Speaker Nabih Berri downplayed the impact of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Lebanon, dismissing it as just another visit from an American official biased toward Israeli interests, in remarks to Al Joumhouria newspaper published Wednesday.
“Nothing changed or will change. U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo did not give Lebanon anything. He also did not take anything from Lebanon except for the statement he brought with him,” Berri said.
Pompeo’s first visit to Beirut as secretary of state was part of a regional tour that also took him to Kuwait and Israel and was aimed at ramping up pressure on Iran and Berri’s ally Hezbollah, which has long been labeled a “terrorist organization” by Washington.
Pompeo held talks Friday with top Lebanese leaders, including Berri, highlighting U.S. concerns about Hezbollah’s “destabilizing activities” in Lebanon and the region.
The visit, Berri said, echoed many previous visits from American officials, in that Pompeo conveyed a position “harmonious with the Israeli position regarding maritime borders or Hezbollah. … And it won’t be long before the Lebanese people forget it.”
Berri said when he met with the U.S. secretary, it had been important for him to “tell [Pompeo] what he did not want to hear: that Hezbollah is a Lebanese resistance, political, active and strong party.”
Berri, as well as Hezbollah allies President Michel Aoun and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, all stressed in their meetings with Pompeo that Hezbollah was a Lebanese political party that enjoyed wide-ranging popular support.
In his remarks to Al Joumhouria, Berri also condemned the United States’ decision Monday to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.
Israel seized the strategic territory from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.
The speaker warned that now – in light of the U.S.’s decision on the Golan Heights and its December 2017 decision to recognize occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – anything could be expected from U.S. President Donald Trump regarding Lebanese territory still occupied by Israel.
“Who can trust that [Trump’s] ‘generosity’ towards Israel would not drive him to declare at any moment that the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shuba hills are Israeli lands … or that the southern maritime border that Israel is trying to acquire is Israeli waters?”
The speaker said he had told Pompeo he was personally following up on the maritime border issue.
Lebanon is hoping to begin its first exploratory drilling in one of two maritime areas later this year – one of which partially lies in territory disputed by Israel and Lebanon.
A source close to Berri previously told The Daily Star that during his hourlong meeting with Pompeo, the speaker accepted a proposal by the official to form a tripartite committee – including representatives of the U.N. secretary-general, Lebanon and Israel – which aims to delineate the southern border. The committee would also benefit from the facilitation of a U.S. representative.
Asked whether Lebanon would be able to stand up to American pressures in service of Israel’s interests, Berri told Al Joumhouria, “it is our fate to withstand and resist on this issue. … We will stand in our position and do all we can to get what is our right.”