Is Biden going to Lebanon?
Joseph Biden‘s office won’t confirm or deny widespread reports in the Lebanese and foreign press that the U.S. vice president plans to make an unannounced visit to Lebanon on Friday, in advance of that country’s June 7 elections. "Vice President Biden will discuss with [Lebanese President Michel Sleiman] the Middle East peace process as well ...
Joseph Biden's office won't confirm or deny widespread reports in the Lebanese and foreign press that the U.S. vice president plans to make an unannounced visit to Lebanon on Friday, in advance of that country's June 7 elections.
Joseph Biden‘s office won’t confirm or deny widespread reports in the Lebanese and foreign press that the U.S. vice president plans to make an unannounced visit to Lebanon on Friday, in advance of that country’s June 7 elections.
"Vice President Biden will discuss with [Lebanese President Michel Sleiman] the Middle East peace process as well as bilateral relations," Agence France Presse reported, citing an unidentified Lebanese government official.
The Veep is currently on a trip in southeastern Europe, where he has spoken in Sarajevo and Belgrade.
Any secrecy over the rumored visit would be due to security concerns, experts on Lebanon say. In a notable break with his predecessor, Vice President Biden has published his daily schedule and made it available to the press the day before.
"The issue is not so much, is Hezbollah bloodthirsty, but that the Lebanese government does not have a monopoly on violence and can’t guarantee the security of areas," said Benjamin Ryan of the Aspen Institute’s U.S.-Lebanon dialogue. He said such security concerns were evident in a pre-elections monitoring trip sponsored by the National Democratic Institute that was led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright earlier this month.
A visit from Biden would help show that Washington under the Obama administration "continues to show a good faith effort to support the Lebanese government, and to show the Lebanese and their allies that the U.S. is not selling Lebanon up the river," Ryan said. "That whatever happens in the elections, is not because we sold Lebanon out." Such concerns have grown in the wake of the departure of the Bush administration, which squarely allied itself with Lebanon’s ruling March 14 coalition, and amid the Obama administration’s efforts to engage the Iranian and Syrian governments.
If he does go to Beirut, Biden would be the first sitting U.S. vice president or president to visit Lebanon. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Lebanon last month.
"I think there is probably some realism that March 14 could end up in the minority in the new government," said Andrew Exum, a Lebanon expert and fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "So we’re seeing the [Obama] administration trying to reposition itself and talk about investing in institutions in Lebanon — specifically in the Lebanese armed forces. And I think there is an understanding in the administration that it’s going to be a tough sell to Congress and to our friends in Israel why we should invest in the Lebanese armed forces when Hezbollah is in the ruling coalition in Lebanon. Having said that, the election could still go either way and the vice president’s trip there much like Secretary of State Clinton’s understated visit expressed support for our allies, but not to the degree where we are throwing darts at the March 8 coalition," which includes Hezbollah.
Biden is currently traveling with national security advisor Tony Blinken and spokesman Jay Carney, who said he couldn’t comment on the reports of a possible Lebanon trip.
Washington Lebanon hands said they believe that David Hale, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs who traveled to Lebanon earlier this month, is taking the lead on Lebanon issues for the team led by U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell. Obama’s nominee to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, was a U.S. ambassador to Lebanon during the Bush era. On Tuesday, Feltman’s nomination was voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations committee for a vote by the full Senate expected as early as later this week.
UPDATE: The OVP announced Thursday that Biden will indeed go to Beirut Friday. "Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Beirut, Lebanon tomorrow to reinforce the United States’ support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon. While in Beirut, the Vice President will meet with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri. The Vice President and President Sleiman will each make a statement to the press after their meeting. In addition, he will join Lebanon’s Defense Minister Elias Murr in making an announcement of military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces."
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.