The Cable

Lebanese PM: We Took in Refugees, Now Keep the Aid Flowing

He also says Trump knows what Hezbollah is.


Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri came to Washington with a message: In taking in 1.5 million refugees from Syria, Lebanon is performing “a public service for the international community,” one for which the community should thank it with sustained support.

“Imagine if Lebanon didn’t host those refugees,” Hariri told reporters at a briefing following his joint press conference with President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden on Tuesday. “Those refugees would be in Europe, here.” He added, “We have done more than we are able to bear in this conflict.”

Speaking at the White House press conference earlier, Trump did say, “I want to thank the Prime Minister and the Lebanese people for giving shelter to those victimized by ISIS, the Assad regime, and their supporters and sponsors, and pledge our continued support to Lebanon.” But asked how, exactly, the United States can help Lebanon cope with the massive number of refugees, Trump answered, “Well, we are helping. And one of the things that we have made tremendous strides at is getting rid of ISIS.  We have generals that don’t like to talk; they like to do.”  

Asked by Foreign Policy whether he felt that Trump’s military answer was sufficient, Hariri replied, “The United States has helped the refugees when it comes to humanitarian aid, healthcare, and all of that” in addition to military support. “And we would like to see it continue.”

Hariri also said he felt the president understood continued support is important, even with the Trump administration’s plans to slash U.S. foreign aid. He also hoped to appeal to lawmakers to make sanctions against Hezbollah as specific as possible, so that they do not hurt Lebanon.

And as for Trump’s Rose Garden comment that Lebanon is on the front lines fighting Hezbollah, which is in fact in the Lebanese government?

“We have an understanding with Hezbollah,” Hariri said. “The functioning of the government, parliament and everything — it’s important to have this consensus.”

Hariri said Trump understood and knew a lot about the government, but that Trump, like previous U.S. administrations, nevertheless believes Hezbollah is an issue.

“We [in Lebanon] understand that Hezbollah is an organization for the United States that is unacceptable.” However, “My job as the prime minister of Lebanon is how to best shield Lebanon from any problems inside the country.” Lebanon already has 1.5 million refugees. It doesn’t, he said, need any more challenges.

Photo credit: Zach Gibson – Pool/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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