The US delegation to Lebanon has passed a clear message to Lebanon’s political elite on the importance of forming a government and holding transparent and fair elections in the spring of 2022, US Senator Chris Murphy told Lebanon’s local TV channel LBCI during an interview.
“It is a critical moment for Lebanon and Lebanon is a critical country for the US. I have thousands of American Lebanese families in my state which are worried about the freefall of the economy,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel dealing with the Middle East added.
The US senator said Lebanon is a miracle of a multi-religious democracy in the middle of a very tough part of the world and the US has lots of reasons, personal reasons, and political reasons, to be interested in Lebanon.
Murphy said that in the short run the US has no choice but to trust that the existing political elite will be able to alleviate Lebanon out of its crisis.
“For the Lebanese to be lifted off this crisis we need a government, the US needs a Prime Minister to be able to talk to and to negotiate. The delegation came here to express its desire and strong hope that political leadership here stop causing this crisis, instead be part of the solution, form a government, make the reforms necessary to save this country, if they do, the US senate, certainly the four of us, are ready to be more robust partners than we’ve had been over the past few years,” he added.
The senator added that the government is going to be formed with many familiar names being part of it.
“They have to start the reform process, ending subsidies, enacting capital controls, rooting out corruption,” he added.
“Sometimes when we come here the Lebanese leaders tend to blame the problems of the country on other nations, the Lebanese elite claim they are puns in a broader political game of chess, that is not true, Lebanon can save itself, the leaders of this country can form a government and begin the process of reform,” Murphy added.
The US senator added that the US can help the political class, can bring the IMF to the table, can increase its aid.
“We were here to deliver a tough message, if a government is not formed, if the reforms didn’t happen, it will be tougher to convince my taxpayers to keep sending money to a country that does not want to help itself,” Murphy added.
Murphy added that the US got reassurances that a government is going to be formed.
“The president told us that a government will be formed by the end of this week. We understand that all the parties will have to make some concessions to make that happen,” he added.
The US senator added that the delegation also came to Lebanon to send a clear message about the upcoming parliamentary election in 2022.
“The voters of this country will have a chance a new leadership, new faces to government, but only if the election happens on time and it secure is safe, I hope that this is the moment when new leadership emerges, so that was our second primary message,” he told the local Lebanese TV channel.
Murphy added that the delegation has discussed ways in which the interior ministry and justice ministry could take steps to make sure the upcoming election is free and secure.
“We will obviously be willing to offer monitors and any experts and technical assistance to make sure no one is intimidated to stay away from the polling stations. Who the country elects next spring is Lebanon’s debate, not ours, our only desire is that remains a democracy and the Lebanese get to decide who leads, we will provide any assistance necessary to get that to happen,” he added.
Aid to Lebanon and Sanctions
The US senator said that every political leader in Lebanon needs to know that using sanctions to loot corruption is bipartisan, “it’s a commitment of both Republican and Democrats.”
Murphy added that aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) will continue.
“I am so impressed by the LAF, impressed by their professionalism, impressed by their behavior during the protest movement, that is something they were not trained for, I believe that US must continue to remain a robust partner to the LAF,” he added.
Murphy added that the US needs to find a creative way to increase pay for the LAF troops.
“It is not okay for that the Lebanese army forces are being paid less than Hezbollah fighters. We will continue to find ways to support them,” the US senator added.
Lebanon fuel and electricity crisis
Murphy said that the importation of Iranian oil could subject Lebanon to sanctions, adding that the final decision must be taken by the administration, but the risk certainly does exist.
The senator added that the US is trying to find a long-term solution for the fuel crisis.
“Some Iranian tankers is a chance for Iran to pull a photo opportunity, it is not a long-term solution for the Iranian economy either, I think people know that the US now is working on importing gas from Egypt, we are looking for long term solutions,” he added.
In terms of short-term solutions to the fuel crisis, Murphy said that the first step is the formation of a government.
“[A government] is needed to unlock international aid to Lebanon to resolve the fuel crisis, Hezbollah is interested in keeping this country in crisis, our interest is in the long-term health and stability of Lebanon, and this starts with a government. I believe the US will work with the IMF on a long-term relief package that would allow the fuel crisis to be addressed but that needs a government,” he added.
Murphy commented on Hezbollah’s claim of having an embargo on Lebanon by the US and its allies saying that is “a fiction.”
“I don’t know what that is, that’s a lie that has been created by people who want to keep Lebanon in perpetual crisis, we are continuing to be the biggest supporter and cheerleader for this country,” he added.
Hezbollah and the US
The US senator said that he certainly does not see any talks in the future between the US and Hezbollah.
“It is true that there are moments in US diplomatic history in which an enemy all of a sudden becomes a negotiating partner, there was a unique case in Afghanistan with thousands of US troops on the ground in Afghanistan and thus we had to talk to the Taliban, I don’t see those circumstances being present with respect to Hezbollah,” he added.
US senator Murphy said that he hopes that the US will re-enter a clear agreement with Iran.
“Our belief has been that this region is safer if Iran has no pathway to nuclear weapons, that doesn’t mean that they will no longer be involved in all sorts of other nefarious activity in the region, much of it in Lebanon, but at least they don’t have a nuclear weapon as they are attempting to destabilize the region,” he added.
Murphy added that the new regime in Iran is not much different than the old regime, but it is more resistant to the nuclear agreement.
“I think that ultimately the only solution for Iran when it comes to their economic crisis is to rejoin the deal, while I understand that Iranian president Raisi may not have it be at the top of his list, but ultimately I believe that Iran will have to come back to the table, re-enter the agreement, that will be good for Iran, that would be good for the US and its allies,” he added.