FBI to join Beirut blast investigation, US diplomat says during his visit

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U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, left, speaks with an NGO volunteer during his visit to the main gathering point for volunteers, near the site of last week's explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP Photo)

U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale said on Thursday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will be joining Lebanese and other international investigators in the probe into the Beirut port blast that killed and wounded thousands.

Hale said during a visit to one of the impacted neighborhoods in Beirut Thursday that the FBI will take part at the invitation of Lebanese authorities.

He said the participation in the probe is one of the ways the U.S. is helping Lebanon in dealing with the aftermath of the drastic explosion. Hale arrived in Lebanon Thursday and is due to meet with Lebanese officials for the next two days.

The No. 3 U.S. diplomat is expected to stress the “urgent need” for the country to embrace fundamental reform, the State Department said, in the aftermath of a blast that caused large-scale damage in the capital Beirut.

The Aug. 4 explosion at a warehouse storing highly explosive material killed at least 172 people, injured some 6,000, left around 300,000 without habitable housing and wrecked swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.

In planned meetings with political leaders, civil society, and youth groups, Hale will also underscore U.S.’ willingness to support any government that is “genuinely committed” to and acting upon such a reform agenda, the State Department said in a statement.

“Hale will stress the urgent need to embrace fundamental economic, financial, and governance reform, ending endemic corruption, bringing accountability and transparency, and introducing widespread state control through functioning institutions,” it said.

He will also reiterate the U.S. government’s commitment to assist the country.

Humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not provide funds to help pull Lebanon from economic collapse without action on long-demanded reforms to tackle systemic graft, waste, mismanagement and negligence.

The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government this week has deepened uncertainty. His cabinet’s talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout had already stalled over internal differences about the scale of financial losses.

Forming a new government could be daunting amid factional rifts and growing public discontent with a ruling class that many Lebanese brand as responsible for the country’s woes.

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