Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ed Royce: ‘Lebanese banks are doing the right thing’

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 
The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA), a US law aimed at blocking Hezbollah's access to the financial sector, has caused weeks of commotion in Lebanon, where the central bank's decision to implement the rules has led to tension between the country's banks and the Lebanese Shi'ite group. For the first time since the law's implementation in Lebanon, the instigator of HIFPA, US congressman Ed Royce, reacts to the situation in the country.
By Olivier Holmey 
In emailed responses to Euromoney, Royce, who has been Chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs since 2013, said the Lebanese banking sector was making progress in fighting Hezbollah. But he appeared keen to maintain pressure on the banks. "Progress has been made," Royce said. "Many Lebanese private banks are doing the right thing and taking significant steps to crack down on money laundering. That said, financial institutions will have to remain vigilant and proactive." 
In June, a bomb exploded outside the Beirut headquarters of Blom Bank, an attack not claimed by Hezbollah but widely interpreted as a warning shot from the group to the banking sector. Hezbollah, which is designated a terrorist group by the US but has a strong political presence in Lebanon, views HIFPA as a breach of sovereignty.   
Asked whether he had expected HIFPA to lead to such tension in Lebanon, Royce said: "The source of instability in Lebanon is Iran's proxy Hizbollah. Today this terrorist organization is propping up the murderous Assad regime in Syria, while aiming more than 100,000 missiles at Israel. The law is designed to limit Hizbollah's ability to finance these terror activities that are a primary source of tension and conflict throughout the Middle East." 
The tension following the implementation of the US bill in Lebanon partly derived from people's perception that Lebanese banks were overzealously applying HIFPA, cancelling accounts beyond those on the US lists, including, by some accounts, of hospitals linked to Hezbollah and of family of Hezbollah members. 
Royce did not condemn this reading of the law. Rather, he said that Lebanese banks were right to be "proactive", and would have to remain that way to avoid US sanctions. "Lebanese banks should do everything in their power to avoid transactions with any individual or entity tied to Hizbollah," Royce said. "Terrorists and their financiers go to great lengths to try to hide or disguise transactions. That's why it's so important that Lebanese banks remain vigilant and proactive.  "If a Lebanese bank carried out a transaction it should have known was prohibited, it would be subject to sanctions from the United States. Most Lebanese banks appear to have made the sensible decision that being caught working with Hizballah isn't worth the risk." Though Hezbollah is a Lebanese group, it has reportedly set up operations abroad as well. For that reason, Royce appeared to be contemplating expanding the financial fight against Hezbollah. "I am very concerned that other jurisdictions — particularly in Africa and Latin America — remain vulnerable to Hizballah's exploitation. Additionally, full implementation of this law means that Iranian persons or entities financing Hizballah must also be targeted."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ambassador Richard’s Statement Following Her Meeting with PM Tammam Salam

July 19, 2016
Good morning. I would like to thank the Lebanese people for their warm welcome. It is truly an honor and a privilege to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon.
I just finished meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam. We had a long conversation today during which we discussed the importance of the American-Lebanese partnership. It is important for the Lebanese people, the American people, and the region. Whether in education, business, cultural exchanges, or security, our countries are stronger when we work together. I assured the Prime Minister that, as Ambassador, I will work tirelessly to continue and expand our efforts to ensure a secure, stable, and prosperous Lebanon.
One key aspect of America's support is our assistance to the Lebanese army and the security services. America has been, is, and will continue to be the country's foremost security partner. Since 2005, we have provided approximately $1.4 billion in security assistance and critical training to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Last year, the United States provided $150 million in Foreign Military Financing for Lebanon and an additional $60 million to strengthen border security efforts. This continued assistance demonstrates our commitment to supporting the army as it meets its responsibilities to defend and protect Lebanon's borders.
But our civilian programs are every bit as important as our security work. Through programs that improve access to high-quality education, bring clean water to the homes of thousands of Lebanese, and create new jobs, we support a brighter future for the Lebanese people. In addition, we are the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to Lebanon. America truly appreciates the generosity of the Lebanese communities that are bearing the brunt of the unprecedented influx of refugees. We will continue to support them. Last week, Secretary Kerry announced an additional $84 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, which brings total U.S. humanitarian aid to Lebanon to nearly $1.2 billion since the start of the Syrian crisis. This additional U.S. funding supports vulnerable Lebanese communities by rehabilitating the municipal water and sanitation systems, supporting local community centers, providing supplies and new equipment to health clinics, and improving school facilities.
I understand that Lebanon faces a myriad of political, economic, and humanitarian challenges. As I arrive in Beirut, I want to send a clear message to the Lebanese people: You are not alone. America will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as you confront these challenges. Together, we can and we will work towards a secure, stable, and prosperous Lebanon. I know in my heart that we will be able to achieve it.
Thank you.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

U.S. Ambassador-Designate Elizabeth H. Richard Arrives in Lebanon

July 15, 2016
Media Notice 
For Immediate Release
Ambassador-designate Elizabeth H. Richard arrived in Lebanon on July 11 following confirmation of her appointment by the U.S. Senate on May 17, 2016.  After her meeting with Foreign Minister Bassil today, Ambassador-designate Richard made the following statement:
"I had the great honor to meet with Foreign Minister Bassil today, upon my arrival as the new U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon.  I could not be more thrilled and honored to serve as President Obama's representative to Lebanon. 
As I begin my time in Lebanon, I look forward to strengthening our countries' long-standing partnership, exploring all Lebanon has to offer, and becoming acquainted with its best asset – the Lebanese people. 
The American-Lebanese relationship is built on a solid foundation of shared values.  It has grown even stronger in recent years, and America has stood side-by-side with Lebanon as it has faced an array of challenges.  I look forward to building on the work of my predecessors and continuing our support for Lebanon's security, stability, and prosperity.  Thank you."