U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Beirut on Friday, for the last stop of his regional tour that took him to Kuwait and Israel.
Pompeo met first with Interior Minister Rayya Al-Hassan, before heading to Ain Al-Tineh to hold talks with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
According to a statement issued by Berri's office, the latter told the visiting guest that Hezbollah is a Lebanese party represented in both the Parliament and the government, and that its resistance is driven by Israel's ongoing occupation of Lebanese lands.
Talks between the two men also focused on the sanctions targeting Hezbollah and its impact on Lebanon as a whole, as well as on the maritime dispute with Israel.
State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said that Pompeo highlighted "U.S. concerns about Hezbollah's destabilising activities in Lebanon and the region and the risks posed to Lebanon's security, stability and prosperity".
The U.S. official then held talks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail where a lunch banquet was held in honor of Pompeo and the accompanyimg delegation.
According to a statement issued by Palladino, Hariri and Pompeo discussed the importance of the U.S.-Lebanese security partnership and the need for continued support for Lebanon’s legitimate state security institutions, particularly the Lebanese Armed Forces.
"The Secretary emphasized U.S.concerns related to Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities inside Lebanon and the region and the risks posed by their illicit and provocative behavior," the statement noted.
Pompeo later headed to the Baabda Palace to meet with President Michel Aoun who, according to a statement issued by his media office, urged the U.S. help in returning the Syrian refugees back to safe areas their homeland.
Aoun assured to Pompeo that General Security will continue repatriating refugees who want to go back to Syria.
The Lebanese president also urged the U.S. assistance in demarcating disputed land and maritime borders, affirming Lebanon's commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to maintain stability despite Israel's continuous violations.
"Safeguarding national unity and civil peace is a top priority for us," Aoun was quoted as telling Pompeo. "Hezbollah is a Lebanese party that derives its popularity from one of the country's main sects."
In a join press conference held following his meeting with Pompeo, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil expressed appreciation of the U.S. support to the Lebanese Army "which is the backbone of security forces and the guarantor of stability in Lebanon".
Bassil, however, defended Hezbollah's role as a resistance group, saying that Lebanon has the right to defend itself and to resist against all forms of aggression and occupation.
"Hezbollah is an elected Lebanese party with a wide popular base. To us, it is not a terrorist party. Labeling it as such concerns only the country designating it; this does not concern Lebanon," Bassil said.
The Lebanese FM renewed his stance regarding the return of refugees to their country, stressing that Lebanon can no longer bear this burden.
"It is time for the Syrians to go back home," he reiterated.
For his part, Pompeo lashed out at Hezbollah for repeatedly putting Lebanon at risk due its unilateral actions, saying that the group's practices do not serve the interest of Lebanon.
"Hezbollah stands in the way of Lebanon's dreams and is committed to spreading destruction," he said, adding that it puts Lebanon on front lines of Iran’s proxy campaigns.
"It will take courage for Lebanon to stand up to Hezbollah’s criminality, terror and threats."
"Lebanon faces a choice: move forward as an independent nation or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future," Pompeo stated.
"The U.S. will continue to use all the available peaceful means to further constrain Hezbollah," he vowed.
Pompeo said that the U.S. supports the Syrian refugees' return "once conditions allow that".