BEIRUT: US officials are in Beirut holding talks with Lebanese officials about the growing threat posed by Hezbollah as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to tour the Middle East.
During the visit, David Hale, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, will underscore US concerns about Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities in Lebanon and the region, which include the recent discovery of Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels.
The tunnels “defy UN Security Council Resolution 1701, jeopardize the security of the Lebanese people and undermine the legitimacy of Lebanon’s state institutions,” the US Embassy in Lebanon said in a statement issued ahead of the meeting.
Hale’s visit came ahead of the global summit that will take place in Poland on Feb. 13 and 14 “to counter Tehran’s regional influence,” according to a statement made by Pompeo two days ago.
Pompeo announced on Twitter before embarking on his Middle East tour that he would send a clear message to US friends and partners that “the US is committed to the region, committed to defeat Daesh and committed to countering Iran’s destabilizing activities.”
Lebanon is not included in Pompeo’s visit, which covers eight Arab countries and concludes on Tuesday.
The US Embassy also said in its statement that Hale “will meet with senior Lebanese officials to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues.”
The embassy also added that he “has enduring ties with Lebanon and the Lebanese people after serving at the US Embassy in Beirut as a political officer, deputy chief of mission and ambassador over the span of 27 years.”
“He is returning to Lebanon in his new role to reaffirm strong US support for the Lebanese state, including its legitimate security institutions, as it continues to cope with significant challenges,” the US Embassy added.
Shortly after arriving in Beirut, Hale, accompanied by US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, met with Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party.
Hale also met with Joseph Aoun, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, who said that their discussion was focused on “the general situation in Lebanon and the region, as well as cooperation relations between the armies of the two countries, especially the amount of military assistance provided by the US to the Lebanese Army.”
During his visit to Lebanon, Hale will also meet with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and a number of political leaders with whom he was acquainted when he served as the US ambassador to Lebanon.
Hale’s visit comes at a time when Lebanon is going through a very sensitive phase as a result of the eight-month disruption to the government’s formation.
Lebanese parties have accused Hezbollah militant group of being behind this disruption for reasons associated with Lebanon’s regional stance.