Kerry makes unannounced visit to Beirut

Fill Lebanon's presidential void 'as soon as possible'

BEIRUT - John Kerry arrived in Beirut on Wednesday, beginning an unannounced visit that is the first by a US secretary of state to Lebanon in five years, a journalist said.
Kerry is in Beirut to announce $290 million in aid to boost UN efforts in Syria and neighbouring countries hosting refugees, a US diplomatic source said. He will also urge Lebanon to fill the country's presidential void "as soon as possible".
Kerry's visit comes more than three years into a conflict that is raging in neighbouring Syria, which has had major political, humanitarian and security consequences on tiny Lebanon.
According to the diplomatic source, Kerry would meet Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.
"The secretary is going to announce our next response to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UN system appeals," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Syria's war has created an unprecedented refugee crisis, pushing some three million people out of their country, including more than a million into Lebanon.
"Of the $290 million that the secretary will announce, $51 million of that will be for Lebanon. That will be the largest single chunk for the neighbours," said the source.
"The biggest chunk of anything we announce is the one that is going to Syria for displaced people and UN services there," he added.
The visit also comes during a protracted political crisis in Lebanon, which has been without a president since last month because of unbreachable divisions between pro- and anti-Damascus camps in the country.
The diplomatic source said Kerry's visit was in part aimed at showing "support for the government" of Salam, which has assumed executive powers since Michel Sleiman's mandate as president expired.
"We are seeing the prime minister. We would obviously be seeing the president but a president does not exist," said the source.
"This a time when we want to send a message that they should elect a president as soon as possible," he said, adding Lebanon should do that "without foreign influence or foreign interference."
Kerry would also urge support for the Lebanese army and security forces, the source added.