Hezbollah a threat to Lebanon, Pompeo tells visiting Hariri

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri says his country considers US offer on maritime border with Israel “viable”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, speaks during the opening session of the Arab Economic Forum in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 2, 2019. The forum is taking place amid an economic crisis in Lebanon, which is suffering from slow growth, a high budget deficit and massive debt. The Lebanese government is holding open-ended sessions to discuss to approve the country's draft austerity budget. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, ending a five-day trip to Washington, on Thursday met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who pledged continued support for Lebanon's state institutions and said Hezbollah and its backer Iran were threats.

The two had a 40-minute meeting, their second in less than six months.

Speaking later alongside Mr Hariri, Mr Pompeo said the US would continue to support the “credible state institutions inside Lebanon. They are essential to preserving Lebanese security, stability and sovereignty".

“This is a region that is threatened by Iran, and a nation that is threatened by its proxy Hezbollah,” he said.

Mr Pompeo thanked Lebanon for hosting more than one million Syrian refugees and hoped the country would make necessary reforms to unlock international economic help.

Mr Hariri called Mr Pompeo a great friend of Lebanon and thanked him for the support to the armed forces, which is estimated at $70 million a year.

“I reaffirmed our joint commitment to the fight against terrorism,” he said.

Mr Hariri also added his support to the continuing negotiation process with Israel, led by the US, on the maritime border.

“The US proposal was communicated to the President of the Republic [of Lebanon], and to the Speaker of the House and to me, and we consider the process to be viable,” he said.

Mr Hariri said he hoped the process would be more advanced by September.

The visit comes at a precarious time for Lebanon, whose economy is struggling. Its political divide has crippled the work of its Cabinet.

On his US visit, Mr Hariri also met undersecretary for political affairs David Hale, assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs David Schenker, and US assistant secretary of Treasury, Marshall Billingslea.

The Trump administration is trying to walk a fine line between supporting the Hariri government and stability in Lebanon, while continuing the pressure on Hezbollah and its allies through measures including sanctions.

While Washington understands that Mr Hariri is constrained when it comes to confronting Hezbollah, it has told Beirut how it could counter Hezbollah’s reach and influence.

The US is committed to pursuing the sanctions strategy against Hezbollah, Washington sources say.

"We will continue our effort to target individuals and entities that support, fund and facilitate Hezbollah destabilising activities around the world," a US official told The National. 

Measures could target Hezbollah’s allies in or out of the government, and private entities if they are found to be in breach of US law by overriding sanctions.

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