By Arab News
By Najia Houssari
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.
It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill, undersecretary of state for political affairs, were also present.
Pompeo also reassured Hariri of “the commitment of the United States to support Lebanon and its institutions, to preserve its security and stability, and to procure the needs of the Lebanese people.”
He also praised “Lebanon’s commitment to providing support to more than one million Syrian refugees residing on its soil, who have fled the injustice of the Assad regime.”
“We call for continuing the discussions related to the remaining points related to the Blue Line (the UN’s border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel) and the Lebanese maritime borders (with Israel). We are ready to mediate the maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel and hope to reach concrete results,” Pompeo added.
After the meeting, Hariri said he hoped to “reach a conclusive decision in the upcoming months regarding the border demarcation negotiations.” He thanked the US for its “continuous support for the Lebanese Army,” and restated Lebanon’s commitment to fighting terrorism.
He also noted Lebanon’s “continuous support for the Cedar Conference (of international investors) and its investment plan, which is highly necessary to the Lebanese economy.” During a Cedar conference in Paris in April 2018, Lebanon secured pledges of $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in grants, which are dependent on economic reforms.
Earlier, Hariri spent more than an hour with David Malpas, president of the World Bank, during which he assured the financier: “Lebanon’s relationship with the World Bank is very important and we continue to cooperate in various sectors, especially electricity, telecommunications and waste management.”
The prime minister said that he also explained to Malbas “the challenges that we face in Lebanon on the economic and political levels.”
Regarding the IMF’s reluctance to cooperate with Lebanon, Hariri said: “The IMF focuses mainly on the financial situation, while the World Bank is our partner and we are executing many projects with them.”
Asked whether or not his meetings in Washington made him optimistic that Lebanon’s credit rating will improve, Hariri said: “I know that Lebanon’s financial figures are critical and we have a great challenge with (credit rating agency) Standard & Poor’s, and we are working on improving our rating. However, this does not mean that our situation is not good; on the contrary, we are taking all necessary steps that would lead us to safety. The most important thing is not to respond to bad news by not performing our duties, and to reach safety.”
Lebanese authorities are awaiting the latest Standard & Poor’s report, which is due to be released on Aug. 23. They fear the nation’s credit rating will be downgraded to CCC, which would have negative repercussions on its economy, the banking sector and on the value of the Lebanese pound, especially given the strained political situation in the country at a time when it needs to begin implementing reforms required by Cedar investors.
Hariri was concluding a visit to Washington that comes less than a week after the Lebanese government reconvened following 40 days of inactivity in the wake of an incident in Mount Lebanon on June 30, during which two bodyguards working for Minister for Refugee Affairs Saleh Al-Gharib were shot and killed. This led to a political standoff between Druze leaders Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Talal Arslan, leader of the Democratic Party and an ally of Al-Gharib, who each blamed the other’s supporters for the violence. A reconciliation agreement was reached on Aug. 9.
During his visit, Hariri also met Undersecretary of Defense John Rudd. They discussed “ways to support the Lebanese army and the security forces,” according to the prime minister’s office. He also met with Treasury officials, including Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, in light of the announcement by the US of fresh sanctions on Hezbollah officials. On July 9, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on Hezbollah MPs Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad, and on Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s security chief.
The US accuses Hezbollah of “using its members in the Lebanese Parliament to manipulate institutions to support the financial and security interests of the terrorist group and to promote malicious activities of Iran.” It also accuses Hezbollah of “threatening economic stability and security in Lebanon and the region as a whole, at the expense of the Lebanese people.”