Beirut – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s visit to the United States last week was not limited to its official designation and agenda, but it paved the way for a roadmap for the new American administration to work with Lebanon during the upcoming phase.
The visit was highlighted by the warm welcome Hariri received at the White House by President Donald Trump and senior officials at the administration, Congress and World Bank. It was also highlighted by the great US interest in Lebanon and its official authorities, especially the army and security forces. Officials expressed their interest in assisting these authorities in their responsibilities in combating terrorism and protecting Lebanon’s internal scene.
If the political outcomes of Hariri’s visit have emerged through backing official institutions and aiding the government in supporting the Syrian refugee burden, then the side outcomes of the premier’s meetings have still not come to light.
These side outcomes are represented in the extent in which Hariri’s visit can ease the repercussions of the new financial sanctions imposed by Washington against “Hezbollah” and individuals and companies affiliated with the group. Information leaked from his meetings indicate that American officials have expressed an understanding of the need to keep the Lebanese state and banks away from the negative consequences of these sanctions.
Hariri had held talks on Monday with President Michel Aoun at the Baabda Palace to inform him of the results of his Washington trip.
Lebanon, with its religious and cultural diversity, remains of interest to the world’s decision-makers.
Hariri’s aide for economic affairs Dr. Nadim al-Mounla spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat of “American sympathy with the Lebanese state and its institutions.”
“This sympathy is based on the international community, especially the United States’, admiration of Lebanon’s ability to take in such large numbers of Syrian refugees. They therefore stressed that this country needs care and assistance,” he added.
“US officials also expressed their admiration of Lebanon as the only country whose rival sects hold dialogue with each other. The Americans hope that Lebanon will set an example for the region in the future,” he revealed.
Mounla, who was part of Hariri’s official delegation in Washington, said that the US “expressed its satisfaction with the role the Lebanese army and security agencies are playing in combating terrorism and preserving security and stability.”
“This therefore demands that the support for the military and security institutions continue,” he noted.
“The Americans are counting on the persistence of the security stability to continue with the security support,” he added.
On the political level, Minister of Displaced Affairs Moueen al-Merehbi said that Hariri’s Washington tour “cemented the serious and friendly ties between Lebanon and the US.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “It is important to have an American understanding of the delicacy of the situation in Lebanon, especially since it is living in an abnormal situation that sees an armed militia (‘Hezbollah’) controlling the country in violation of Lebanese and international laws. This militia is waging wars and engaging in terrorist acts in several countries.”
Hariri’s trip is significant in explaining the specifics of the situation in Lebanon “so that its state, people and institutions will not fall victim to the repercussions of ‘Hezbollahs’s’ actions,” he remarked.
Political and economic circles are meanwhile anticipating the impact new US sanctions against “Hezbollah” will have on Lebanon. This issue was at the heart of Hariri’s talks with influential figures in the American administration.
Mounla said that the Lebanese side “cannot prevent the Americans from imposing sanctions, but it stressed that they should not encompass Lebanese institutions. They also stressed that the sanctions draft law should be clear, because vagueness will affect the banking sector.”
He revealed that members of Congress had requested that the Lebanese delegation voice its reservations on the draft sanctions law.
Of the positive outcomes of Hariri’s visit to Washington was the US decision to “exempt Lebanon from its decision to reduce foreign aid funding,” said Mounla.
The US officials also expressed their support for the economic vision that Beirut presented at the 2017 Brussels conference on Syria, stressing that Lebanon’s stability is “very important” in the upcoming phase.
Furthermore, Hariri’s aide revealed that the premier had proposed during his Washington talks “a future partnership between Lebanon and the US in the reconstruction of Syria.”
The US Treasury approved raising the annual aid to Lebanon by 140 million dollars. The new funding will cover refugees and their host communities in Lebanon.
The Lebanese delegation also proposed an eight-year plan for economic revival worth 1.5 billion dollars annually, which was positively received by American officials. They also vowed to support it and contact their allies in Europe and the Arab Gulf to ensure its success.