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Pompeo Urges Lebanon to Stand up to Hezbollah

Pompeo Urges Lebanon to Stand up to Hezbollah

Friday, 22 March, 2019 - 10:00
Lebanese PM Saad Hariri receives US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Beirut. (Dalati & Nohra)
Asharq Al-Awsat
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks in Beirut on Friday with Lebanese leaders to urge them to stand up to Hezbollah and Iran.

"The Lebanese people face a choice: Bravely move forward or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future,” he said after talks with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, a Hezbollah ally.

He added that the US would continue using "all peaceful means" to curb Hezbollah and Iran's influence.

The Lebanese people must stand up to Hezbollah's "criminality, terror and threats," he stressed.

"How does stockpiling tens of thousands of missiles in Lebanon territory for use against Israel make this country stronger?" asked Pompeo, referring to Hezbollah's arsenal that the group boasts can strike any part of Israel.

"Hezbollah and its illegitimate militia put the entire country on the front lines of Iran's misguided proxy campaign," he added.

He said that Washington would continue to use "all peaceful means possible" to pressure Hezbollah, an apparent reference to the sanctions that the US has imposed over the years and are drying up the group's finances. Pompeo referred to comments made by Hezbollah's leader earlier this month in which he urged supporters to donate money to the group.

In contrast, Bassil insisted that Hezbollah is "a Lebanese group that is not a terrorist organization and was elected by the people."

"We don't want our ties with America to be affected and we want to work together to solve problems, including the issue with Hezbollah," he said, stressing that Lebanon's stability is of mutual interest to both states.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV aired the comments made by Bassil live, but cut back to normal programming once Pompeo began reading his statement.

Pompeo also met with parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, before heading for a working lunch with Prime Minister Saad Hariri followed by a meeting with President Michel Aoun, another Hezbollah ally.

Aoun echoed Bassil’s statements, with his office saying that the president told Pompeo that the country's priority is to preserve national unity and peace adding that "Hezbollah is a Lebanese party that has a popular base representing one of the main (religious) sects in the country."

Aoun, speaking to Russian journalists ahead of a visit to Moscow later this month, said that the sanctions imposed on Hezbollah, Iran and Syria are negatively impacting the already fragile Lebanese economy.

"The negative effect of the sanctions on Hezbollah is hitting all Lebanese people as well as Lebanese banks," he said in remarks released later on Friday.

The State Department's deputy spokesman, Robert Palladino, said Pompeo highlighted in the meetings US concerns about Hezbollah's "destabilizing activities in Lebanon and the region," as well as the need to maintain calm along the border between Lebanon and Israel.

Pompeo and Berri also discussed "the need to maintain calm along the boundary between Lebanon and Israel", Palladino said.

Pompeo and Hariri discussed "the importance of the US-Lebanese security partnership and the need for continued support for Lebanon's legitimate state security institutions, particularly the Lebanese Armed Forces," he added.

Pompeo "commended the Lebanese people for hosting more than one million Syrian refugees".

Pompeo kicked off his Beirut trip with talks with Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan, who was named earlier this year as the Arab world's first female minister in charge of security.

The US official had arrived in Lebanon following a stop in Kuwait and Jerusalem.

From Israel, Pompeo's plane traveled through Cypriot airspace, as Lebanon, which is technically in a state of war with Israel, bans direct flights from Israel.

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