US secretary of state lifts hold on US$115 million in assistance to Lebanon
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo intervened personally on December 12, 2019, to lift a hold on US$115 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) to Lebanon. The previously unreported hold had been put in place by the deputy administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) after consultations with a national security staffer and some members of congress. Pompeo reportedly called the deputy administrator personally and ordered the ESF funds released. According to a congressional notification, the funding supports “good governance, civil society, water supply and sanitation, basic education, higher education, and private sector productivity programming.”
The scuffle over the funding release is set against the backdrop of the ongoing impeachment trial of Donald Trump over the withholding of US$391 million in military support funds to Ukraine in exchange for the investigation of a political rival. The newly released ESF funds were separate from another package of US military support slated for Lebanon which, too, was initially frozen without explanation. Both assistance bundles have now been released, but debate over the spending remains rancorous, due to internal disagreements about the funding's potential to benefit the Iran-backed political party and military group Hezbollah, which enjoys significant influence in the Lebanese government.