U.S. considers slashing financial aid to Lebanon
The Obama administration is reconsidering how it bankrolls Lebanon after the militant Iranian-backed group Hezbollah won a prominent role in the government of the fragile Mideast state where the U.S. has spent millions promoting a pro-Western agenda.
The administration has begun a broad review of political, economic and military assistance to Lebanon in light of the collapse of a U.S.-backed government two weeks ago, U.S. officials said this week.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the review is in its preliminary stages and won’t be complete until after Lebanon forms a new coalition government.
The U.S. can avoid Hezbollah-branded officials and still do business with other members of a Lebanese government. But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that a Hezbollah-dominated government would have profound consequences.
She did not elaborate.
However, officials familiar with the review said it could include slashing economic support for the government and funding for Lebanon's army, depending on the number and placement of Hezbollah members in the Cabinet.
Some of that money could be redirected to Lebanon-related programs and activities outside the country, the officials said.
Hezbollah controlled two ministries in Saad Hariri’s now-defunct unity Cabinet, and the U.S. officials said it would be difficult to provide any support to a government that contains more than that. They said they were looking in particular at three critical portfolios - the ministries of defense, interior and foreign affairs. Hezbollah ministers in any of those posts could mean an end to U.S. aid, they said.
At the same time, the mere presence of Hezbollah-supported Mr. Mikati could affect U.S. assistance, given the political shifts of power to Republicans in the House, the officials said. Republicans also hold more power in the Senate after the 2010 election.