Jordanian foreign minister flags new hurdles to power deal with Lebanon


The Jordanian foreign minister has signaled that the kingdom needs to clear more hurdles before it can start exporting electricity to Lebanon under a deal that has significant geopolitical implications for the region.

Ayman Al Safadi told Saudi broadcaster Al Sharq TV that Jordan was still waiting for US exemption from sanctions imposed on the Assad regime in Syria to start the flow of 250 megawatts of electricity to Lebanon.

Jordanian electricity would meet 7% of demand in Lebanon, but would have to be delivered by transmission lines crossing areas controlled by President Bashar Al Assad’s forces south and west of Damascus.

The deal could boost Jordan’s regional influence and help end the isolation of Mr Al Assad’s regime as his ally Russia tries to convince Arab governments to normalize relations with Damascus. It could also expand Syria’s influence in Lebanon, where it maintained a military presence for 29 years until 2015.

Al Safadi said Jordan was still in talks with Washington to exempt the deal from sanctions, which were tightened under the Donald Trump administration two years ago.

“The fact is that there are sanctions related to the Caesar law,” Mr Al Safadi said. “The dialogue continues.”

The US law passed in 2020 increased sanctions for governments and companies with ties to the Syrian regime and its associates. The legislation was named after the codename of a Syrian military photographer.

He defected after taking pictures of thousands of corpses of imprisoned dissidents who were killed or died in regime prisons after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising against five decades of Assad family rule in 2011.

The electricity deal could violate Caesar’s law if the Assad government received payment in kind, in the form of a share of the electricity flowing through its regions. It also gives the regime a role in regional infrastructure despite being widely ostracized by Arab countries for its violent suppression of the revolt.

Jordan expected power exports to Lebanon to begin in March, two months after the signing of the World Bank-funded deal in Beirut.

Beirut’s government has had on-and-off talks with international financial institutions to rescue its economy and financial system, which began to crumble in late 2019.

The collapse has worsened chronic power shortages, a feature of life in the country since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in 1990.

Mr Al Safadi, who was speaking in Washington after signing an agreement for a new US aid package, said Jordan was trying to get a letter from Washington specifically guaranteeing that the kingdom would not do the same. sanctioned for supplying electricity via Syria.

He said Jordan was also waiting for Lebanon to reach a financial reform agreement with the International Monetary Fund and another agreement with the United States, revealing a new element in the delay of the electricity agreement.

“There is also an effort to conclude an agreement between Lebanon and the World Bank, and we are waiting for the moment when the Lebanese and the Americans will conclude their agreement,” said Mr Al Safadi.

“We will then be ready to immediately supply Lebanon with electricity.

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He did not specify what he meant by a US-Lebanese deal. Washington has urged Lebanon to agree to a US-supervised deal with Israel to demarcate maritime borders, after Hezbollah challenged Israeli gas exploration in Mediterranean fields also claimed by Lebanon.

The United States, Jordan’s biggest donor, has been the main supporter of the electricity deal, despite its opposition to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group that wields great influence in Lebanese affairs .

Washington also opposes any help to rebuild the Syrian regime absent a loosely defined political transition in the country, which world powers agreed to in Geneva in 2012.

But Washington has heard little about the power deal since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Updated: September 18, 2022, 1:59 p.m.

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