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From Israel, Pompeo arrives in Beirut for two-day meetings

AP  |  Beirut 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Lebanon on Friday amid regional condemnation of President Donald Trump's abrupt declaration that it's time the US recognized Israel's sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Pompeo is to meet with a host of Lebanese officials, including allies of the Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group, during the two-day visit his first as secretary of state.

The visit is the last leg of a Mideast tour that took him to Kuwait and Israel, during which he lauded warm ties with Israel, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on at least three separate occasions and promised to step up pressure on Iran.

From Israel, Pompeo's plane travelling through the Cypriot airspace, as Lebanon, which is technically in a state of war with Israel, bans direct flights from Israel.

Once on the ground, Pompeo was taken to the Interior Ministry for a meeting with Raya El-Hassan, who was named earlier this year as the Arab world's first female minister in charge of security.

Pompeo hopes to step up pressure on the Shiite Hezbollah group, but could face resistance even from America's local allies, who fear that pushing too hard could spark a backlash and endanger the tiny country's fragile peace.

Hezbollah wields more power than ever in parliament and the government. Pompeo will meet Friday with President Michel Aoun and will also hold talks with Lebanon's parliament speaker and foreign minister all three of whom are close Hezbollah allies.

He will also meet with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a close Western ally who has been reluctant to confront Hezbollah.

"We'll spend a lot of time talking with the Lebanese government about how we can help them disconnect from the threat that Iran and Hezbollah present," Pompeo told reporters earlier this week.

"Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. You ask how tough I am going to be? It is a terrorist organization. Period. Full stop," Pompeo said in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Trump's statement about Golan Heights on Thursday is a major shift in American policy. For some time, the administration has been considering recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the strategic highlands, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. In a tweet that appeared to catch many by surprise, Trump said the time had come for the United States to take the step.

The U.S. will be the first country to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which the rest of the international community regards as territory occupied by Israel whose status should be determined by negotiations between Israel and Syria. Syria, Iran and Turkey on Friday strongly denounced Trump's statement.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, March 22 2019. 18:00 IST