The last time Lebanese leader Saad Hariri met with a U.S. president—in January 2011 with Barack Obama—he began the visit as prime minister and ended it as a private citizen. Just as Hariri began his summit with Obama, Hezbollah members and their allies resigned en masse from the unity government, leading to its collapse. Last week, Hariri—who regained the post of prime minister in December 2016 after agreeing to support the election of Hezbollah ally, General Michel Aoun, to the presidency—held talks with President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials in Washington. Hezbollah was once more busy back home. It launched a military offensive against Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an al Qaeda affiliate previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, in the hills of eastern Lebanon, and roundly defeated them. Hezbollah’s actions underscored the tensions in the Lebanese state’s coexistence with the group even as the trip to Washington indicated progress in U.S.-Lebanese relations.
Hariri led an official delegation that included Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and the central bank governor Riad Salameh. They visited Washington to consolidate relations with the new administration and to argue for continued U.S. support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), as well as for refugee assistance and economic investment. Hariri also urged policymakers in Congress, the Treasury Department, and the International Monetary Fund to ensure that the new sanctions against Hezbollah do not destabilize the Lebanese banking system.
Hariri’s Washington meetings seemed generally successful. In a joint press conference with Hariri, Trump praised Lebanon’s armed forces and extolled the country’s generosity in receiving Syrian refugees. Hariri said that he had received assurances that U.S. aid to the LAF would remain at the previous $80 million per year level and would not be slashed, as had been proposed in the White House’s own budget. The day after the meeting, Washington announced $140 million in additional refugee aid to Lebanon. On the issue of sanctions, much remains unclear.
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