US financial pressure on Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah is working, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday on a visit to Beirut, calling on Lebanon to stand up to the militant group which he accused of “criminality, terror and threats”.
“Our pressure on Iran is simple. It’s aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists and it's working,” he said in a statement after meeting Lebanese political leaders. “We believe that our work is already constraining Hezbollah's activities.”
Pompeo said he shared concerns about “external and internal pressures on the government, including coming from some of its own members, which do not serve an independent thriving Lebanon”.
The United States would continue to use “all peaceful means” to choke off financing that “feeds Iran and Hezbollah terror operations”, he said, pointing to “smuggling, criminal networks and the misuse of government positions”.
Pompeo said Iran gave Hezbollah as much as $700 million a year.
The heavily armed Hezbollah has a large militia that has taken part in Syria’s civil war alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s government, but it also has elected members of parliament and positions in the national unity government.
“Lebanon faces 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.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun earlier told Pompeo that Hezbollah was a Lebanese party with popular support, the Lebanese presidency said.
“Preserving national unity and civil peace is a priority for us,” Aoun told Pompeo, the presidency said on its Twitter feed.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar television reported in its afternoon news broadcast that Pompeo was in Beirut “to incite Lebanese against each other.”