Pompeo warns of Hezbollah's 'destabilizing activities' during Lebanon visit

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Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in Beirut. (Reuters)
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Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri at the governmental palace in Beirut. (Reuters)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanon's Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan at the Interior Ministry in Beirut, Lebanon March 22, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 22 March 2019

Pompeo warns of Hezbollah's 'destabilizing activities' during Lebanon visit

  • US secretary of state flew in from Israel for two days of meetings in Lebanon
  • Holds meeting with parliament speaker Nabih Berri

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Friday of Hezbollah's "destabilising activities" as he visited Lebanon on the latest leg of a regional tour to build a united front against Iran.
He flew in from Israel a day after he became the first high-ranking American official to visit the Western Wall in annexed east Jerusalem with an Israeli prime minister.
His visit also comes just hours after US President Donald Trump said Washington should recognise Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, breaking with the policy of successive administrations as well as UN Security Council resolutions.
In a meeting with parliament speaker Nabih Berri Pompeo warned of the "destabilising activities" of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group that is targeted by US sanctions but holds cabinet posts in Lebanon.
"He highlighted US concerns about Hezbollah's destabilising activities in Lebanon and the region and the risks posed to Lebanon's security, stability and prosperity," US deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said.
Hezbollah has backed government forces in neighbouring Syria in the civil war that broke out in 2011

But Berri, a political ally of Hezbollah, also told Pompeo sanctions on Hezbollah were having a "negative impact on Lebanon and the Lebanese". He said Hezbollah's "resistance" against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory, his office said in a statement.
Pompeo and Berri also discussed "the need to maintain calm along the boundary between Lebanon and Israel", Palladino said.
Lebanon and its southern neighbour are still technically at war, even after Israeli troops withdrew from the south of the country in 2000.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war in 2006, and skirmishes still erupt along a UN-patrolled demarcation line.
The secretary of state then met Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss "the latest developments in Lebanon and the region", according to the premier's office.
Earlier, he met the country's first female interior minister.
"Pompeo met in Beirut today with Lebanese Minister of the Interior Raya Al-Hassan," Palladino said.
They "discussed the regional and internal security challenges facing Lebanon and how the United States can help support the interior ministry's efforts to maintain safety and stability inside Lebanon."
Hassan became the first woman interior minister in Lebanon and the Middle East in a cabinet line-up unveiled in late January following an eight-month delay.
The United States considers Hezbollah a "terrorist" organisation, and has targeted it with tough sanctions.
Lebanon's new cabinet includes three posts for Hezbollah, including at the helm of the health ministry.
The Shiite movement is the only group that did not disarm after Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.
Earlier this week, Lebanese intelligence said a Lebanese-Canadian dual national had been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel.
Pompeo is expected to leave Lebanon on Saturday.


General Motors and workers union contract expires, increases risk of strike

Updated 43 min 35 sec ago

General Motors and workers union contract expires, increases risk of strike

  • Union officials told General Motors they would let the contract lapse just before midnight Saturday
  • A strike by 49,200 union workers would bring to a halt GM’s US production

DETROIT: The four-year contract between General Motors and the United Auto Workers has expired as negotiations on a new deal continue.
Union officials told GM they would let the contract lapse just before midnight Saturday, increasing the risk of a strike as early as Sunday night. Union members working Sunday were to report as scheduled.
But there was a wrinkle. About 850 UAW-represented janitors who work for Aramark, a separate company, went on strike Sunday after working under an extended contract since March of 2018, the union said.
The strike covered eight GM facilities in Ohio and Michigan. Although UAW workers at GM are supposed to work, it wasn’t clear early Sunday whether the rank-and-file would cross their own union’s picket lines. GM said in a statement that it has contingency plans for any disruptions from the Aramark strike.
UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said in a letter to members that, after months of bargaining, both the union and GM are far apart on issues such as wages, health care, temporary employees, job security and profit-sharing.
The union’s executive leaders and a larger group of plant-level officials will meet Sunday morning to decide the union’s next steps.
The letter to members and another one to GM were aimed at turning up the pressure on GM negotiators.
“While we are fighting for better wages, affordable quality health care, and job security, GM refuses to put hard working Americans ahead of their record profits,” Dittes, the union’s chief bargainer with GM, said in a statement Saturday night.
Kristin Dziczek, vice president of the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank, said the union could strike at GM after the contract expires.
“If they’re not extending the agreement, then that would leave them open to strike,” she said.
But GM, in a statement Saturday night, still held out hope for an agreement, saying it continues to work on solutions.
“We are prepared to negotiate around the clock because there are thousands of GM families and their communities — and many thousands more at our dealerships and suppliers — counting on us for their livelihood. Our goal remains on building a strong future for our employees and our business,” the GM statement said.
A strike by 49,200 union workers would bring to a halt GM’s US production, and would likely stop the company from making vehicles in Canada and Mexico as well. That would mean fewer vehicles for consumers to choose from on dealer lots, and it would make it impossible to build specially ordered cars and trucks.
The union’s executive board was to meet early Sunday to talk about the union’s next steps, followed by a meeting in Detroit of plant-level union leaders from all over the country. An announcement was scheduled for after the meetings end.
If there is a strike, it would be the union’s first since a two-day work stoppage at GM in 2007.
The move by the union also comes as it faces an internal struggle over a federal corruption investigation that has touched its president, Gary Jones. Some union members are calling for Jones to step down while the investigation continues. But Friday night, union leaders did not remove Jones.
Union officials surely will face questions about the expanding investigation that snared a top official on Thursday. Vance Pearson, head of a regional office based near St. Louis, was charged with corruption in an alleged scheme to embezzle union money and spend cash on premium booze, golf clubs, cigars and swanky stays in California. It’s the same region that Jones led before taking the union’s top office last year. Jones has not been charged.
On Friday, union leaders extended contracts with Ford and Fiat Chrysler indefinitely, but the pact with General Motors was still set to expire Saturday night.
The union has picked GM, which is more profitable than Ford and Fiat Chrysler, as the target company, meaning it’s the focus of bargaining and would be the first company to face a walkout. Picket line schedules already have been posted near the entrance to one local UAW office in Detroit.
Talks between the union and GM were tense from the start, largely because GM plans to close four US factories. The union has promised to fight the closures.