Lebanese President Michel Aoun has told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah, has a popular support in the country.
“Preserving national unity and civil peace is a priority for us,” Aoun told Pompeo, the Lebanese presidency said on its Twitter feed.
Pompeo met with Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut on Friday.
The visiting top US diplomat claimed that his pressure on Iran and Hezbollah was working and urged Lebanon to stand up to the resistance movement which he accused of “terror and threats.”
“Our pressure on Iran is simple. It’s aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists and it’s working,” he said in a statement after meeting Lebanese political leaders. “We believe that our work is already constraining Hezbollah’s activities.”
During a joint news conference with Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Pompeo called on Lebanon to pick a side.
“Lebanon and the Lebanese people face a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future,” he said.
‘Hezbollah is not a terrorist group’
Bassil stood side by side with Pompeo at the new conference but he rejected the terrorist denunciation of the US official for Hezbollah.
Bassil said he held “constructive and positive talks” with Pompeo but added that their were differences of perspective with regards to Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, not a terrorist group, and it enjoys a wide popular base,” he said.
“We don’t want our ties with America to be affected and we want to work together to solve problems, including the issue with Hezbollah,” he said.
‘Hezbollah sanctions hurt Lebanon’
Earlier, the long-serving speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri, told Pompeo that American sanctions against Hezbollah were having a “negative impact on Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Nabih Berri told the top US diplomat in a meeting in Beirut that Hezbollah is a Lebanese political party whose members are in the government and parliament, and that it is carrying out “resistance” against Israel to free Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation.
Earlier in the day, Pompeo also met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail, which is the headquarters of the Prime Minister of Lebanon.