US stands with Lebanese people in fight against corruption and terrorism: Pompeo

US Secretary Mike Pompeo said the US supported the Lebanese people in their fight against government corruption and terrorist threats. (AP)
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Updated 14 December 2019

US stands with Lebanese people in fight against corruption and terrorism: Pompeo

  • Lebanon has been swept by unprecedented nationwide protests since October 17
  • The World Bank estimates a third of Lebanese live in poverty and this could rise to half

BEIRUT: US Secretary Mike Pompeo said on Friday that the US supported the Lebanese people in their fight against government corruption and terrorist threats.

Pompeo took to Twitter on Friday, where he posted: We stand with the people of #Lebanon to fight against corruption and terrorism. Today we designated two prominent Lebanese businessmen whose illicit financial activity supports Hizballah. We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to counter the threat Hizballah poses.

On Friday, the US Treasury Department imposed new sanctions against two alleged Hezbollah money launderers and financiers, including a diamond trader who collected art.

It accused Lebanon-based Nazem Said Ahmad, whose art collection includes works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, and his companies of helping to launder large sums of money for the group.

“Ahmad, who has a vast art collection, is one of Hezbollah’s top donors, generating funds through his longstanding ties to the ‘blood diamond’ trade,” it said.

A second man based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Saleh Assi, was sanctioned for laundering money through Ahmad’s diamond business and supporting another alleged financier already under sanctions.

Pompeo's comments came as the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, warned that the formation of a new cabinet desperately needed to redress a tumbling economy could take time.

Lebanon has been swept by unprecedented nationwide protests since October 17, demanding the complete overhaul of a political class deemed inept and corrupt.

The government stepped down on October 29, but bitterly divided political parties have failed to agree on a new premier ever since.

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah spoke ahead of parliamentary consultations to nominate a new prime minister on Monday.

“The consultations are supposed to take place on Monday and we hope that whoever receives most votes will be designated to form a government,” he said in a televised address.

“But the formation will be no easy feat,” he warned.

In a multi-confessional country often in political deadlock, the name of the new prime minister is frequently picked before symbolic parliamentary consultations.

“Until now the parliamentary blocs have not agreed on a name” for the new premier, Nasrallah said.

He said it was likely each bloc would “name who it wanted without any prior agreements.”

The protesters have demanded a government made up solely of experts not affiliated to the country’s traditional political parties, but analysts have warned this could be a tall order.

Nasrallah said he would support a “government of national partnership,” and one with “the widest possible representation” that did not exclude any of the major parties.

He said it could be headed by outgoing premier Saad Hariri or someone the outgoing premier designated.

The names of various potential candidates have been circulated in recent weeks, but the Sunni Muslim establishment on Sunday threw their support behind Hariri returning.

The international community has urged for swift cabinet formation to implement key economic reforms and unlock international aid.

The World Bank estimates a third of Lebanese live in poverty and this could rise to half.

It has projected a recession of at least 0.2 percent for 2019.

A sworn enemy of neighboring Israel, Hezbollah is the only faction not to have disarmed after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

The United States considers Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization, but the movement is also a key political player with ministers in the outgoing government and seats in parliament.

The United States has targeted the Shiite party with tough sanctions, ramped up under the administration of President Donald Trump.

Nasrallah lambasted comments by US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who Wednesday said the Lebanese were aware of the “risk” of Hezbollah being in their country.

Nasrallah suggested the United States might be “blackmailing” the Lebanese, and only offering to help in a time of economic crisis if they first dealt with that “danger.”

He alleged the US had been unable to neutralize the movement despite actions including “sanctions.”


Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine

Updated 27 min 55 sec ago

Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine

  • An Iranian official said “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out”
  • He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders to Ukrain or France

TEHRAN: The Iranian official leading the investigation into the Ukrainian jetliner that was accidentally shot down by the Revolutionary Guard appeared to backtrack Sunday on plans to send the flight recorders abroad for analysis, a day after saying they would be sent to Kyiv.
Hassan Rezaeifar was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out.”
He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders — commonly known as black boxes — to Ukraine or France. “But as of yet, we have made no decision.”
The same official was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday as saying the recorders would be sent to Ukraine, where French, American and Canadian experts would help analyze them. Iranian officials previously said the black boxes were damaged but are usable.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting accounts. Iran may be hesitant to turn over the recorders for fear that more details from the crash — including the harrowing 20 seconds between when the first and second surface-to-air missiles hit the plane — will come to light.
The Guard’s air defenses shot the plane down shortly after it took off from Tehran on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people on board. Hours earlier, the Guard had launched ballistic missiles at US troops in Iraq in response to the US airstrike that killed Iran’s top general in Baghdad. Officials say lower-level officers mistook the plane for a US cruise missile.
Iranian officials initially said the crash was caused by a technical problem and invited countries that lost citizens to help investigate. Three days later, Iran admitted responsibility after Western leaders said there was strong evidence the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile.
The victims included 57 Canadian citizens as well as 11 Ukrainians, 17 people from Sweden, four Afghans and four British citizens. Most of those killed were Iranians. The other five nations have demanded Iran accept full responsibility and pay compensation to the victims’ families.
The plane was a Boeing 737-800 that was designed and built in the US The plane’s engine was designed by CFM International, a joint company between French group Safran and US group GE Aviation. Investigators from both countries have been invited to take part in the probe.