Originally published on 2 August 2017 at Backbench UKOn 25 July, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri attended a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss the future of Lebanon-US relations. Prior to the meeting, Hariri said that he hopes the two countries will continue their “partnership” against terrorism and that it is “for the best of the region.”
Both the President and the Prime Minister read statements after the conclusion of the meeting. Trump praised the “long relationship” between the US and Lebanon and referred to the founding of the American University of Beirut in 1866. The President also assured Hariri that the US military will continue to support the Lebanese Armed Forces in their conflicts with ISIL and other terror organisations in the region.
“Our approach supporting the humanitarian needs of displaced Syrian citizens as close to their home country as possible is the best way to help most people,” Trump said, pledged financial support to relieve Lebanon of the economic burden of hosting refugees, and he hopes to encourage nearby countries to support Syrian refugees as well.
Trump, echoing statistics from the UN Refugee Agency, emphasised that “The Lebanese people have led the way, accepting more Syrian refugees per capita than any other nation.” For every one thousand people in Lebanon, there are 173 refugees; 84 more than Jordan, which is second place. In other words, a quarter of Lebanon’s population are refugees.
However, he also hinted at the dismantling of Hezbollah, stating that the LAF will be “the only defender Lebanon needs.” Hezbollah is a Shiite militant group and it controls a military wing far stronger than the LAF, but despite being labelled a terror organisation by the European Union, an Iranian-Syrian-backed Hezbollah continues to fight against ISIL and other insurgent forces.
“Hezbollah likes to portray itself as a defender of Lebanese interests, but it's very clear that its true interests are those of itself and its sponsor – Iran,” said Trump, mirroring George W. Bush in his mispronunciation of “Iran”.
In recent years, Congress has slapped Hezbollah with strict financial sanctions as per the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act. Hariri and his lobbyists are concerned about a draft amendment which would tighten financial regulations on Lebanese banks. They feel that such a revision of US sanctions against Hezbollah is counter-productive and unjustifiably targets the heart of Lebanon’s economy – the banking sector.
As reported by The Gazette, Lebanese banker Antoun Sehnaoui, the chairman of Societe Generale de Banque au Liban (SGBL), purchased a Colorado-based Pikes Peak National Bank. Such a purchase demonstrates the legitimacy of Lebanese banking sector. Therefore, we come to the conclusion that US lawmakers need to shift their focus to the real problems instead of financially encumbering Lebanon with sanctions which, ultimately, benefit Hezbollah. Once again, the US has shown its true intentions.
Last year I wrote about the election of Lebanese President Michel Aoun; in that article I stated that his election was only possible through an agreement between the US and Iran. I had also posed the question: “what will the United States receive in return?” Whilst this question still remains unanswered, one thing is for certain: the Islamic Republic of Iran still remains the child of the US, albeit a disobedient one.