Pompeo: US ready to engage with Lebanese government that’s 'committed to reform'
White House concerned about country's economic crisis
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered his support to the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab if it undertook major reforms.
“We’re prepared to engage, provide support, but only to a government that’s committed to reform,” Mr Pompeo told Bloomberg on Wednesday.
He said the Trump administration was still examining the 20-member Cabinet and that reforms to address Lebanon’s financial crisis should be top priority.
The country has a growing deficit of more than $86 billion (Dh315.88bn) and is at the risk of default. The Lebanese pound has depreciated by about 40 per cent since protests started in October.
Local reports said this week that medicine and hospital supplies were starting to run short, as fuel did in December.
Mr Pompeo said the protests went beyond the economic crisis and were seeking “sovereignty and freedom", as they were in Iraq.
He said they were also against the Iranian-backed party Hezbollah, whose allies make up most of the support behind the Diab government.
But Mr Pompeo shied away from calling it a “Hezbollah government”. He said Washington was seeking “a non-corrupt government that reflects the will of the people of Lebanon".
“If this government in responsive to that and there’s a new set of leaders who are prepared to make those commitments and deliver on that, that’s the kind of government that we’ll support,” he said.
Mr Pompeo later said: "The test of Lebanon’s new government will be its actions and its responsiveness to the demands of the Lebanese people to implement reforms and to fight corruption.
"Only a government that is capable of and committed to undertaking real and tangible reforms will restore investor confidence and unlock international assistance for Lebanon.
"The unified, non-sectarian, and largely peaceful protests over the past three months reflect the Lebanese people’s aspirations for their political leaders to put aside partisan interests and to act in the national interest.
"We urge the government, army and security services to guarantee the safety of citizens as they engage in peaceful demonstrations. Violence and provocative actions have no place in civil discourse."
A US official told The National on Monday that “the test of any government will be its actions".
"Lebanese leaders need to commit to and implement the reforms necessary to respond to the Lebanese people’s demands for better governance, economic opportunity and an end to endemic corruption.”
US support will be critical to unlocking $11bn in loan pledges for Lebanon, made at the Cedar donor conference in France last year.
“There is no route to international assistance other than through concrete reforms taken by a credible and capable government,” the US official said.
Those include addressing infrastructure and corruption problems in Lebanon’s electricity sector, providing public services and stopping smuggling at the country's ports.
Protests continued across Lebanon on Wednesday with clashes in Beirut between the demonstrators and security. The Lebanese Red Cross reported 52 wounded in downtown Beirut.
Updated: January 24, 2020 09:40 AM