Pompeo urges Lebanon to move away from Iran and Hezbollah’s ‘dark ambitions’

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S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil after a public statement in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, at the presidential palace, in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at presidential palace to meet with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun in Baabda, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 24 March 2019

Pompeo urges Lebanon to move away from Iran and Hezbollah’s ‘dark ambitions’

  • Pompeo said Iran gave Hezbollah as much as $700 million a year
  • The heavily armed Hezbollah has a large militia that has taken part in Syria's civil war alongside President Bashar Al-Assad's government

BEIRUT: On the last leg of his Middle East tour in Beirut, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Lebanon to stand up to Iran and Hezbollah, whom he accused of "criminality, terror and threats". 

Pompeo met with President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, all political allies of Hezbollah. The said they had told him the group was part and parcel of Lebanese politics. 

But Pompeo said Hezbollah and Iran have nothing positive to offer to Lebanon. 

“What did Hezbollah and Iran offer Lebanon but coffins and weapons? Qassem Soleimani (senior Iranian military commander) continues to undermine the legitimate institutions and the Lebanese people,” he said after meeting with Lebanon's political leaders.

“How can storing thousands of missiles on Lebanese territory strengthen this country?” said Pompeo, who was on tour in the Middle East to drum up support for Washington's harder line against Iran.

Pompeo said he believes that Iran does not want the situation in Lebanon to change because change is a threat to Iran’s ambitions to dominate the country. 

He spoke of Iran’s criminal networks of drugs and money laundering that place Lebanon under international monitoring, and he said: “The Lebanese people should not be forced to suffer because of an illegal and terrorist group.” 

Pompeo noted that US sanctions on Iran and Hezbollah are working, citing a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah this month asking the group's supporters for funds as evidence US pressure was working.

"Our pressure on Iran is simple. It's aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists and it's working," he said standing alongside Bassil after their meeting. "We believe that our work is already constraining Hezbollah's activities."

Pompeo said Iran gave Hezbollah as much as $700 million a year.

The heavily armed Hezbollah has a large militia that has taken part in Syria's civil war alongside President Bashar Al-Assad's government, but it also has elected members of parliament and positions in the national unity government.

The group's influence over Lebanese state institutions has expanded in the last year. Together with allies that view its arsenal as an asset to Lebanon, it won more than 70 of parliament's 128 seats in an election last year.

The group has taken three of the 30 portfolios in the government formed by the Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri in January, including the health ministry - the first time it has held a ministry with a significant budget.

Pompeo said he shared concerns about "external and internal pressures on the government, including coming from some of its own members, which do not serve an independent thriving Lebanon".

The United States would continue to use "all peaceful means" to choke off financing that "feeds Iran and Hezbollah terror operations", he said, pointing to "smuggling, criminal networks and the missue of government positions".

"Lebanon faces 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.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun earlier told Pompeo that Hezbollah was a Lebanese party with popular support, the Lebanese presidency said.

"Preserving national unity and civil peace is a priority for us," Aoun told Pompeo, the presidency said on its Twitter feed.

Speaker Berri said earlier in a statement that he had told Pompeo that Hezbollah's "resistance" against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.

Israel, the closest US ally in the Middle East, regards Iran as its biggest threat and Hezbollah as the main danger on its borders.

 

(With  Reuters)


Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine

Updated 10 min 50 sec ago

Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine

  • An Iranian official said “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out”
  • He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders to Ukrain or France

TEHRAN: The Iranian official leading the investigation into the Ukrainian jetliner that was accidentally shot down by the Revolutionary Guard appeared to backtrack Sunday on plans to send the flight recorders abroad for analysis, a day after saying they would be sent to Kyiv.
Hassan Rezaeifar was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out.”
He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders — commonly known as black boxes — to Ukraine or France. “But as of yet, we have made no decision.”
The same official was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday as saying the recorders would be sent to Ukraine, where French, American and Canadian experts would help analyze them. Iranian officials previously said the black boxes were damaged but are usable.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting accounts. Iran may be hesitant to turn over the recorders for fear that more details from the crash — including the harrowing 20 seconds between when the first and second surface-to-air missiles hit the plane — will come to light.
The Guard’s air defenses shot the plane down shortly after it took off from Tehran on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people on board. Hours earlier, the Guard had launched ballistic missiles at US troops in Iraq in response to the US airstrike that killed Iran’s top general in Baghdad. Officials say lower-level officers mistook the plane for a US cruise missile.
Iranian officials initially said the crash was caused by a technical problem and invited countries that lost citizens to help investigate. Three days later, Iran admitted responsibility after Western leaders said there was strong evidence the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile.
The victims included 57 Canadian citizens as well as 11 Ukrainians, 17 people from Sweden, four Afghans and four British citizens. Most of those killed were Iranians. The other five nations have demanded Iran accept full responsibility and pay compensation to the victims’ families.
The plane was a Boeing 737-800 that was designed and built in the US The plane’s engine was designed by CFM International, a joint company between French group Safran and US group GE Aviation. Investigators from both countries have been invited to take part in the probe.