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History of the U.S. and Lebanon

The United States first established a diplomatic presence in Beirut in 1833 with the appointment of a consular agent. Throughout the nineteenth century, American activity in Lebanon was focused on religious, educational and literary pursuits, with the founding of what became Lebanese American University in 1835 and American University of Beirut in 1866. American officials were evacuated from Lebanon in 1917 when U.S. relations with the Ottoman Empire were severed. The Consulate General was re-established after World War I.

In 1944, the U.S. diplomatic agent and Consul General for Lebanon and Syria, George Wadsworth, was upgraded to the rank of minister, following official recognition of the Republic of Lebanon’s independence. He was put in charge of two legations for Syria and Lebanon, but was headquartered in Beirut with a staff of six diplomats. The legation was given Embassy status in 1952, and Minister Harold Minor became the first U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon. This step reflected burgeoning U.S. commercial and strategic interests in Lebanon. By the late 1960s, Embassy Beirut was one of the largest in the Middle East, serving as a regional headquarters for a range of U.S. agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), AID, and DEA. The U.S. Information Service maintained the John F. Kennedy Cultural Center and Library, which had branches in Zahleh and Tripoli, as well as extensive English teaching and Arabic publications programs.

Deteriorating security conditions during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war resulted in a gradual reduction of Embassy functions and the departure of dependents and many staff. Ambassador Meloy was assassinated in 1976.

In the early hours of October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber attacked members of the Multinational Force, peacekeepers at the U.S. Marine barracks and the French paratrooper barracks.  241 American marines, sailors and soldiers died, and 128 were wounded.

Following an April 1983 suicide bomb attack on the Embassy in Beirut, in which 49 Embassy staff were killed and 34 were injured, the Embassy relocated to Awkar, north of the capital. A second bombing there, in September 1984, killed 11 and injured 58. In September 1989, the Embassy closed and all American staff were evacuated, due to security threats. The Embassy re-opened in November 1990.

Like the rest of Lebanon, in the past decades the Embassy has undergone an incremental process of reestablishing normal functions, a process which accelerated in 1997 when the Secretary of State removed restrictions on the use of American passports for travel to Lebanon. USAID assigned an American officer to Lebanon that year, and a Public Affairs officer returned to Lebanon in 1999 after a 14-year absence. The U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service established a position in the Embassy in 1999. The consular section has been gradually expanding services to U.S. citizens and to Lebanese visa applicants, including its coordination of the evacuation of American citizens due to the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah.  In light of expanded bilateral military cooperation, the size and scope of the Defense Attaché office and the Office of Defense Cooperation has also increased steadily over recent years.