Lebanese official says US sanctioned him over Hezbollah ties

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s former foreign minister said Sunday that last week’s U.S. sanctions targeted him over alleged corruption because he repeatedly refused Washington’s calls to severe ties with Iran-backed Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese militant and political group.

The U.S. Treasury designation on Friday said Gebran Bassil was “at the forefront of corruption” in Lebanon. The Treasury designation did not mention Bassil’s alliance or links to Hezbollah, but the sanctions against him appeared to be part of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran and its allies in the region.

Bassil, who heads the country’s largest Christian bloc in parliament, said he will challenge the sanctions in American courts and demand financial and moral compensation. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has asked the U.S. for evidence and documents of the corruption allegations against Bassil, who is also Aoun’s son-in-law.

In a press conference Sunday, Bassil said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials repeatedly asked him to sever his political party’s alliance with Hezbollah — an alliance that makes them the largest bloc in parliament and a major power broker in the country.

He said one such conversation amounted to a threat, when the U.S ambassador to Lebanon gave him an ultimatum and conditions, or risk facing sanctions.

“I told her it doesn’t work with me that way,” Bassil said in Sunday’s press conference.

Bassil said the corruption allegations, which he described as “laughable,” never came up in conversation with U.S. officials.

Still, Bassil has emerged as a major target of Lebanese protesters who thronged streets in an uprising last year over endemic corruption and state mismanagement.

He said such calls for severing ties with Hezbollah would lead to internal sedition and bloodshed, given that Hezbollah represents the Shiites in Lebanon.

He said if the Americans want to fight corruption in Lebanon, they ought to take a look at their own allies in the country, which he accused of being steeped in corruption.

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