Top Lebanese Officials Dismiss Visiting US Secretary of State Pompeo’s Hezbollah Warning
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Friday openly challenged visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s description of Hezbollah — the Iranian regime’s Lebanon-based Shi’a proxy — as a terrorist organization.
At a joint press conference in Beirut with Pompeo, Bassil portrayed Hezbollah — long designated as a terrorist group by the United States, Israel, the EU and others — as a legitimate partner in Lebanon’s national government.
Pompeo, who is touring the Middle East to bolster support for the Trump administration’s tougher stance against Iran, cited a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah this month asking the group’s supporters for funds as evidence that US sanctions are working.
“Our pressure on Iran is simple. It’s aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists and it’s working,” Pompeo said. “We believe that our work is already constraining Hezbollah’s activities.”
Pompeo said Iran gave Hezbollah as much as $700 million a year.
MPs affiliated with Hezbollah won 70 of the Lebanese parliament’s 128 seats in an election last year. The group has taken three of the 30 portfolios in the government formed in January by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, including the Health Ministry — the first time it has held a ministry with a significant budget.
Pompeo said the US would continue to use “all peaceful means” to choke off financing that “feeds Iran and Hezbollah terror operations,” pointing to “smuggling, criminal networks and the misuse of government positions”.
“Lebanon faces a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation, or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future,” Pompeo said.
At an earlier meeting on Friday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun also told Pompeo that Hezbollah was a Lebanese party with popular support.
“Preserving national unity and civil peace is a priority for us,” Aoun was quoted as saying.
Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, said in a statement that he had told Pompeo that Hezbollah’s “resistance” against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli “occupation” of Lebanese territory.