US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday held talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut and warned that the Iran-backed Hezbollah’s growing arsenal and its role in regional conflicts threatened Lebanon’s security.
“Hezbollah’s presence in Syria has only perpetuated the bloodshed, increased the displacement of innocent people and propped up the barbaric Assad regime,” Tillerson said in a news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose coalition government includes the group, reported Kuwait news agency.
“Hezbollah is not just a concern for the United States. The people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hezbollah’s actions and its growing arsenal bring unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon,” Tillerson said, adding, “Hezbollah’s entanglement in regional conflicts threatens the security of Lebanon.”
The comments come a day after Tillerson criticised for stating that the US needed to “acknowledge the reality” that Hezbollah was part of the political landscape in Lebanon.
Tillerson’s visit, part of a tour of the Middle East, comes at a time of tension between Lebanon and neighbouring country Israel, notably over the role of Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which controls a militia of tens of thousands of men and has already fought one war with Israel in 2006.
Hezbollah is an arch-foe of Israel and branded as a “terrorist” organisation by the United States.
The US Secretary also used the occasion to offer Washington’s support for a “free and democratic” Lebanon.
“We support a free, democratic Lebanon free of the influence of others, and we know that Lebanese Hezbollah is influenced by Iran. This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon’s long-term future,” he said.
The US Secretary of State is on a five-day regional tour taking in Lebanon as well as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey.