US warns against proxy conflicts in Lebanon

US says the ballistic missile fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Saturday bore Iranian markings

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 1, 2017 shows US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as he delivers remarks  from the briefing room of the US State Department in Washington, DC.
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 / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS
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The United States warned on Friday against “using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts” in its first statement since prime minister Saad Hariri’s televised resignation

The US military also said that the ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels toward the Saudi capital on November 4, bore “Iranian markings”.

"To me, that connects the dots to Iran," said Lt Gen Jeffrey L Harrigian of the Air Force Central Command in advance of the Dubai Air Show.

“How they got it there is probably something that will continue to be investigated over time,” he said.

“What has been demonstrated and shown based on the findings of that missile is that it had Iranian markings on it. That in itself provides evidence of where it came from.”

Gen Harrigan voiced concern about the unfolding situation in Lebanon, saying it was essential to defuse tensions through diplomacy "instead of going to war".

The US's concern about a risk of military confrontation in Lebanon was also voiced by secretary of state Rex Tillerson in the US's first official statement released since Mr Hariri left Lebanon.

Mr Tillerson said Washington “strongly supports the sovereignty and independence of the republic of Lebanon and of its political institutions”.

He urged "all parties both within Lebanon and outside to respect the integrity and independence of Lebanon's legitimate national institutions, including the government of Lebanon and the Lebanese armed forces."

The statement did not refer to Mr Hariri’s resignation and addressed him as “Lebanese prime minister” and “a strong partner of the United States”.

Washington, without mentioning Hizbollah by name, noted that “there is no legitimate place or role in Lebanon for any foreign forces, militias or armed elements other than the legitimate security forces of the Lebanese state”.

It cautioned “against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country”.

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Mr Tillerson said that if Mr Hariri is “going to step down, as I understand it, he needs to go back to Lebanon to make that official. I’m hopeful that if that is still his intent to leave that he’ll do that so that the government of Lebanon can function properly”.

Mr Tillerson’s statements came as Saudi minister for Arab Gulf affairs Thamer Al Sabhan continued his meetings in Washington on Friday.

Mr Al Sabhan held a meeting at the White House attended by senior officials who handle the Middle East, and acting assistant secretary for Near East affairs at the state department David Satterfield.

Adam Ereli, a former state department official who served as US ambassador to Bahrain between 2007 and 2011, said that Mr Tillerson's statements contrast with US president Donald Trump's views on the situation.

“Statements from the secretary of state in support of Lebanon should be read in the context of other statements by president Trump expressing virtually unconditional support for the leadership of Saudi Arabia” Mr Ereli said.

“International diplomacy is never easy, but it’s even harder when the president of the US and his secretary of state consistently appear to be on different sides of the issues.”

A report in the Washington Times on Thursday said Mr Tillerson may be on his way out of office by January and a leading replacement for the secretary of state position is current CIA director, Mike Pompeo.