BEIRUT: Lebanon’s foreign minister has urged US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea to provide the information and documents that led to sanctions against Gebran Bassil.
Charbel Wehbe, who was made minister in Lebanon’s caretaker government, met with Shea on Monday to discuss bilateral ties and the sanctions placed on the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).
The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the meeting came “within the framework of the foreign minister’s meetings with diplomats in Lebanon,” meaning that Shea was not summoned.
On Nov. 6, the US Treasury imposed sanctions against Bassil, the first Lebanese official to be punished under the Magnitsky Act, the US legislation that targets human rights violations and corruption.
Individuals targeted by Magnitsky sanctions face seizure of property and financial assets, investigations into associated companies, entities and individuals and a ban on entering the US.
Following the sanctions against his son-in-law, Lebanese President Michel Aoun asked Wehbe to “make the necessary contacts to obtain the evidence and documents that prompted the US Treasury to press charges and impose sanctions against Bassil, and hand over these documents to the Lebanese judiciary in order for it to take the necessary legal measures if any information on these accusations is available.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “The systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system, exemplified by Bassil, has helped to erode the foundation of an effective government that serves the Lebanese people. Lebanon has long suffered from corruption and economic mismanagement by power brokers who advance their own interests at the expense of the Lebanese people they are supposed to represent.”
On Monday, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said that Shea affirmed her country’s “support for Lebanon in several areas, in addition to the issue of negotiations over the demarcation of maritime borders, the issue of the return of the displaced to their country, the stage of transition from the current administration to the new administration in the US, in addition to the measures taken by the US administration against some Lebanese, including former deputies and ministers, and the head of a parliamentary bloc.”
Former Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti, under Prime Minister Hassan Diab, previously summoned Shea after she released statements describing Hezbollah as a “terrorist group.” Following the ambassador’s comments, a Lebanese judge controversially prevented media from publishing the statements or meeting with her.
Shea said during an interview with the Institute for International Strategic Studies three days ago that the US “will continue to pursue a policy of pressure on Hezbollah,” adding that “the relationship of Gebran Bassil with Hezbollah constitutes a cover for the party’s weapons in exchange for Hezbollah overlooking Bassil’s corruption.”
Shea said: “Washington is insisting on its position in helping to fight corruption in Lebanon so that progress is achieved in this field, step by step, and there will be nothing free after today.
“The US administration has not yet acted like the Gulf states, which moved away from Lebanon and stopped supporting it, and the US did not support Hassan Diab’s government because it was Hezbollah that formed it, but it stood by the Lebanese people.” “We will monitor what the next government will look like to determine the US position.”
In light of a severe economic crisis, the formation of a rescue government headed by Saad Hariri is facing political obstacles from the FPM and other Hezbollah allies.
MP Bilal Abdullah, a member of the parliamentary alliance Democratic Gathering, told Arab News that “The US side is not enthusiastic about any rescue mission in Lebanon and has coolly dealt with the French initiative.” Now, after the visit of French envoy to Lebanon Patrick Dorrell, which ended in failure, it seems that Lebanon will be left in isolation.” The Americans believe that it is the right time to put pressure on Lebanon.
On the other hand, Hezbollah and its allies are trying to play on time. In the midst of this, we are just around the corner from total collapse. The picture is very bleak because the state is spending its last savings and the citizens are spending their savings as well.
“Where were the objectors to the sanctions against Bassil when the Syrian regime classified the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt and the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, as terrorists? They were silent at the time, but today their voices are loud against the sanctions against Bassil. People are not interested in what happens to political leaderships. If the government is not formed, the country is heading to the abyss. It is a farce.”