UK ambassador hopes Hezbollah will prioritize Lebanon’s interests

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The UK’s Ambassador to Beirut Tom Fletcher said Tuesday he hopes Hezbollah would prioritize Lebanese interests over those of the Iranian regime.

“I pay careful attention to Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s speeches, and hope that Hezbollah will evolve in a direction that prioritizes Lebanese rather than Iranian regime or Assad’s interests,” Fletcher said in an interview.

He noted that the UK does not have diplomatic relations with Hezbollah and has strongly supported the designation of the group’ s military wing as a terrorist group for its involvement in the Bourgas attack in Bulgaria.

But the UK, he added, has no problem with the participation of Hezbollah’s political wing in the Lebanese government, and accept that Hezbollah as “a legitimate political and social role in Lebanon.”

Fletcher said his country is committed to supporting Lebanon weather the storm of the Syrian crisis.

“Here we do that through training and equipping the army to deal with insecurity; committing significant support to Syrian refugees and the Lebanese communities hosting them; promoting more consensual politics; and putting together an international coalition to back Lebanon’s stability and neutrality,” he said.

He said the UK has committed 500 million pounds ($800 million) overall to the Syrian humanitarian crisis. “Within Lebanon, our funding is feeding, clothing, educating and sheltering Syrians whose lives have been upturned by the conflict. We work mainly through the U.N. and NGOs. Much of our support also goes to vulnerable Lebanese communities.”

Britain is providing the Lebanese army “with support and operational effectiveness to match its courage,” Fletcher said. Hezbollah’s armed wing is believed to be stronger than the Lebanese state’s army and is often referred to as a state within a state. It receives most of military and financial support from the Iranian government.

Ambassador Fletcher said the UK-Lebanese relations are also expanding on the economic level, with the bilateral trade expected to double during his time in Beirut. “We’re opening a brand a month, and expanding our reach in the retail and energy sectors. Britain and Lebanon are two of history’s greatest traders,” he said.

“I’m buying shares in Lebanon 2020. The disadvantages - location, brain drain, confessionalism - are set to become advantages - regional hub, dynamic diaspora, diversity. Lebanon is coming through a dark tunnel, but there is a light at the end of it, and Lebanon’s resilience, talent and energy make it one to watch,” Fletcher added.

(An Arabic version of Fletcher’s interview was previous wired by Deutsch Press Agency (DPA).)