U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday praised Lebanon’s efforts to guard its borders to prevent Islamic State and other terrorist groups from gaining a foothold inside their country and promised continued American help.
“America’s assistance can help ensure that the Lebanese army is the only defender Lebanon needs,” Trump said at a White House news conference after talks with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
Trump did not specify what level of support Lebanon would receive from the United States, but both Trump and Hariri expressed optimism about future military cooperation.
When asked about U.S. support for the Lebanese army, Hariri said that hopefully the aid would continue as it has in the past.
Lebanon’s military has received hundreds of millions in military assistance from the United States and Britain in recent years, as part of efforts to bolster Lebanon against a threat from militants across the Syrian border.
Standing beside Hariri in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said Hezbollah is a threat to Lebanon from within. He called the powerful Shi’ite Muslim group a “menace” to the Lebanese people and to the entire region.
U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation last week seeking to increase sanctions on Hezbollah by further restricting its ability to raise money and recruit and increasing pressure on banks that do business with it.
Officials in Lebanon have raised concerns that U.S. efforts to widen sanctions on Hezbollah could damage the banking industry because of the group’s widespread influence in their country.
“We are carrying out contacts in Congress and I’m having a number of rounds in Congress so that we can reach an understanding on the resolution in Congress,” Hariri said, in response to a question about the proposed sanctions.
Hezbollah backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria’s civil war and has sent fighters there.
“I’m not a fan of Assad,” Trump said. “What he’s done to that country and to humanity is horrible.”
Trump argued that if his predecessor in the White House, President Barack Obama, had taken action against Assad over his use of chemical weapons then Iran and Russia would now have less influence in Syria.