US says there is no bailout for Lebanon, calls for change


BEIRUT – There can be no financial bailout for Lebanon, a senior US official said on Saturday, calling on the country’s political leaders to heed popular calls for change, real reform and an end to rampant corruption. David Hale, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said the United States and its allies will respond to “systemic reforms with sustained financial support.” He also called for a thorough and transparent investigation into the August 4 explosion that killed nearly 180 people and injured thousands.

He said an FBI team is arriving this weekend to participate in the investigation at the invitation of the Lebanese authorities.

Hale arrived in Beirut on Thursday, where he met volunteers helping at the blast site, as well as the country’s top political and religious leaders.

“America calls on the Lebanese political leaders to finally respond to the legitimate and long-standing demands of the people and to create a credible plan – accepted by the Lebanese people – for good governance, sound economic and financial reform and an end to the endemic corruption that suffocated Lebanon. enormous potential, ”he said.

“But as the dozens of young activists and volunteers I have met so bluntly demanded, there can be no bailout,” Hale said in a recorded message posted on the US Embassy’s website Saturday.

Hale’s comments were consistent with Washington’s message before the visit. But he did not say whether the United States and Western allies are ready to support a government in which the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group has influence.

After visiting the site of the blast, Hale called on the state to exercise control over its borders and ports, in clear reference to claims the Hezbollah group controls them.

“We can never go back to a time when everything is happening at the port or at the borders of Lebanon,” Hale said.

Washington and its allies regard the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and have accused it of abusing government funds and undermining state authority. There was speculation in local media that Hale would push for a government that excluded the group.

In a clear message, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his group was pushing for a national unity government with broad political representation and support. Seeking a “neutral government”, he said, would be “a waste of time”.

Popular anger has built up in Lebanon over the corruption, mismanagement and political uncertainty of the ruling elite, many of whom are responsible for pushing the country into bankruptcy and poverty.

The explosion only increased public rage. The cause of the fire that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut remains uncertain. Documents emerged showing that the country’s top leaders and security officials were aware of the chemicals stored in the port.

Many Lebanese are calling for an independent international inquiry, saying they do not trust long-established political factions to allow the discovery of results detrimental to their leaders.

Under pressure, the Lebanese government resigned on August 10 and takes up the post of guard. So far, there are no formal consultations underway on who will replace Hassan Diab as prime minister and no likely candidate has emerged.

But the whirlwind of diplomatic visits seemed destined to influence the formation of the new government.

Western leaders have said they will send aid directly to the Lebanese people and that billions of dollars will not flow into the country until major reforms take place.

Hale said the United States has so far donated $ 18 million to the Lebanese people in terms of food and other essentials and is preparing to work with Congress to secure an additional $ 30 million to ensure the flow of grain after the destruction of the capital’s silos by the explosion. Aid, he said, will be managed directly by the World Food Program.

“Now is the time for Lebanon to define a Lebanese – and not a foreign – vision of Lebanon,” Hale said. “What kind of Lebanon do you have and what kind of Lebanon do you want? Only the Lebanese can answer this question. ”

Hale’s visit coincided with that of Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif, who said Western countries were exploiting the disaster in Lebanon to impose their political diktats. Iran is Hezbollah’s main foreign donor and has provided the group with financial and technical support over the years.

On Friday, the United Nations appealed for $ 565 million for Lebanon with immediate humanitarian assistance and initial recovery efforts. Last week, international donors pledged nearly $ 300 million in emergency aid to Lebanon.

Najat Rochdi, United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon, called for more funds to cover critical housing, food, health and education needs.

Rochdi said most donors have requested aid to be channeled through the UN, which she said would be coordinated with the Lebanese armed forces to ensure access.

“We will be very strict on the use of humanitarian aid. We will closely monitor each delivery of our humanitarian aid, ”she said. “We will be accountable not only to donors, because our responsibility also goes to the affected population.”

Also on Saturday, families and friends buried Ralph Malahi, a 23-year-old firefighter who was among 10 firefighters killed in the blast.

Malahi received the funeral of a hero in Beirut. Lifting Malahi’s coffin, thousands of people marched through different parts of the city, firing guns into the air in commemoration.

Malahi is the seventh firefighter to be recovered from under the debris of the port at the scene of the explosion. Three are still missing.

Malahi’s mother, crying, blamed the government for her son’s death. “Why didn’t you evacuate the port?” she said, referring to the government’s knowledge that highly explosive materials were stored at the port.

Associated Press editor Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.


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