US diplomat expected to push IMF plan during Lebanon trip: Sources

A senior US diplomat set to visit Lebanon this week will focus on the need to commit to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) plan meant to help the crisis-struck country avoid an all-out collapse, sources familiar with the trip said.

Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, currently in Russia, will travel to Beirut on Thursday. She will meet with civil society groups and government officials to discuss economic reforms and the elections slated for next year, the State Department said ahead of her trip.

Sources briefed on her trip believe during her meetings with Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Nuland will highlight the need for quick engagement with the IMF.

The US diplomat, the most senior to visit Lebanon under the Biden administration, is expected to carry an IMF brief on what is needed from the Lebanese government.

Nuland will also voice Washington’s support for Mikati and his government if they carry out the necessary reforms to help Lebanon’s economy.

Mikati is a two-time former premier and has been criticized for amassing a large portion of his wealth from Lebanon’s corrupt economic sector.

Although many of the faces in his cabinet are new to the political scene, the country’s traditional political parties appointed them with sectarian and self-interests as a priority.

On Tuesday, during a cabinet meeting, officials were heard shouting over the insistence of Hezbollah and Amal ministers to dislodge the judge investigating the Beirut blast.

Officials have refused to cooperate with Judge Tarek Bitar, the second judge to take on the investigation after his predecessor was relieved due to similar pressure from the political class.

Nuland is not expected to press on the issue of Hezbollah – a terrorist organization under US law – during her meetings with Lebanese officials, but she will voice the Biden administration’s readiness to sanction any individual from any group that blocks progress on reforms.

It is unclear whether the US diplomat tasked with mediating the Lebanese-Israeli maritime border dispute will travel with Nuland this week.

US officials previously told Al Arabiya English that Amos Hochstein would visit Beirut this month before heading to Israel to revive stalled talks on the dispute.

Israeli-born Hochstein had a similar role under former President Barack Obama.

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