Politics & Policy

Def. Sec. Esper Says ‘Most Believe’ Beirut Explosion ‘Was An Accident,’ Contradicting Trump

A man walks past damaged buildings and vehicles near the site of Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut’s port area in Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (Aziz Taher/Reuters)

“Most believe” the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday “was an accident, as reported,” Defense secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday after President Donald Trump called the incident an attack one day earlier.

The U.S. is “still getting information on what happened” and reaching out to the Lebanese government, Esper said in a discussion at the annual Aspen Security Forum. He said he spoke about the explosion with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday morning. 

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Wednesday that the blast had been caused by about 2,750 metric tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had been stored at a port warehouse for the past six years “without preventive measures.”

Trump, however, on Tuesday evening had called the explosion, which killed at least 135 people and injured thousands, a “terrible attack.”

“It would seem like it based on the explosion,” Trump said. “I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was not a — some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event. This was a — seems to be according to them, they would know better than I would, but they seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.”

Three U.S. defense officials have said there is no indication that the explosion was an attack, CNN reported

The prime minister has launched an investigation into the deadly blast, saying, “I will not rest until we find those responsible for what happened, hold them accountable, and impose maximum punishment.” 

It was “unacceptable” that so much ammonium nitrate had been stored “while endangering the safety of citizens,” he said.

Pompeo had spoken with Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab after the incident on Wednesday, expressing condolences and offering assistance.

“The secretary reaffirmed our steadfast commitment to assist the Lebanese people as they cope with the aftermath of this terrifying event,” a readout from State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Cale Brown said. “Secretary Pompeo further stressed our solidarity with and support for the Lebanese people as they strive for the dignity, prosperity, and security they deserve.”

Esper said the U.S. would offer assistance to Lebanon: “We’re positioning ourselves to provide them whatever assistance we can, humanitarian aid, medical supplies, you name it, to assist the people of Lebanon,” Esper said.

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