BEIRUT - Lebanon has no alternative for economic recovery but to make progress on a deal with the International Monetary Fund, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf visited Lebanon, which is suffering one of the world's worst financial meltdowns, according to the World Bank, on a regional trip earlier this month.
Beirut signed a staff-level agreement with the IMF in April 2022 but its progress towards financial reforms required to unlock $3 billion in funding has been "very slow", according to the lender of last resort.
Leaf said in an online briefing she had urged Lebanese officials to make progress on the full deal and to end a months-long vacuum in the presidency.
"Helping the Lebanese people remains a priority for us as we urge Lebanese leaders to adopt a sense of urgency that they clearly have lacked," she said. "The IMF package is a lifeline. There's just no other way out."
Leaf said she hoped the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran could have "a calming and beneficial effect for Lebanon, as well as other countries across the region".
Saudi Arabia is also seeking to re-establish ties with Syria after more than a decade of isolation.
Leaf said the U.S. did not support normalisation with the Syrian government and pointed to new sanctions this week on Syrian and Lebanese nationals accused of being involved in the production and trafficking of captagon, an amphetamine.
She described captagon as a "scourge" in the region.
Leaf said that talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Egypt and Jordan in recent weeks had "very slowly, painstakingly" been moving towards de-escalation.
She said recent public protests in Israel had "to some degree" compromised the ability to deal with those tensions but that the U.S. sought to continue those talks in the months ahead to achieve "sustained, relative calm".
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported a record 152 killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces last year in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and said Jewish settler violence against Palestinians had also intensified.
(Reporting by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Alex Richardson, Alison Williams and Jonathan Oatis)