Congress mulls aid cut if Hizbullah controls gov’t

Rep. Howard Berman, ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, calls on the White House to halt any arms shipments to Lebanon.

capitol 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
capitol 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WASHINGTON – Continuing US aid to Lebanon will be increasingly difficult as Hizbullah looks to gain more influence in the government, members of the Obama administration and Congress indicated on Wednesday.
The State Department said it was too early to assess whether US military assistance to Beirut could be continued as the new government had yet to be formed, though Hizbullah’s candidate for prime minister, Najib Mikati was making progress toward getting the necessary support from parliament.
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did say on Tuesday, though, that “a Hizbullah-controlled government would clearly have an impact on our bilateral relationship with Lebanon.”
And Rep. Howard Berman, ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on the White House to halt any arms shipments.
“I call on President Obama immediately to suspend all weapons transfers to Lebanon and to review carefully all economic assistance programs in order to ensure that they are not inadvertently strengthening Hizbullah,” Berman said.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign operations, under which Lebanon aid falls, said the recent developments were likely to hurt the relationship between the two countries.
“The political transition in Lebanon is an unfortunate step backward. It is doubtful that an Iranian-backed regime will be a partner of the United States,” she said. “I will continue to monitor the situation closely and support policies that promote democracy and peace for the Lebanese people and its neighbors.”
Though Congress had already approved funds for the Lebanese Armed Forces before the government fell and the balance of power shifted toward Hizbullah, Congress can use its influence over the country’s purse strings to push for an aid shut off, pending the administration’s decision.
One Democratic aide to a member on the foreign operations appropriations subcommittee said Congress was carefully watching the situation in Lebanon and waiting for a determination from the State Department on how to deal with future disbursements to Lebanon.
He said that there were still legislators who felt it was important for American influence to be visible in the country through economic assistance but that voices for cutting off aid were now magnified.
“There are already members of Congress who’d like to see aid cut off,” he said. “The latest developments only strengthen their hand, and the fact that we now have a GOP-controlled Congress makes a cut off in aid to Lebanon even more likely.”
In addition to the politics of the issue, the US has designated Hizbullah as a terrorist organization, which creates legal obstacles to any aid to a government in which it plays a leading role.
As the country navigates setting up a new government, US officials are urging outside actors to let the will of the Lebanese people be reflected – a thinly veiled message to Iran and Syria, who hold sway with Hizbullah.
Following a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh at the State Department, Clinton told reporters on Wednesday that both leaders “expressed our hopes that it will be the people of Lebanon themselves, not outside forces, that will sustain the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.”
She also she supported Jordan’s call “for Lebanon to maintain its national unity, security and stability.”
During their public appearance, the two also stressed the importance of Israelis and Palestinians returning to the negotiating table.
Judeh said that the parties should return to talks in the “next few weeks.” Clinton said she would be meeting with top Europe, Russia and UN officials soon to discuss the way forward.