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State Department's Barbara Leaf arrives in Middle East for 10-day visit

Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf will make stops in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia.   
In an undated image, Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf speaks during a reception at the Library of Congress.

The top State Department official for the Middle East has returned to the region with stops planned in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia.   

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf is currently in Jordan meeting with senior officials to “reinforce the US-Jordan relationship and our shared commitment to regional stability, security and prosperity,” according to a statement from the State Department.

From there, Leaf will travel to Egypt from March 18-20 where she is expected to discuss “bilateral priorities and cooperation on regional issues.” The top Middle East diplomat’s trip to Egypt, a longtime mediator between Israel and Palestinian militants, comes amid an uptick in Palestinian-Israeli violence.

Also likely on the agenda in Egypt is US support for a diplomatic resolution on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the giant hydropower dam that Egypt says is threatening its freshwater supply. In her meetings with Egyptian officials, Leaf is also expected to address the country’s politically motivated arrests and other human rights concerns.  

Leaf will also visit Tunisia from March 20-23 to “reaffirm US support for the Tunisian people and their aspirations for democratic and accountable governance, consult about crucial economic reforms and underscore support for the work of our diplomats in our respective capitals,” the State Department said. 

Her visit to the country comes as President Kais Saied faces mounting international pressure for his crackdown against the political opposition and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The campaign of arrests has helped create what Leaf described during a recent Al-Monitor event as a "climate of fear among the most vulnerable people in the country.”

In its recently released budget proposal for fiscal year 2024, the Biden administration proposed cutting economic assistance to Tunisia to “signal the United States' continued concern over the weakening of democratic institutions,” a spokesperson said. 

In Lebanon from March 23-25, Leaf will “press Lebanese officials on the urgent need to elect a president, form a government and implement critical economic reforms to set Lebanon on the path to stability and prosperity,” the State Department said. 

Since Lebanese President Michel Aoun left office last October, the Lebanese parliament has convened — and failed — more than 10 times to elect his replacement. Lebanon’s political deadlock has contributed to its economic woes, with three-quarters of the population having plunged into poverty since the economic crisis began in 2019. 

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