Mike Pompeo warns of Hezbollah’s growing influence in Lebanon
The US Secretary of State said his country is committed to its partnership with Lebanon despite Hezbollah
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Thursday of the growing influence of the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon, while reaffirming the commitment of the US to a partnership with Beirut and its people.
Speaking on the margins of the Warsaw conference, Mr Pompeo told Al Hurra television station that “Hezbollah is definitely more powerful than they were four or five years ago.” “I regret that” he said in the interview.
He also expressed disappointment at the absence of Lebanon from the meeting of European and Middle Eastern leaders in Poland. The decision was announced by Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil after he met his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif in Beirut last week.
“We want it [Lebanon] to be unified and we want Iran out” Mr Pompeo said.
The US chief diplomat said the US is committed to a partnership with Lebanese authorities despite Hezbollah’s increasing influence. “We are partners with Lebanon to achieve a good outcome for the people of Lebanon” he said.
The issue of illicit funding to the group was discussed in Warsaw, including ways to “push back against their money laundering, some of which takes place through Lebanese financial institutions,” Mr Pompeo explained.
Lebanon just ended a nine-month deadlock and formed a new government that allocated seats to Hezbollah in the cabinet. Lebanon’s new defence minister Elias Bou Saab visited Washington last week for an anti-ISIL coalition meeting and is expected to return for an official visit in the coming weeks, sources told The National. The US government provides annual security aid to Lebanon, estimated at around $70 million.
Washington is hoping to put together a Middle East Strategic Alliance (Mesa), which includes members participating in the Warsaw conference (GCC, Jordan and Egypt). Asked about its launch, Mr Pompeo said a date had not yet been set. “We’re working towards it. We’re making progress” he said.
A low-level meeting with Mesa representatives was expected to be held in Washington this month, sources told The National.
Mr Pompeo’s remarks on Hezbollah came as the US top admiral in the Middle East, James Malloy, warned this week of Iran’s growing military prowess. Speaking to reporters in Bahrain where Adm. Malloy heads the fifth fleet, he said Iran is in possession of advanced weapons that may threaten some of the world's key waterways.
"They have a growing capability in cruise missiles, they have a growing capability in ballistic missiles, they have a growing capability in unmanned surfaced systems, all these things that we watch that are offensive, and destabilising in nature," Vice Adm. James Malloy said, according to CNN.
Updated: February 15, 2019 12:49 AM