Pompeo calls on Lebanon to move away from 'dark' Iran
Beirut - Pompeo and Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil stood side by side at the new conference but their statements were contradictory.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday urged Lebanon to pick a side as he visited the country on a regional tour to build a united front against Iran.
He especially expressed concern over the role of Hezbollah that is targeted by US sanctions but holds three cabinet posts in Lebanon.
"Lebanon and the Lebanese people face 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 during a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart.
"The US will continue to use all peaceful means, everything at our disposal to choke off the financing, the smuggling the criminal network and the misuse of government positions and influence", by Hezbollah, he said.
"We will not hesitate to call out those who actively and passively support those activities."
Pompeo and Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil stood side by side at the new conference but their statements were contradictory.
And a question and answer session with the media was cancelled "at the behest of the Americans", a Lebanese foreign ministry official said.
Bassil said he held "constructive and positive talks" with Pompeo but stressed that their were differences of perspective with regards to Hezbollah.
"Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, not a terrorist group, and it enjoys a wide popular base," Bassil said.
"We don't want our ties with America to be affected and we want to work together to solve problems, including the issue with Hezbollah," he said, stressing that Lebanon's stability is of mutual interest to both states.
In an earlier meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Pompeo conveyed his worry over Hezbollah.
He stressed "the US government's strong concerns over the role of Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon and the region and the risks this poses to Lebanon's security, stability, and prosperity", US deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said.
Pompeo also met parliament speaker Nabih Berri and warned of the group's "destabilising activities" in the region.
Pompeo and Berri also discussed "the need to maintain calm along the boundary between Lebanon and Israel", Palladino said.
Pompeo "commended the Lebanese people for hosting more than one million Syrian refugees".
In a meeting with Interior Minister Raya Al Hassan, Pompeo "discussed regional and internal security challenges facing Lebanon and how the United States can help support the interior ministry's efforts".
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.