Trump Praises Lebanon's PM for Fighting Hezbollah - but They're His Political Allies

Standing next to Saad Hariri in the Rose Garden, the U.S. president lauds Lebanon for fighting a group that it isn't fighting

US President Donald Trump holds a news conference with Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri, in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 25, 2017.
US President Donald Trump holds a news conference with Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri, in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 25, 2017. TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday praised Lebanon's efforts to guard its borders to prevent Islamic State and other militant groups from gaining a foothold inside their country and promised continued American help, all while apparently misspeaking or misunderstanding when he claimed that Lebanon was fighting a member of its own government.

Speaking at a White House press conference after talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri – who was standing at the adjacent lectern – the American president said: "Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. The Lebanese people of all faiths are working together to keep – and you know this, and we've been discussing this at great length – their country safe and prosperous."

Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite militant group, has seats in Lebanon's parliament and is a member of the unity government that Hariri, a Sunni, heads. 

Trump was correct, however, that Lebanon is fighting Islamic State in Syria, via Hezbollah, which is aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hariri, who expressed hope that the U.S. aid for the Lebanese army would continue as it had in the past, delicately corrected his host when he addressed the media. "In Lebanon, we are fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda," the prime minister clarified. "Hezbollah we have, you know, in the government. And we have an understanding with Hezbollah. It is important to have this consensus. They are in the parliament."

Trump also said that Hezbollah, classified by Washington as a terrorist organization, was a threat to Lebanon from within. He called the group a "menace" to the Lebanese people and to the entire region, which is in keeping with congressional efforts. 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.

Lebanon's military has received hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance from the U.S. and Britain in recent years, as part of efforts to bolster Lebanon against a threat from militants across the Syrian border.

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.