The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s family visit to the United States this week will be a chance to discuss U.S.-Lebanese cooperation with American officials, a source close to the premier said Tuesday. Hariri’s trip comes at a time of restored stability to the country’s domestic political scene after Cabinet broke weeks of deadlock stemming from the June 30 Aley clashes by meeting Saturday.
Hariri arrived in Washington Monday morning on a visit during which he is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker Thursday.
Hariri is also expected to meet with Vice President Mike Pence.
“The meetings will be held on the sidelines of the trip to exchange information and opinions and to discuss the developments in the region,” the source told The Daily Star. “It will also be chance for Hariri to meet the new World Bank President [David Malpass] in order to look at the relations between Lebanon and the World Bank, which are broadening,” the source added.
The source also noted that it was likely for U.S. officials to bring up the issue of sanctions on Hezbollah, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
During his visit, Hariri met with Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea. Billingslea has been a vocal proponent of sanctions against Hezbollah, calling the party a “cancer” that must be removed.
“The trip might also act an opportunity for [Hariri] to tackle the issue of the demarcation of the maritime border,” the source said.
The U.S. has been attempting to act as a mediator between Lebanon and Israel in order to reach a solution to the maritime border dispute between both countries.
Lebanon and Israel have ramped up efforts to find a solution to the border dispute as both look for potentially rich offshore natural gas deposits in nearby waters. Around 856 square kilometers of sea is disputed between the two.
Domestically, the political scene was calm for Eid al-Adha after weeks of political bickering over the Qabr Shmoun clashes.
The incident in the Aley town left dead two men that were in the convoy of Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib. The clashes took place with supporters of the Progressive Socialist Party, one of the main Druze parties in the country. Gharib belongs to the PSP’s rival, the Lebanese Democratic Party, which is led by MP Talal Arslan. Deciding which court should handle the incident crippled the government and stymied attempts to hold Cabinet sessions.
Arslan and his allies had insisted that the case be referred to the Judicial Council, a demand that was rejected by the PSP and its allies.
A reconciliation meeting was held Friday between Arslan and PSP leader Walid Joumblatt at Baabda Palace in the presence of President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hariri. The meeting paved the way for the weekend Cabinet session.
As tensions have lessened, a source close to Baabda Palace told The Daily Star Tuesday that Aoun would head Friday to the summer presidential palace in Beiteddine in Chouf.
The calm situation was reflected by Aoun’s calls this week to each of Berri, Hariri, Joumblatt and Arslan, sending them his best wishes for the occasion of Eid al-Adha.
The president also conveyed greetings to Arab leaders, hoping that “God blesses their countries and peoples with prosperity, peace and progress,” a statement from Baabda Palace said.