In Beirut, Tillerson Says Hizbullah Actions Threaten Lebanon, Regionإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Hizbullah's actions pose a threat to the security of Lebanon and have a destabilizing influence in the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday.
"Hizbullah is not just a concern for the United States. The people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hizbullah's actions, its growing arsenal, bring unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon," Tillerson said in Beirut after talks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
"Hizbullah entanglement in regional conflicts threatens the security of Lebanon and has destabilizing effects on the region," he said of the Iran-backed Lebanese movement.
Hizbullah, branded a "terrorist" organization by the United States, is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has fighters on the ground in the war-torn country supporting the regime.
"Their presence in Syria has perpetuated the bloodshed, increased the displacement of innocent people and propped up the barbaric Assad regime," Tillerson said at a news conference with Hariri.
"Their presence in Iraq and Yemen has also fueled violence. And the consequences of Hizbullah's involvement in these far-off conflicts -- which have nothing to do with Lebanon -- are felt here," he added.
Hizbullah's influence was at the heart of a political crisis in Lebanon over Hariri's shock resignation announced from Saudi Arabia in November that was later rescinded.
On Wednesday, speaking in Amman, Tillerson conceded that Hizbullah is part of the "political process" in Lebanon, appearing to soften Washington's tone.
"We support a free, democratic Lebanon free of influence of others, and we know that Lebanese Hizbullah is influenced by Iran. This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon's long-term future," he said.
"We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon."
Later, U.S. Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said however that Lebanon "would be better off without Hizbullah's terrorism and malign influence."
The Beirut visit comes amid a new U.S. effort to squeeze Iran with sanctions against Hizbullah and the Trump administration is hitting Hizbullah's financial network with new penalties as part of its efforts to limit Iran's influence throughout the region.
Tillerson also said that the U.S. administration is "engaging with the governments of both Lebanon and Israel to ensure Lebanon's southern border remains calm," amid tension with Israel over gas drilling rights.
He said: "If an agreement" between Israel and Lebanon can be reached over drilling rights, it will help Lebanon and neighboring countries to prosper for years to come.
Tillerson added that the discussions were positive on how to break the "stalemate" with Israel over the gas drilling rights.
"We've asked no one to give up anything. Rather, we're looking for a solution," Tillerson told reporters.
The U.S. has been trying to mediate in the dispute, and Tillerson suggested Israel should stop building a border wall until the border between the two countries is agreed on.
"Let's get the border agreed first and then people can think about if they need a security wall or not at that point," Tillerson said.
Tillerson, during his short visit, also reinforced support for Lebanon's government headed by Hariri and for the Lebanese armed forces, which is a major recipient of U.S. military assistance.
"And we remain committed to helping Lebanon and the Lebanese people prosper through the development of their natural resources in agreement with all of their neighbors," he added.
Hariri for his part said: "What is ours is ours and what is Israel's is Israel's. We are trying to find solutions that will be fair to us and fair to everyone."
"The U.S. has demonstrated that investing in Lebanon yields quick and fruitful results," the premier said at the beginning of the news conference.
"This support is directly aligned with my priority to build our state institutions. It is the only way to guarantee our stability and our democracy. Our democracy which will be reaffirmed in free and fair elections, 12 weeks from today," he added.
"As I pointed to Secretary Tillerson, the commitment by all in Lebanon to the policy of disassociation is today a collective responsibility. It is closely monitored by all State institutions to ensure it is executed to Lebanon’s national interest in keeping the best relations with Arab countries and the International Community at large," he added.
Hariri also emphasized that Lebanon is committed to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 2373.
"We want to move to a state of permanent ceasefire but Israel’s daily violations of our sovereignty hinder that process, as does Israel’s escalating rhetoric. This needs to stop. Lebanon’s southern border is the calmest border in the Middle East and I asked Secretary Tillerson to help keep it that way," the premier added.