Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Mike Pompeo to make a first visit to Lebanon in mid-March

David Satterfield held meetings in Beirut today to plan for the visit

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his trip to Lebanon during a speech to farmers in Iowa. AP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his trip to Lebanon during a speech to farmers in Iowa. AP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Lebanon in mid-March for the first time since the formation of a government.

Mr Pompeo told a farmers’ group in rural Iowa that he would visit Beirut, Israel and Kuwait.

The exact time for the Beirut stop is yet to be determined. It will be his first trip to Lebanon since taking office last April.

Veteran US diplomat David Satterfield arrived in Beirut on Tuesday to lay the groundwork. He met Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and parliamentarian Samy Gemayel.

A major part of US engagement with Lebanon is focused on countering Iran and Hezbollah, other security, defence and economic issues have been discussed between the countries.

Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, referred to Mr Satterfield’s role as a mediator in a Lebanese-Israeli maritime dispute over oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean.

“Mr Satterfield has taken on this mediation portfolio in the dispute for some time, offering Mr Pompeo an opportunity to make some progress on this front during his trip," Ms Slim said.

Mr Pompeo is also expected to reaffirm US support for Lebanese state institutions including the army, to which the US offers a $70 million (Dh257.1m) in aid a year.

Despite calls from a few members in the US Congress to review the aid package, Ms Slim said: “There is strong support in the Trump administration for continuing military support to the army as a counter push to Hezbollah.”

“Like in Iraq, US support to the government and the armed forces provides a necessary counterweight to Iranian influence in both countries without necessarily succeeding at significantly rolling back this influence."

As for Hezbollah, Mr Pompeo “will probably present red lines on the diversion of any US funding to social services to the Health Ministry, which is now part of group’s ministerial portfolio", Ms Slim said.

During his trip to Warsaw last month, he acknowledged that “Hezbollah is definitely more powerful than they were four or five years ago".

“I regret that,” he told Al Hurra TV during the Warsaw summit, which Lebanon did not attend. “We want Lebanon to be unified and we want Iran out."

Other issues expected to be raised during Mr Pompeo’s visit are Lebanon's dire economic situation, the status of refugees and relations with the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

The US administration has been urging its regional partners to slow down their openness to the Assad regime despite his military gains in the conflict.

Updated: March 6, 2019 02:29 AM

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