Secretary of State Tillerson Meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gathering of world diplomats in Paris, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. It's the first major gathering of key nations to discuss Lebanon's future since a crisis erupted following Hariri's resignation while in Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Thibault …
AP Photo/Thibault Camus

The State Department announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Friday, while they are both attending a meeting of the International Lebanon Support Group.

Hariri resigned his post while on a trip to Saudi Arabia in November, triggering a massive regional political crisis. After weeks of accusations that the Saudis pressured him into resigning and were keeping him under house arrest in Riyadh, Hariri returned to Lebanon to formally present his resignation but decided to rescind it instead. He formally nullified his resignation and was reconfirmed as Prime Minister on Tuesday.

Given the number of evidently false insider stories leaked to American media about Secretary Tillerson resigning or being forced out of office, perhaps he and Hariri can share a few laughs about job security during their meeting.

It might not be a jolly meeting in most other respects. The International Support Group for Lebanon includes all of the permanent U.N. Security Council nations plus organizations like the European Union and Arab League. Its purpose is to keep Lebanon stable, and that seems like a tall order right now, even with the Hariri resignation crisis resolved. A cynic might note that the Group has been meeting steadily throughout the entire period where Hezbollah became a “state within a state” more powerful than the actual government Hariri works for and marched off to Syria to serve as Iran’s proxy army, without having much in the way of positive effect on the situation.

The current meeting of the International Support Group produced a statement stressing the importance of restoring political stability to Lebanon and insulating it from regional crises, which is also Hariri’s expressed desire. One passage calls for “implementing the previous commitments that require there will be no weapons other than that of the Lebanese State,” which sounds like an invitation to disarm that Hezbollah probably won’t be accepting anytime soon.

“The Group expresses satisfaction for the return to Beirut of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a key partner for safeguarding the unity and the stability of Lebanon. It welcomes his decision, made in agreement with the President of the Lebanese Republic, Michel Aoun, to continue his term at the head of the Government,” the ISG said.

The State Department said Secretary Tillerson’s participation in the Paris meeting “demonstrates the United States’ strong support for the sovereignty, stability, and independence of the Republic of Lebanon and of its political institutions.”

One of Tillerson’s objectives is to “encourage the Lebanese government and other nations to move more aggressively in limiting Hezbollah’s destabilizing activity in the region, which will help make for a stronger, more stable Lebanon.”

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