US envoy visits Beirut, mediating in Lebanon-Israel dispute

Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, is in Beirut as part of a US shuttle diplomacy effort to resolve tensions between Israel and Lebanon over a border wall and energy drilling in disputed waters. (Reuters)
Updated 21 February 2018
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US envoy visits Beirut, mediating in Lebanon-Israel dispute

BEIRUT: A senior US diplomat met Lebanon’s foreign minister on Wednesday in Beirut as part of a US shuttle diplomacy effort to resolve tensions between Israel and Lebanon over a border wall and energy drilling in disputed waters.
Disputes over Israeli construction of the border wall, Lebanon’s start of oil and gas exploration at sea and the growing arsenal of Lebanon’s Iran-backed group Hezbollah have caused a spike in tensions between Lebanon and Israel, both friends of the United States that regard each other as enemies.
Lebanon this month signed its first offshore energy exploration and production agreements with a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek. One of two blocks given to the consortium, Block 9, contains waters claimed by Israel.
, has been shuttling back and forth between Israel and Lebanon in a bid to resolve the disputes.
He met Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Wednesday in Beirut. The two had last met on Friday, after which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated Lebanon’s rejection of US proposals to resolve the maritime dispute as “unacceptable.”
This was an apparent reference to a maritime demarcation line proposed by US diplomat Frederic Hof in 2012, which would give Lebanon around two-thirds and Israel around one-third of a disputed triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles).
A senior Lebanese government source said Satterfield did not come with any new plan, and talks still revolve around the Hof line.
A source in the foreign ministry said he discussed the disputed area, how Lebanon can preserve its rights and how to keep exploration and drilling from being affected.
Satterfield left without making any public comments.
The US Embassy in Lebanon said Satterfield “continues to engage” on regional issues and on helping Lebanon develop its resources in agreement with its neighbors.


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.