Richard Relays to Hariri Concern over Hizbullah's 'Growing Role'
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard held talks Tuesday with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and relayed to him U.S. concern over Hizbullah's “growing role in the Cabinet.”
“I am just really delighted to be here back at the Serail to greet the Prime Minister and congratulate him on the new government. It has been a long time coming and we are just thrilled that there is finally a government,” Richard said after the meeting.
“We reviewed the very broad range of areas in which the United States is already working with Lebanon, and we reviewed what his (Hariri's) priorities are going forward,” the ambassador added.
Richard also said that she was “very frank” with Hariri about U.S. concern over “the growing role in the Cabinet of an organization that continues to maintain a militia that is not under the control of the government,” apparently referring to Hizbullah.
Hizbullah “continues to make its own national security decisions” and “continues to violate the government’s disassociation policy by participating in armed conflict in at least three other countries,” the ambassador noted.
Warning that “this state of affairs does not contribute to stability” and is “fundamentally destabilizing,” Richard said she is very hopeful that Lebanon “will not be derailed from the path of progress now before it.”
“In that spirit, I brought with me today a team of senior U.S. Embassy officials -- which includes our Director of USAID for Lebanon, our Defense Attaché, our Refugees Affairs Advisor, and our Counselor for Political and Economic issues,” the envoy added.
“And we came to review the breadth and depth of U.S. support available for education and development; for helping Lebanese communities deal with the unprecedented demands placed on them when their Syrian neighbors fled the brutal Assad’s Regime; for building a capable and respected military that protects its citizens under the sovereign control of their elected leaders; and for addressing a range of difficult economic issues,” Richard went on to say.
She added: “I told the Prime Minister that the United States is proud to be the largest provider of development, humanitarian, and security assistance to Lebanon. In just this last year alone, the United States provided more than $825 million in U.S. assistance – and that’s an increase over the previous year.”
“We want to continue our longstanding and comprehensive support for Lebanon. As Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo said just very recently, 'We are partners with Lebanon to achieve a good outcome for the people of Lebanon,'” Richard went on to say.
Hizbullah has named a health minister and two other posts in the new Cabinet. U.S. officials have called on Hariri's government to ensure the group does not receive support from public resources.
Washington views Hizbullah as a “terrorist group” but is a strong supporter of the Lebanese Army, supplying it with arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. Last week, the American Embassy said the U.S. had delivered laser-guided rockets valued at more than $16 million to the army.