This Week in Lebanon

Saturday, March 13, 2021

March 6, 2021
Former US State Official Hopes for Maritime Talks
Aoun Asks Salameh About Currency Collapse
Syrian Pound Drops Following Lebanese Pound Collapse

Former US State Official Hopes for Continued Maritime Border Talks
In an interview on al-Hadath, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker expressed his hope that the Biden administration would prioritize maritime negotiations between Lebanon and Israel. [Naharnet] Mediation efforts began last October and centered around an 860 square kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea that both sides claim to be within their economic zones. [Associated Press]


“Former Assistant Secretary Schenker’s comments are timely and should be prioritized by the Biden administration in its US-Lebanon policy. Maritime border negotiations between Lebanon and Israel will not only open the door for international oil and gas exploration, but could build confidence between the parties and lead to further confidence building measures. It’s an achievable task, worthy of the time and effort by US diplomats, and one that could reap short and long term benefits.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel

Aoun Asks Salameh for a Reason for Currency Collapse
On Wednesday a statement from President Aoun’s Twitter account announced that he asked Lebanon’s central bank governor, Riad Salameh, for an inquiry into the reasoning behind the collapse of the Lebanese pound, which hit a record low on Tuesday at 10,000 to the dollar. [Reuters]


“It’s ironic that President Aoun asked the Central Bank why the currency is worthless. Could it be that its irregular funding of the government deficits for the past 20+ years has anything to do with it? Or the inability of the Parliament to pass a capital controls law to prevent the outflow of money from Lebanon allowing banks to set up their own regimes that punish most depositors and favor the well-off? Or is it just another political charade to sustain the smoke and mirrors that pass for policy-making?”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader

Syrian Pound Follows Behind Lebanese Pound Collapse
Following the Lebanese pound drop this week the Syrian pound also fell to a record low on the black market on Wednesday. The currency tumbled to close to 4,000 to the dollar and the last drop was over last summer when it hit 3,000 to the dollar over fears of US sanctions. [Reuters]


“In our continuing focus on all things Lebanese, we sometimes overlook the horrific conditions next door in Syria that have a serious impact on Lebanon including refugees, smuggling, violent repression of human rights, and continued interference in Lebanon’s political affairs. Lebanon lives in a very difficult neighborhood and can’t solve its long-term issues of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity without regional approaches. Until then, it should repair its own house so that it can negotiate its future from a consensus on a unified national vision of what Lebanon should and will be.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.