Thursday, January 31, 2019

Billingslea gives warning to Hezbollah

Feb. 01, 2019 | 12:05 AM Osama Habib| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The United States will have a significant problem if Hezbollah exploits the position of the Health Ministry to funnel funds for organizations affiliated with it, a senior U.S. official warned Thursday. "If we see that Hezbollah exploits, and they will exploit whatever ministry they are given, to funnel money and other terrorist agendas then we have significant problems with that," Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary for terrorist financing in the United States Department of the Treasury, told reporters at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

But Billingslea declined to say what measures the U.S. Treasury will take if it sees Hezbollah exploiting the position of the Health Ministry.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other political blocs agreed to give the Health Ministry to Hezbollah.

Billingslea visited President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, Minister of Finance Ali Hasan Khalil, Central Bank governor Riad Salameh, the Association of Banks in Lebanon and other officials to remind Lebanon that Washington is very serious about the sanctions on Hezbollah.

Billingslea also stressed that Washington's tough sanctions against Iran have drastically affected the finances of Hezbollah and complicated its operations.

"Our pressure on the Persians is having clear and obvious effect. We applied sanctions on Iran because they refuse to stop their terrorism and refuse to stop their missile launchers and funneling of their activities abroad. As a result of the domestic corruption in Tehran there is less and less money to go around. And as a result of that we are actually seeing that Hezbollah here is not getting the paychecks they once enjoyed from the Iranians," he added.

Billingslea said these sanctions are causing serious problems for Hezbollah's secretary-general Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and his people in Lebanon.

The U.S. official vehemently denied his visit to Lebanon was aimed at blocking the formation of the Lebanese government.

"Claims that we came here to expedite the veto on the formation of the government is absolutely false. There is a zero truth about that. This is a sovereign decision and I said this in the past. This is a sovereign decision by the elected Lebanese government. We believe that it is urgent the government to be formed because there are pressing economic and financial issues that needs to be addressed. It is critical that a series of reforms that tackles corruption be enacted," Billingslea said.

He underlined the importance to seriously tackle Lebanon's public debt which is very high to GDP ratio.

Billingslea also emphasized the importance of combating corruption in Lebanon in order to improve the country's record.

He also expressed some concern about the secret bank accounts in Lebanon. "Corruption has to be tackled in the context of a broader anti-corruption campaign that deals with issues of secret bank accounts. This is an area we feel that legislative reforms are needed, that there are no secret bank accounts anymore, and to ensure that the government has the ability to freeze and block [accounts] associated with illicit financial activities," he said.

He explained that secret bank accounts are fundamentally inconsistent with Financial Action Task Force standards.

But Billingslea declined to say if Washington advocates the lifting of banking secrecy in Lebanon.

He also praised the roles played by Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and Vice-Governor Mohammad Baasiri in enforcing anti-money laundering measures and combating terrorism financing.

Billingslea made it clear that the U.S. Treasury wants to see all Lebanese banks vigorously apply all resolutions and decisions related to money laundering and terrorism funding. He reiterated the U.S. Treasury does not distinguish between the so-called political and military wings of Hezbollah.

Billingslea called on the Lebanese authorities to tighten its control on the airport and ports to deprive Hezbollah from any source of illicit funding.

He declined to comment on the civil law suits filed by American citizens against a number of Lebanese banks, stressing that this is purely a civil lawsuit and does not involve the U.S. Treasury.

Billingslea insisted that Washington has zero intention of causing the collapse of the Lebanese pound under the pretext of combating Hezbollah. He also reassured that Washington has no intention of targeting Lebanese banks, even the Shiite-owned banks, as long as all of them are complying with combating terrorism funding and money laundering.

Billingslea repeated his accusation of Hezbollah's drug trading and other illicit activities in Lebanon and abroad.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel Visits Lebanon

On January 21-22, 2019 the Commander of United States Central Command General Joseph Votel met with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Joseph Aoun, as well as UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Stefano Del Col, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth H. Richard.

In his meetings, General Votel reaffirmed the U.S. government's commitment to strengthening the Lebanese-American partnership and its support to the Lebanese Armed Forces in their capacity as the sole, legitimate defender of Lebanon.

