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Matt Nash

Aid on the chopping block?

Whether on paper or in practice, Lebanon will soon have to decide to what extent it will cooperate with the international court bearing its name, and its choice could put it at odds with the West, particularly the US. Rumors that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) will release a confirmed indictment—along with arrest warrants or summonses to appear—in “a matter of a few days if not hours,” as pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat put it Wednesday, are rampant.

Simultaneously, a ministerial committee is working on the new government’s policy statement as a constitutionally-mandated July 13 deadline approaches. Dealing with the STL is reportedly delaying a final policy statement—with Hezbollah apparently against mentioning the court and Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his allies in the cabinet in favor of including a commitment to work with it. 

Both the US and EU, in statements after Mikati announced his cabinet line-up June 13, said they expect Lebanon to keep its commitments to UN Security Council resolutions—in part a reference to the resolution that established the STL under Chapter Seven of the UN charter.

Some in the US, however, have indicated that Lebanon could lose aid once a “Hezbollah-inspired” government formally takes power, a position likely to harden if the policy statement does not express Lebanon’s commitment to the court.

In mid-June, Representative Howard Berman, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, introduced a bill, with three other Congressmen of Lebanese descent, that would cut some US aid to Lebanon. Called the “Hezbollah Anti-Terrorism Act” (HATA), it is modeled on a law passed to cut off US funds to Hamas following Palestinian elections in 2006.

Between 2006 and 2010, the US has given over $1.2 billion in aid to Lebanon, according to a 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service. The Obama administration requested $246.3 million more for 2011, but the US has not yet passed a budget for this year.

In announcing the new bill—which would have to win approval in both chambers of Congress and receive the president’s signature to become law—Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat with Lebanese heritage, said funding cuts would be targeted to keep US taxpayer dollars from Hezbollah but still help the country at large.

“This legislation,” Rahall said in a press release, would continue “allowing humanitarian, IMET [training for the Lebanese army] and assistance to educational and democratic institutions to continue. In addition, our president is given waiver authority,” to allow aid that might otherwise be blocked by the bill.

Since the January fall of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, members of Congress have been particularly harsh in criticizing Hezbollah—which the US labels a terrorist organization. The administration, however, has taken a more cautious approach, saying it supports Lebanon but will judge the country by its actions and policy statement, not yet openly threatening any cuts in aid.

That said, with a new government in Beirut that Congress views as controlled by Hezbollah, “It’s a difficult time in the relationship,” between the US and Lebanon, Mara Karlin, a former Defense Department official who specialized on the Levant, told NOW Lebanon.

Obama keeping close ties to Lebanon given the mood in Congress “will depend on to what extent the administration wants to fight hard for Lebanon,” Karlin said. As the US limps toward economic recovery—with fierce spending fights along the way—Republicans in Congress are keen to cut foreign aid in general, which also complicates Lebanon’s share, Karlin noted.

While EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said following the announcement of Mikati’s cabinet line-up that the continent wants to see Lebanon maintain ties to the STL, there are not the same aid cut threats coming from Europe. The EU gave Lebanon some $268 million between 2007 and 2010.

Michael Mann, a spokesman for Ashton, told NOW Lebanon in an e-mail that the EU “will judge the new Lebanese government by its actions. There is no intention to limit EU funding to Lebanon at this time. We welcomed the formation of the new government and expressed hope it would advance much-needed reforms.”

After reviewing HATA, Jihad Azour, a former finance minister close to March 14, said he thought that financially and economically, it would have a limited impact. Given the various exemptions and exceptions in the bill, “Not all the US aid Lebanon is receiving would be subject to cancellation,” he noted.

HATA would be most problematic for Lebanon because of the “image impact” of an ally being seen as sanctioning the country, Azour said.

“Lebanon has created in the last several years—since the end of the civil war—very good relationships with international organizations and the international community,” he said.

  • harris

    All outside aids to Lebanon must be cut completely. Money is going to Nasralla and political parties affiliated to him. So basically the majority of lebanese who believe in law and order would be out of these aids. USA and the west must cut aids to the Lebanese army that support HZ. Lebanese army facilitate the passage way to arms to come to lebanon. Labanese army do not dare to operate in HZ quarter and its area. Lebanese army ca not even arrest any member related to HZ. Most lebanese army officers are loyal to Syria, Iran and HZ, they get paid from these different sources.

    June 30, 2011