Following Criticism, Tillerson Walks Back Comments Seeming to Approve of Hezbollah’s Role

In an apparent reversal of a statement that seemed to accept Hezbollah as a legitimate part of Lebanon’s government, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated that the United States government considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist group and that it does not accept “accept any distinction between its political and its military arms,” at a Beirut press conference Thursday following criticism of his earlier remarks.

Standing next to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Tillerson said:

But it’s impossible to talk about stability, sovereignty, and security in Lebanon without addressing Hizballah. The United States has considered Hizballah a terrorist organization for more than two decades now. We neither see nor do we accept any distinction between its political and its military arms. It is unacceptable for a militia like Hizballah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese Government. The only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese Armed Forces. Hizballah is not just a concern for the United States.

Tillerson added that Hezbollah’s involvement in foreign wars didn’t just increase the violence in the Middle East, but also brought “unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon.”

On Wednesday, while in Jordan, Tillerson told reporters that Hezbollah was “part of the political process” in Lebanon at a press conference in Jordan.

Tillerson’s reference to Hezbollah’s political role in Lebanon spurred criticism from a number Middle East analysts.

Following Thursdays remarks, unnamed officials told The Wall Street Journal that Tillerson’s comment about Hezbollah being part of the “political process” in Lebanon was not meant as approval of Hezbollah, but rather as “realistic assessment” of the political situation in Lebanon. However critics of  Tillerson’s earlier remarks maintained that, however they were intended, they enhanced Hezbollah’s standing.

“No. Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese political process in the same way that the IRGC is part of the Iranian political process. Through fear, intimidation and violence. We need to counter it not recognize it,” Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert on Iran’s influence across the Middle East, wrote.

Following Tillerson’s remarks on Thursday, Dubowitz credited him, writing “Good that Sec. Tillerson corrected his earlier comments.”

[Photo: U.S. Department of State / YouTube]