Naharnet

Pompeo Talks Hizbullah, U.S. Support with Lebanese Leaders

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began an official visit to Lebanon on Friday, the last stop of his five-day Middle East trip that included Kuwait and Israel.

During talks in Baabda, Pompeo conveyed his worry over Hizbullah to President Michel Aoun.

He stressed "the U.S. government's strong concerns over the role of Hizbullah and Iran in Lebanon and the region and the risks this poses to Lebanon's security, stability, and prosperity," U.S. State Dept. deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said.

Aoun for his part asked Pompeo for Washington's help in “returning the Syrian refugees to safe areas in Syria,” stressing that “repatriation operations carried out by General Security will continue.”

As for Hizbullah, the president told the top U.S. diplomat that “preserving national unity and civil peace” is Lebanon's priority, noting that “Hizbullah is a Lebanese party born of a popular base representing one of the main sects in the country.”

Aoun also welcomed any U.S. help in demarcating the border with Israel, noting that this would “strengthen security and stability in the South.”

“Lebanon is committed to implementing Resolution 1701 and is keen on maintaining stability on the southern border, despite the continuous territorial, naval and aerial Israeli violations,” the president added.

Pompeo had arrived at the Rafik Hariri International Airport at 11:00 am. He was taken to the Interior Ministry for a meeting with Raya al-Hassan, who was named earlier this year as the Arab world's first female minister in charge of security.

The State Department's deputy spokesman, Robert Palladino, said the two discussed the regional and internal security challenges facing Lebanon and how the U.S. can help support the ministry's efforts to maintain stability inside Lebanon.

Pompeo also met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, before heading for a working lunch with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

According to the National News Agency, Berri discussed with Pompeo “the importance of maintaining Lebanon's stability and addressing the maritime border issue,” shedding light on the sanctions imposed on Hizbullah and their impact on the Lebanese.

Palladino said Pompeo highlighted in the meeting with Berri U.S. concerns about Hizbullah's "destabilizing activities in Lebanon and the region" as well as the need to maintain calm along the border between Lebanon and Israel.

Hariri's media office said talks with Pompeo focused on the latest developments in Lebanon and the region and the bilateral relations between the two countries.

Palladino said Pompeo and Hariri discussed "the importance of the U.S.-Lebanese security partnership and the need for continued support for Lebanon's legitimate state security institutions, particularly the Lebanese Armed Forces."

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

Pompeo’s two-day visit to Lebanon aims mainly to step up pressure on Iran and its local ally, Hizbullah, which now wields more power than ever in parliament and the government.

But he is likely to face resistance even from Washington's Lebanese allies, who fear that pushing too hard could spark a backlash and endanger the tiny country's fragile peace.

In remarks he made to Al-Arabiya television Thursday, Pompeo voiced regret that the previous U.S. administrations did not do much to “rein in” Hizbullah.

Source: Naharnet


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