By U.S. Embassy Beirut | 23 January, 2019

Monday, January 21, 2019

General Joseph Votel met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri

@CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri this evening at the Center House to discuss the strong U.S.-Lebanese relationship, as well as the United States' government's commitment to a secure and prosperous future for #Lebanon.
U.S. military aid to Lebanon was a top priority of a meeting Monday between Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and a senior U.S. defense official.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Statement by U/S for Political Affairs Hale following his meeting with PM-designate Hariri

By U.S. Embassy Beirut | 14 January, 2019 
Secretary Pompeo asked me to come to Lebanon to discuss America's regional strategy and the value of our relations with the Lebanese state and the Lebanese people, and our determination to create the conditions needed to ensure Lebanon is able to meet its international obligations.

As Secretary Pompeo said in his Cairo speech, we will continue to work with our allies and our partners to achieve a stable and prosperous Middle East, including Lebanon.  You have all seen our achievements as a coalition – a coalition that included Lebanon – to dismantle ISIS.  As the task of liberating ISIS-controlled territory is completed, we will be bringing American troops home from Syria.  But, we will remain committed to working with partners to ensure ISIS remains completely dismantled, just as we remain committed to our overall goals in Syria.

As Secretary Pompeo said in Cairo, through diplomacy and cooperation with our partners, we will expel from Syria every last Iranian boot and work through the UN-led political process to bring peace and stability there.

Secretary Pompeo also spoke at length about our approach to Iran.  We have fostered a common understanding with our allies of the need to counteract the Iranian regime's revolutionary agenda and thwart Iran's malign regional ambitions and activities, and that very much includes Lebanon, where only the Lebanese people, through their state, should make decisions of life and death.

The United States is committed to working with Lebanon's people and legitimate state institutions, including the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces, to address mutual challenges.  We support the LAF and ISF's efforts to secure Lebanon's borders, ensure Lebanese state sovereignty, and maintain Lebanon's internal security.

We are proceeding with our efforts to counter Iran's dangerous activities around the region, including the financing and activities of proxy terrorist organizations such as Hizballah.  While Lebanon has, the right to defend itself, that is a right of the Lebanese state alone.  It is unacceptable to have a militia outside the control of the state and unanswerable to all the people of Lebanon, digging attack tunnels across the Blue Line into Israel and assembling an arsenal of over 100,000 missiles with which to threaten regional stability.

The international community is closely watching the status of Lebanon's government.  The choice of government is for the Lebanese alone, but the type of government chosen concerns all of us who are interested in a stable and prosperous Lebanon – as does the inability of the Lebanese to make a choice.  Crucial economic reforms languish while obstructionism drags down the economy, endangering the country.  We encourage the caretaker government to move forward where it can, especially on the economy, to avoid further damage and maintain international confidence.

Thank you very much.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, David Hale, Arrives in Lebanon

 Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, David Hale, arrived today in Lebanon, where he will meet with senior Lebanese officials to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues.

Under Secretary (U/S) Hale has enduring ties with Lebanon and the Lebanese people after serving at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut as a political officer, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Ambassador over the span of 27 years. He is returning to Lebanon in his new role to reaffirm strong U.S. support for the Lebanese state, including its legitimate security institutions, as it continues to cope with significant challenges.

U/S Hale will also underscore U.S. concerns about Hizballah's destabilizing activities in Lebanon and the region, including the recent discovery of Hizballah's cross-border tunnels, which defy UN Security Council Resolution 1701, jeopardize the security of the Lebanese people, and undermine the legitimacy of Lebanon's state institutions.

By U.S. Embassy Beirut | 12 January, 2019 | Topics: News, Press Releases

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale Travel to Lebanon

Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 8, 2019

From January 13-14 in Beirut, Lebanon, Under Secretary Hale will underscore strong U.S. support for the Lebanese state and legitimate security institutions, and reiterate the need for all Lebanese actors to uphold Lebanon's policy of disassociation from regional conflicts and avoid escalating tensions along the Blue Line boundary with Israel.