U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Tuesday that "Iran's activities compromise Lebanese sovereignty," after Iran offered to support Lebanon's army if the U.S. were to discontinue military aid.
For years, the U.S. has pumped money into Lebanon's military, hoping a strengthened army would sideline Iranian-backed Hezbollah's powerful militia.
On Monday, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said he suspended U.S. military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces on Aug. 2 amid growing concern in Congress that American-supplied weapons could threaten Israel and that Hezbollah may have influence over the army. The State Department, however, stressed that continued financial support for the Lebanese army was essential.
"We've worked hard to build an effective relationship with the Lebanese government and to help expand the capabilities of the government and thereby improve its sovereignty over its territory," Crowley said when asked if he thought that Iran's proposal was in any way dangerous. "I think that the statements by Iran are expressly the reason why we believe that continuing support to the Lebanese government and the Lebanese military is in our interest."
On the unexpected decision by a U.S. Congressman to suspend that aid over concerns the weapons could be turned on Israel, Crowley said that "there is aid already in the pipeline. So I can't say that a hold today necessarily has an immediate impact."
Israel said it had complained to Washington and Paris about funding provided to the Lebanese army after Lebanese soldiers killed a senior Israeli officer in a rare border skirmish that also left two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist dead.
Iran's ambassador to Lebanon met Lebanese army chief Jean Kahwaji on Monday and said Tehran was ready to "cooperate with the Lebanese army in any area that would help the military in performing its national role in defending Lebanon."