Hezbollah allies in Lebanon must ‘choose between bullets and ballots’

Hezbollah allies in Lebanon must ‘choose between bullets and ballots’
An image grab taken from a video posted on Hezbollah's al-Manar TV website on July 25, 2020, shows Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon's Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 September 2020

Hezbollah allies in Lebanon must ‘choose between bullets and ballots’

Hezbollah allies in Lebanon must ‘choose between bullets and ballots’
  • Senior US official’s warning comes as Washington blacklists two Lebanese former ministers
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker also calls for resolution of Gulf rift

NEW YORK: Hezbollah’s political allies in Lebanon will be held accountable for supporting the militant group, a senior US official said on Tuesday.

The warning, from Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker, came shortly after the US Treasury blacklisted Lebanese former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former transport minister Youssef Fenianos.

They are accused of providing material support for, and granting political and economic favors to, Iran-backed Hezbollah, which the US considers a terrorist organization.

“Political allies of Hezbollah should know they will be held accountable for any enabling of its terrorist and illicit activities,” Schenker said after a tour of the Middle east that included visits to Kuwait, Qatar and Lebanon,

During his two-day stop in Lebanon, he chose only to meet with opposition demonstrators, in a sign of Washington’s exasperation with the country’s political establishment.

His visit came a month after the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port that damaged a large part of the city, at a time when people were already reeling from a prolonged political crisis, an economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic.

Schenker restated his country’s commitment to helping the Lebanese people recover from the Aug. 4 disaster, which killed more than 200 people.

US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker. (File/AFP)

He added that the US supports “their legitimate calls for economic and institutional reform, transparency, accountability and an end to the endemic corruption that has stifled Lebanon’s tremendous potential.”

Next month marks the first anniversary of public demonstrations that began when hundreds of thousands people in Lebanon took to the streets to protest against the worsening economic and social problems caused by these issues.

“The Lebanese people made clear their desire for meaningful change, and for their government and political leaders to chart a new direction dedicated to reform and the end of corruption, to help Lebanon exit this current crisis,” Schenker said.

He vowed that Washington will maintain its pressure on Hezbollah, its supporters and “other corrupt actors” for obstructing the Lebanese people’s “aspirations for economic opportunity, accountability and transparency.”

He added: “It’s time for different politics in Lebanon.”

Schenker also highlighted the difference of opinion between the US and France about Hezbollah, which Paris views as two separate entities: a political party and a military wing.

French President Emmanuel Macron met with a number of Lebanese political leaders, including Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad, during his Beirut visit last week.

“In democracies you have to choose between bullets and ballots,” Schenker said. “You cannot have both. Political parties do not have militias.”

However, he said the US and France are on same page when it comes to political and economic reforms being a prerequisite for any unlocking of international financial assistance to Lebanon.

In the wider regional context, Schenker also reiterated Washington’s desire for the Gulf rift to be resolved. Unity among Gulf nations is an important step forward in efforts to counter “Iran’s malign influence in the region,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017 over Doha’s connections to Iran and its alleged support for terrorism.


The “dispute only serves the interests of our adversaries and harms our mutual interests,” Schenker added.

He also highlighted the united front displayed by the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar — last month, when they called on the UN Security Council to extend the international arms embargo on Iran, as a powerful step that showed “the collective strength of a united Gulf that’s needed for the sake of advancing greater peace and security.”

He acknowledged that there are “long standing and deep-seated disagreements” within the GCC but said US efforts to help resolve the disputes will continue “and we are hopeful that we’ll eventually get to a solution on that.”

Schenker also said the recent Abraham Accord, the agreement between Israel and the UAE to normalize relations, has had a significant effect on his discussions with Gulf partners. He added that he hopes other countries will follow the example set by the UAE and make efforts to establish formal relations with Israel.

“The (UAE-Israel) agreement provides the foundation for advances toward regional peace, and puts the region on a truly transformative path,” he added.





Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.