By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has lifted a mysterious “hold” on more than $100 million in security aid for Lebanon, congressional and State Department officials said, more than a month after lawmakers learned the funds were being blocked.
As first reported by Reuters, the U.S. State Department told Congress on Oct. 31 that the White House budget office (OMB) and National Security Council had decided to withhold $105 million in foreign military assistance, without providing any explanation.
As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld, some compared it with a similar decision from the administration to withhold nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine that also had been approved by Congress.
That decision has been at the center of an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Members of Congress and U.S. diplomats had strongly opposed the move to withhold the aid to Beirut, saying it was crucial to support Lebanon’s military as it grappled with instability within the country and the region.
Congressional aides said on Monday the administration had still provided no explanation for the decision to withhold the money, which had been approved by Congress and the State Department.
They said the OMB released the hold last Wednesday and the administration had begun to “obligate” it, or finalize contracts for how it should be spent.
A senior State Department official confirmed that the money had been released but declined to provide an explanation for why it was suspended or why it was released, beyond referring to recent comments by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.
Hale said during congressional testimony that there had been some disagreements about the efficacy of U.S. aid to the Lebanese armed forces.
On Monday, the senior State official said on a conference call with reporters that Lebanon’s army is “an excellent partner to the United States” in fighting extremism.
Lebanon also houses thousands of refugees from war in neighboring Syria.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)