US foreign policy

Top US lawmakers call on Biden to ‘reconsider’ support for Lebanon energy deals

Not only would such deals likely benefit Assad financially, they would exacerbate corruption in Lebanon,” Senator Jim Risch and Congressman Michael McCaul wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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The top Republican lawmakers on the Senate and Congress foreign relations committees issued a letter Tuesday, calling on the Biden administration to reconsider its support for US-backed energy deals between Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

Under a World Bank proposal, backed by the United States, two plans would see Egypt and Jordan sell natural gas and electricity to Lebanon via Syria.

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But the deal would require transit fees being paid to the Assad regime, which has had crippling Caesar Act sanctions prevent foreign countries and companies from dealing with the Syrian government as a result of its war crimes.

“While we acknowledge Lebanon’s precarious situation, its energy sector is a black hole of corruption. Not only would such deals likely benefit Assad financially, they would exacerbate corruption in Lebanon,” Senator Jim Risch and Congressman Michael McCaul wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Urging the Biden administration to “reconsider” its support for the deals, the lawmakers called for finding alternative ways of supporting Lebanon. “Should you choose to pursue these energy arrangements, we urge you follow the law and utilize a Caesar Act waiver to make clear to the world that this bipartisan, bicameral legislation is the core framework through which the United States views dealings with the Syrian regime,” they wrote.

Risch and McCaul also voiced their concerns that the deal had provided “a blueprint for circumventing Caesar sanctions.”

“If the administration continues to confer its support for these deals, it sets a precedent that the administration is unwilling to enforce the Caesar Act and will facilitate international actors finding loopholes to avoid the sanctions crafted by Congress with broad bipartisan and bicameral support,” they said.

Last week, a senior State Department official told reporters that there would be no Caesar Act sanctions lifted or waived “in this case, or any other case, for that matter.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official insisted: “We do not support efforts to normalize relations with Syria or rehabilitate Assad. And none of these projects that we are currently supportive of are designed to do so. Nor do we believe that they actually will do so.”

With Lebanon suffering from one of the worst economic downfalls in history and very few hours of electricity per day, the official said the plans were “entirely intended” to support Lebanon and the Lebanese people. “And if we do not address the power shortages in Lebanon in the near term, there are great risks of continued degradation of the economy.”

Read more: US tells Lebanon not to fear sanctions over energy supply plans, PM’s office says

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