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Tillerson says Hezbollah 'part of political process' in Lebanon

Tillerson says Hezbollah 'part of political process' in Lebanon

"We support a free, democratic Lebanon free of influence of others, and we know that Lebanese Hezbollah is influenced by Iran".

Later, US Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said however that Lebanon "would be better off without Hezbollah's terrorism and malign influence".

Tillerson said Thursday: "if an agreement" between Israel and Lebanon can be reached over drilling rights, it will help Lebanon and neighboring countries to prosper for years to come.

Tillerson held a meeting with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun Thursday immediately after arriving in Beirut, during which he discussed Lebanon's gas and border dispute with Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described the exploration tender as " provocative" and suggested that Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from global groups for a gas field "which is by all accounts ours". Lebanese officials deny the Israeli statements, saying the area where the country plans to drill belongs to Lebanon. US officials have previously tried to mediate the dispute, including most recently by David Satterfield, the USA acting assistance secretary of state who visited the border area in south Lebanon last week, and was accompanying Tillerson on Thursday. Earlier in the day, he met with key allies of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group including the president and parliament speaker.

The Lebanese government will reject any U.S. proposals to resolve a border dispute with Israel, which will be formalized by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to this capital, the Lebanese presidential office announced today.

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In the wake of the crisis Lebanon s political players - including Hezbollah - agreed to stick to the country s official policy of "disassociation" to stay out of regional conflicts.

"We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon".

Tillerson's visit comes at a time of tension between Lebanon and Israel - which fought a devastating war with Hezbollah in 2006 - over issues such as offshore energy exploration.

The head of US diplomacy is scheduled to arrive in Beirut tomorrow with an agenda that includes talks with the main leaders of this country.

Tillerson "reaffirmed to Berri the importance of the close U.S".

The long-standing maritime dispute resurfaced recently as Lebanon invited companies to sign exploration deals.


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