokered the first non-security talks in over 30 years between Beirut and Tel Aviv at the end of last year.

But Lebanon recently reneged on its previously adopted maritime borders and has demanded an extra 1,430 square kilometers (550 sq. miles). A decree was signed by Lebanese officials, including the caretaker prime minister, and sent to the presidency on Monday.

The amendment to Lebanon’s original claim submitted to the United Nations seeks to add the extra waters to its exclusive economic zone.

Diplomatic sources previously told Al Arabiya English that this “maximalist” stance by Beirut would be counterproductive.

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz hit back on Monday and said the “unilateral Lebanese measures” would be answered with “parallel measures by Israel.”

Government deadlock

Meanwhile, Lebanon's political elite continue to bicker over spoils in the next government. The country's sectarian-based political system and decades of corruption and mismanagement have caused an unprecedented economic and social collapse that continues to worsen.

The overwhelming majority of lawmakers designated Saad Hariri to form a new government; however, Hezbollah and its Christian allies continue to block Hariri's efforts to form a government made up of independent specialists. Hezbollah has called for political representatives to be included, and the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by President Michel Aoun, has reportedly demanded a blocking third in the upcoming government.

The US and its European allies have demanded a government that can implement reforms and fight corruption. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have previously expressed readiness to help but explicitly stated that no aid would be given without a credible government.

Read more: Deteriorating Lebanon concerns US officials after army warns of ‘social explosion’

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