The Biden administration is “clear-eyed” about the threat Hezbollah poses to Lebanon and will continue to work to counter and combat the Iran-backed group’s influence in the crisis-struck country, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization by the US and several Gulf countries, continues to impose its will upon Lebanese politicians as they struggle to elect a new president and is the only group possessing weapons outside the state’s control.
Decades of corruption and clientelism have also played a key role in plunging Lebanon into what the World Bank has said is one of the worst economic crises globally since the mid-nineteenth century.
“As these crises compound, we are also clear-eyed about the threat Hezbollah continues to pose to Lebanon, the United States, and to the broader region,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ethan Goldrich said on Thursday.
Goldrich vowed that the US would continue to use a range of tools “at our disposal” to undercut the threat of Hezbollah. He pointed to US sanctions as recently as last Fall on individuals and entities for providing financial services to Hezbollah. Another batch of sanctions targeted a smuggling network that helped divert money from illicit Iranian oil to Hezbollah.
“Indeed, combating Hezbollah’s influence and shoring up Lebanon’s stability and security remain key objectives for this administration,” Goldrich said during a webinar with the American Task on Lebanon.
Government formation, World Bank deal
The State Department official hit back at claims that the US or foreign powers were the ones who would choose Lebanon’s next president.
Hezbollah has been adamant about electing pro-Syria Sleiman Frangieh and Parliament today failed to elect a president for the 11th time. Anti-Hezbollah lawmakers have been casting their ballots for Michel Moawad, the son of slain Lebanese President Rene Moawad.
On Thursday, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah said, “We want a president who does not submit to American threats.”
Goldrich said it was for the Lebanese parliament to determine the next president in accordance with the demands of the Lebanese people. “We, the US government, are not in the business of picking winners and losers,” he asserted.
But Goldrich said the next president needed to be capable of uniting the country and implementing critical economic reforms that take into account the interests of the Lebanese people.
The IMF and Lebanon signed a draft agreement last year that would see $3 billion for Beirut after several reforms were implemented. The previous government and the current caretaker government have yet to carry out their part of the deal.
“It remains Lebanon’s best and only realistic option toward long-term recovery,” Goldrich said. “There will be no bailout,” he added, from the international community.
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