US says no bailout for Lebanon, calls for change

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Rows of destroyed trucks are seen at the site of the Aug. 4 explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT – There can be no financial bailout for Lebanon, a senior U.S. official said Saturday, calling on the country's political leaders to heed popular calls for change, real reform and an end to endemic corruption.

David Hale, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said the U.S. and its allies will respond to “systemic reforms with sustained financial support.” He also called for a thorough and transparent investigation into the Aug. 4 blast that killed nearly 180 people and wounded thousands.

He said an FBI team is arriving this weekend to take part in the probe at the invitation of Lebanese authorities.

Hale arrived in Beirut on Thursday, where he met with volunteers helping out at the site of the blast, as well as the country's top political and religious leadership.

“America calls on Lebanon’s political leaders to finally respond to the people’s longstanding and legitimate demands and create a credible plan – accepted by the Lebanese people – for good governance, sound economic and financial reform, and an end to the endemic corruption that has stifled Lebanon’s tremendous potential,” he said.

“But as the dozens of young activists and volunteers I met so bluntly demanded, there can be no bailout,” Hale said in a recorded message posted on the U.S. Embassy website Saturday.

Hale's comments were in line with Washington's message before the visit. But he didn't detail whether the U.S. and Western allies are ready to support a government in which Lebanon's powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group has clout.

After visiting the site of the blast, Hale called for the state to exercise control over its borders and ports, in a clear reference to claims Hezbollah group controls them.