Visiting Lebanon PM seeks to temper Washington's anti-Hezbollah zeal

Posted July 28, 2017

Hariri said he has numerous differences with Hezbollah, but "one thing we agree on is that the national interest of Lebanon is to have stability and to have a government that is functional". "We also approved the salary scale with all the reforms that were included", added the PM.

US President Donald Trump promised to aid Lebanon in its fight against the Islamic State group on Tuesday, while praising the visiting prime minister and his efforts to secure the country's borders.

Translation: I should check with the White House kitchen and see if they have any hezbollah they can serve the prime minister for lunch. Aoun named Hariri prime minister as part of a compromise deal of sorts, and while Hariri has an adversarial relationship with the organization, its members nonetheless have significant power within the government.

"In Lebanon, we are fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda", the prime minister clarified.

"The United States military has been proud to help in that fight and will continue to do so", he said.

"Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region", Trump said in a press conference with Hariri at the White House.

Another item on the prime minister's agenda is continued U.S. support for the Lebanese military. The jihadists have spilled over into the country from neighboring Syria. Fighters from the powerful Iranian-backed group are leading a military offensive to wipe out Sunni extremists from ISIS and al-Qaida from areas along the Lebanese-Syrian border. In 2015, General Lloyd Austin, CENTCOM commander at the time, told Congress that only four or five US-trained fighters had actually gone to Syria to battle IS, out of the 5,000 the Pentagon had envisaged.

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Other items on the prime minister's agenda are continued US support for the Lebanese military, and plans by the U.S.to tighten sanctions on the militant group Hezbollah.

"What will the Lebanese government do but rush to the USA urging it to preserve its investment in that extraordinary partner in the war against terrorism, and to intervene to stop Israel from destroying the Lebanese state".

Mr Nerguizian said that Mr Hariri will make the case for a narrative that "Lebanon is not defined by Hizbollah and that the LAF is not subordinated to the party".

After their oval meeting, Hariri and Trump held a press conference where everything seemed to be going according to plan until the US president was asked about Hezbollah - a political and military organization, who's also part of the Lebanese parliament.

Lebanese officials, however, have expressed concern that the broadening of U.S. sanctions on the group will damage the country's banking industry due to Hizballah's influence in the sector.

Nasrallah said on Wednesday he would not respond to Trump's comments in order "not to embarrass" the official Lebanese delegation to Washington.