Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid

US President Donald Trump gestures after disembarking from Air Force One after landing at Stansted Airport, northeast of London. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid

  • As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s administration has lifted a mysterious “hold” on more than $100 million in security aid for Lebanon, congressional and State Department officials said, more than a month after lawmakers learned the funds were being blocked.
As first reported by Reuters, the US State Department told Congress on Oct. 31 that the White House budget office (OMB) and National Security Council had decided to withhold $105 million in foreign military assistance, without providing any explanation.
As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld, some compared it with a similar decision from the administration to withhold nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine that also had been approved by Congress.
That decision has been at the center of an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Members of Congress and US diplomats had strongly opposed the move to withhold the aid to Beirut, saying it was crucial to support Lebanon’s military as it grappled with instability within the country and the region.
Congressional aides said on Monday the administration had still provided no explanation for the decision to withhold the money, which had been approved by Congress and the State Department.
They said the OMB released the hold last Wednesday and the administration had begun to “obligate” it, or finalize contracts for how it should be spent.
A senior State Department official confirmed that the money had been released but declined to provide an explanation for why it was suspended or why it was released, beyond referring to recent comments by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.
Hale said during congressional testimony that there had been some disagreements about the efficacy of US aid to the Lebanese armed forces.
On Monday, the senior State official said on a conference call with reporters that Lebanon’s army is “an excellent partner to the United States” in fighting extremism.
Lebanon also houses thousands of refugees from war in neighboring Syria.


Turkey says it wants to resolve dispute with Greece through dialogue

Updated 52 min 50 sec ago

Turkey says it wants to resolve dispute with Greece through dialogue

  • Turkey and Greece, NATO allies, are vehemently at odds over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the region
  • Tensions have risen since Ankara launched exploration operations in a disputed area of the Mediterranean on Monday

ANKARA: Turkey wants to resolve a dispute with Greece over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean through dialogue, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday, but added that Ankara would defend its “rights and interests” in the region.
Turkey and Greece, NATO allies, are vehemently at odds over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the region, and tensions have risen since Ankara launched exploration operations in a disputed area of the Mediterranean on Monday.
Greece says Turkey’s exploration vessel Oruc Reis is operating illegally in waters which fall in Greece’s continental shelf, accusations which Ankara has dismissed. The vessel was accompanied by Turkish warships when it left port.
“Despite all this, we want to believe that common sense will prevail. Both on the field and at the table, we side with international law, good neighborliness and dialogue,” Akar told Reuters. “We want to reach political solutions through peaceful means in line with international laws.”
Akar said Turkey would continue to defend its “rights, ties and interests” in coastal waters. “It should be known that our seas are our blue homeland. Every drop is valuable,” he said.