US Treasury official visits Lebanon

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra shows Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri meeting US treasury assistant secretary for terrorist financing, Marshall Billingslea, at the governmental palace in the Lebanese capital Beirut on September 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 September 2019

US Treasury official visits Lebanon

  • Billingslea meets PM, Parliament speaker, banking officials amid sanctions

BEIRUT: The assistant secretary for terrorist financing in the US Treasury Department met on Monday with Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri as part of a two-day visit to the country. In a statement, the US Embassy in Lebanon said Marshall Billingslea “will highlight the strong partnership between the United States and Lebanon and the US government’s confidence, in general, in the Lebanese financial sector.”
The embassy added: “During Billingslea’s meetings with officials and bankers, he will urge Lebanon to take the necessary steps to distance itself from Hezbollah and other malicious parties trying to destabilize the country and its institutions.”
Berri’s adviser Dr. Ali Hamdan told Arab News: “We listened to what he (Billingslea) has to say. Let us see what he has to add during his visit. We don’t want to comment on his positions.” Hariri’s office said the two sides reviewed financial and economic relations between the two countries.
Billingslea also met with the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salameh, the Banking Control Commission of Lebanon and the Association of Banks in Lebanon.
The visit comes amid a foreign currency liquidity crisis that has plagued Lebanon for more than a week, following US sanctions that included Jammal Trust Bank on Aug. 29.
The bank’s management announced a few days ago that it had decided to self-liquidate in full coordination with the Central Bank.
Economist Violette Balaa told Arab News: “Billingslea asked during his meetings for details regarding the liquidation of Jammal Trust Bank, and was keen on knowing that the accounts sanctioned by the US weren’t transferred to other banks.”
No Lebanese banks offered to buy Jammal Trust Bank, fearing US sanctions. “Billingslea’s tone, especially when he asserted that the US will continue to reinforce and impose more sanctions, was harsh,” Balaa said.

FASTFACT

Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement has been a US-designated terrorist group since 1997 and fights alongside the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria’s civil war.

“He added that the attacks on Saudi Aramco will receive many responses, and that the situation after the attacks won’t be as it used to be.”
Balaa said Billingslea did not mention other banks that would be subject to US sanctions during his meeting with the Association of Banks in Lebanon.
The liquidity crisis prompted Salameh to reassure the Lebanese public on Monday that “dollar bills are available … banks are meeting citizens’ needs of this currency, dollar liquidity is present in the banking sector, and Lebanon’s Central Bank has its assets in dollars.”
He said: “Billingslea’s visit is not to suppress the banks. We cherish having a good relationship with the US Treasury.” Salameh added: “The dollar exchange rate is not the responsibility of Lebanon’s Central Bank.”
Banks in Lebanon are pricing the dollar exchange rate between 1,507.50 and 1,517 Lebanese pounds, according to the official rate.
But exchange offices tend to price it between 1,550 and 1,570 Lebanese pounds under the pretext of scarcity in the market.
The pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper described Billingslea as a “banks slaughterer,” and said his visit “was in the context of the pressure imposed by the US on Lebanon, under the pretext of preventing the facilitation of financial activities for Hezbollah.”
According to the US Embassy, Billingslea visited Lebanon in early 2018 to discuss combating illicit financing, including financing Hezbollah’s terrorist activities and illegal trafficking.
The embassy said Billingslea “shared the opinion of the Lebanese authorities and financial institutions officials that he met with, in the fight against all forms of illicit financing.”
It added: “He stressed the importance of combating harmful Iranian activity in Lebanon and how the United States is committed to helping Lebanon to protect its financial system from Hezbollah, Daesh (Daesh), and other terrorist organizations.”
Billingslea urged Lebanon “to take all possible measures to ensure that Hezbollah is not part of the country’s financial sector.”


Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”