BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri vowed on the fourth day of his visit to the U.S. to fight extremist forces whether they came from Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, stressing that moderation is the key to confronting religious extremism roiling the Middle East.
Hariri made the declaration before he met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the White House Friday.
“The meeting focused on the situation in Lebanon and latest developments in the region, particularly what is happening in Syria, Iraq and Yemen,” said a terse statement released by Hariri’s media office. It did not give further details.
Hariri’s talks with Biden capped a series of meetings the head of the Future Movement has held with senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, members of Congress and the leader of the House of Representatives, since he arrived in Washington on a several-day visit last Tuesday.
The visit comes as Lebanon is facing tough security challenges with the Lebanese Army being locked in an open battle against Syria-based jihadis who are seeking to destabilize the country.
The U.S. trip, the latest of Hariri’s regional and foreign political flurry of activity, is primarily aimed at holding talks on how to shield Lebanon from the repercussions of regional turmoil, particularly the 4-year-old civil war in neighboring Syria.
Ahead of his meeting with Biden, Hariri stressed that moderation is the key to facing extremism in Lebanon and elsewhere in the world.
“The Future Movement is a movement of moderation, openness and justice. It is the movement of martyr [former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and we will continue in this path in the face of the forces of extremism in Lebanon or abroad,” Hariri said during a meeting in Washington with Future officials who came from various U.S. cities, Toronto, Montreal and London to meet him.
“We are fighting the various forces of extremism, whether Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda, because our project is based on building the state and supporting moderation, which is contrary to the policies of chaos that the party [Hezbollah] is exercising, whether by blocking political life in Lebanon or by expansion projects in the Arab region, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen,” he added in a statement released by his office.
Hariri acknowledged that fighting extremism “isn’t an easy task in this current situation and the tension in the region.”
“We are targeted because we are on the right track and we are working for the benefit of all the Lebanese people regardless of their sects. We are working to have the loyalty of all the Lebanese to Lebanon,” he said.
“Radicalism is against Islam, and as the martyr [former] prime minister used to say, a moderate Christian is closer to me than a radical Muslim,” he added.
Despite deep differences with Hezbollah over internal politics, Syria and Yemen, Hariri pledged to carry on the dialogue with the Shiite group. He said the talks between the two rival influential parties that began last December sponsored by Speaker Nabih Berri have helped defuse sectarian tensions, exacerbated by the conflict in Syria.“As you know we have a dialogue in Lebanon with Hezbollah. Some criticize it and wonder how will it help,” Hariri said. “It helps in [reducing] Sunni-Shiite tensions in the country and constitutes a safety valve for all the Lebanese who fear a renewal of the Civil War. It is impossible to agree with Hezbollah’s policies inside Lebanon or abroad.”
Reiterating his opposition to Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria and its meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq and Yemen, Hariri said: “We are against what Hezbollah is doing in, Syria, Iraq [and] Yemen but this does not stop us from working as much as we can to protect Lebanon.”
He stressed that political conflicts should be resolved through dialogue in order to preserve stability in the country.
“Lebanon has witnessed a civil war that lasted 18 years and killed 200, 000 people. We are aware of this matter and I assume that they [Hezbollah] are also aware,” Hariri said.
“Political differences should be resolved through dialogue and that is what happens in all democracies. We have to maintain the prevailing stability in the country, even though it is not the stability we aspire for because real stability is through a regular democratic life and the election of a president as well as the formation of a new government that would prepare for new parliamentary elections.”
Hariri reiterated his support for the Lebanese Army and security forces in their task to maintain security and stability and their fight against terrorism.
“It is true that we are going through a difficult phase in the region which requires patience and steadfastness because our project is the state and we are doing everything we can to strengthen the state institutions, which are the backbone to save Lebanon,” he said.
The former premier also threw his full support behind Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk for launching a fresh sweep of Roumieh Prison following last weekend’s riot by Islamist inmates.
On the Future Movement’s relations with MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, Hariri said: “Our problem is not with the Patriotic Movement. We were able, through the dialogue with Gen. Michel Aoun, to find some solutions to several problems related to [public] appointments that were frozen for eight years, as we were able to form the current government. We must constantly work to narrow differences to solve the existing problems.”
Asked his view on the split within the government over the appointment of new figures to the Army and Internal Security Forces commands, or the extension of the terms of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and ISF chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, Hariri said: “The Army command’s position is as important as the presidency. There is no room for compromise in this matter and the interests of the Army and the nation are the most important.”