The small Mediterranean country and its neighbor Israel are engaged in a growing dispute over oil and gas reserves, and construction of a border wall that Lebanon says encroaches on its territory.
At a news conference, alongside Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Tillerson said that the United States was engaging with Lebanon and Israel to ensure their border remained calm.
In recent weeks, the Trump administration sanctioned several people and entities associated with Hezbollah as part of an effort to increase pressure on Iran.
“Hezbollah is not just a concern for the United States. The people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hezbollah’s actions and its growing arsenal bring unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon,” Tillerson said. “Hebollah’s entanglement in regional conflicts threatens the security of Lebanon,” he added.
Hezbollah says its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon against Israel, and has always rejected any demand that it give them up. It has said its role in Syria is needed to stop any Sunni militant threat to Lebanon.
This is the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State to Lebanon since 2014. It got off to an awkward start as he waited several minutes in Baabda Palace for his meeting with President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally. While the Lebanese president’s office denied any departure from diplomatic protocol, footage of Tillerson waiting aired on some Arabic TV channels throughout the day.
The United States deemed Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and Hezbollah has increased its military strength since the last major conflict with Israel in 2006.
Tillerson urged Lebanese leaders to uphold the country’s commitment to staying out of regional conflicts.
Meanwhile, Israel has accused Iran of attempting to set up weapons factories in Lebanon, and the Israeli military has called the country a “large missile factory.”
Lebanon receives U.S. military support, and Tillerson said that Washington is committed to supporting the Lebanese army and internal security forces.
Tillerson denied the reports that Washington had asked Beirut to give up a portion of sea it claims, saying, “We will continue to be very engaged with both parties. We’ve asked no one to give up anything, rather we are looking for a solution,” he said. “We are engaging the governments of both Lebanon and Israel to ensure Lebanon’s southern border remains calm.”