Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 April 2019

Pompeo vows new measures against Iran during Lebanon visit

The US Secretary of State targets Iran after Donald Trump’s Golan tweet

US sanctions on Iran are working, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday during an official visit to Lebanon, which he invited to stand up to the Shiite group Hezbollah.

Mr Pompeo accused Hezbollah of "criminality, terror and threats" and vowed new measures against its ally, Iran.

"Our pressure on Iran is simple. It's aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists and it's working," he said after a meeting with Foreign Affairs minister Gebran Bassil. "We believe that our work is already constraining Hezbollah's activities."

The US Secretary of State said he shared concerns about "external and internal pressures on the government, including coming from some of its own members, which do not serve an independent thriving Lebanon."

The group's influence over the Lebanese government expanded since the general elections last year, when it won more than 70 of the parliament's 128 seats and obtained for the first time the health ministry portfolio – which has a significant budget.

Hezbollah also has a military wing that took part in Syria's civil war alongside President Bashar Al Assad and that Mr Pompeo estimated to have received as much as $700 million a year from Iran.

"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," the US representative said.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun stressed that Hezbollah is a member of the Lebanese government. "Preserving national unity and civil peace is a priority for us," Mr Aoun said on Twitter.

In a statement, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he told Mr Pompeo that Hezbollah's "resistance" against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.

US President Donald Trump has been a staunch supporter of the Jewish state. On Thursday, Mr Pompeo told a Christian broadcast network it was "possible" that President Donald Trump is like Queen Esther, who saved Jews in the Old Testament.

"As a Christian, I certainly believe that's possible," Mr Pompeo said in response to the question.

The US Secretary of State is touring the Middle East to drum up support for Washington's harder line against Iran.

Hezbollah's al-Manar television reported in its afternoon news broadcast that Pompeo was in Beirut "to incite Lebanese against each other."

Updated: March 22, 2019 09:29 PM

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