US President Joe Biden’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara Leaf, has described an Iranian fuel shipment that arrived in Lebanon on Thursday as a Hezbollah trick to improve its reputation.
During a Senate confirmation hearing for the nominations of Assistant Secretaries, Representative to NATO and Ambassador to France, Leaf said the shipment would not solve Lebanon’s deep energy and economic problems.
“This energy solution is frankly a PR stunned by Hezbollah,” she said.
The official later spoke about US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea’s proposed plan that involves bringing electricity from Egypt through Jordan to Lebanon via Syria and whether this plan complies with the Caesar Act.
She said the issue of the acute energy crisis in Lebanon is side by side with the general disintegration of the economy, which is having a terrible effect across society.
“There is a regionally proposed solution, which our partners Egypt and Jordan have teamed together to look at the issue of electricity and natural gas to get it across Syria into Lebanon. This project is endorsed by the World Bank. So, the State Department is looking at it carefully within the framework of the US laws and sanctions policy and of course the State Department will consult with the US Treasury Department on the way forward,” she said.
The US official stressed that Shea’s plan offers the prospect of a cheaper, cleaner and defensible solution, in addition to a short-term fix to what is a larger and terrible problem in Lebanon.
Also, Leaf welcomed the formation of a new government, which she said is the first step, after 13 months, to start economic reforms.
“This government having been formed is only the first minimal step on what has to be a long road of structural economic reform, which will then unlock international financing loans and other forms of foreign assistance,” she explained.
Leaf made it clear there is no rescue coming to Lebanon from the outside. “The solution lies in Lebanese hands. But it is going to be long.”
Leaf stressed the Biden administration’s continuous support for the Lebanese Army, saying it is Washington’s priority.
For his part, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Senator Bob Menendez said he helped write the Caesar Act and does not want to give relief to the Assad regime in Syria.
“However, in this particular case and for these particular circumstances, if the Department makes a determination that this is the only impediment towards an agreement for energy flow into Lebanon, I will ask them to come to me because it is important to find a way forward,” Menendez said.