US Embassy in Beirut rejects spin on Aoun-Schenker meeting

Lebanese political circles considered the clarifications offered by the US embassy spokesman a denial of any intention by Schenker to polish the image of President Michel Aoun.
Saturday 17/10/2020
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, October 16. (AP)
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, October 16. (AP)

BEIRUT –The US Embassy in Lebanon had to issue a notice to explain what was said by US Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker during his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun. The embassy said that Schenker had urged President Aoun to use the sword of transparency “figuratively”, and he did not mean any courtesies by it.

In the statement, the US embassy spokesman in Beirut Casey Bonfield said that Schenker was referring to the sword hanging in President Aoun’s office, which had the phrase “Transparency is the sword that vanquishes corruption” inscribed on it.

Commenting favourably on the phrase, “Schenker urged that it is incumbent on His Excellency the President [Michel Aoun] to wield (metaphorically) that sword of transparency and change the governing paradigm,” Bonfield explained.

A Baabda Palace statement had indicated that Schenker “praised the positive role that President Aoun plays in leading the fight against corruption and changing the paradigm that prevailed in the past, considering that reforms in Lebanon are essential, especially since there is no difference between politics and economics.”

Lebanese political circles considered the clarifications offered by the US embassy spokesman a clear denial of the version outlined in the statement issued by the Presidential Palace, as well as a denial of any intention by Schenker to polish the image of President Michel Aoun and to show him in the guise of someone working to combat corruption.

Schenker arrived in Beirut last Wednesday to participate in the opening of the Lebanese-Israeli negotiations on the demarcation of the maritime borders. It was expected that the US official would leave Beirut for Rabat immediately after the opening session of the negotiations, but he decided to remain in Lebanon for a few more days to hold talks with politicians and activists and listen to their views.

Shenker had several meetings with Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. He also met with Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, Samir Geagea, Suleiman Franjieh, and the Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai.

Lebanese political sources said that Schenker stressed to the Lebanese officials that it is in the interest of their country to pursue negotiations on the demarcation of the maritime border with Israel.

In this regard, the sources indicated that Lebanon has a vested interest in these negotiations, for an agreement with Israel on maritime borders could open the door for future income from the gas reserves located under the seabed between the two countries, and thus address its economic crisis.

They also revealed that Schenker reassured the Lebanese officials he met that Lebanon is still important to the United States and that the latter will work to ensure the success of Lebanon’s negotiations with Israel.