The group was established with Iran’s support after the 1979 Iranian revolution, and has been called by the State Department “the most technically-capable terrorist group in the world.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Sherman and Bassil discussed issues including the crisis in Syria and maritime energy disputes. Sherman also “raised our ongoing concern about Hezbollah’s actions, including its support for the Syrian regime, its role as a terrorist organization and a proxy for Iran, and its criminal activities in the international drug trade and money laundering,” Nuland added.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted the Sherman-Bassil meeting, describing the Lebanese minister as “an open supporter of the Assad regime” in Syria “and the violent extremist group Hezbollah.”
The Florida Republican said in a statement: “The fact that one the State Department’s highest ranking officials met with Bassil – one of Hezbollah’s most stalwart allies – is beyond indefensible. A supporter of Assad and Hezbollah has no place meeting with U.S. officials.
“The administration chooses to meet with the likes of Bassil while giving the cold shoulder to our closest ally, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Ros-Lehtinen added, referring to President Obama’s decision not to meet with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September after the Israeli leader had reportedly requested a meeting.
Two Lebanese opposition parties also were unhappy about Bassil’s trip, CNS News reported.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s mainly Sunni Future Movement and an allied Christian party, the Lebanese Forces, called the visit “provocative,” Lebanon’s Daily Star reported.
“We warn of the serious implications since the Free Patriotic Movement is an ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian-Iranian axis,” the two parties said in a joint statement.
“The FPM which Bassil represents and which claims loyalty to the homeland and calls for reform and change as well as [claiming to] safeguard the interests of Christian presence in the Levant, is a tool in the hands of Hezbollah which is dragging Lebanon into regional and international conflicts.”
The FTO designation makes it unlawful for any U.S. citizen to knowingly provide a group with “material support or resources.” FTO members or representatives are also not allowed entry to the United States.
Sherman’s meeting with Bassil came on the same day that Lebanese security officials reported the death of a Hezbollah commander and several fighters inside Syria. A Hezbollah newspaper reported that the commander, Ali Hussein Nassif, had been killed “while performing his jihadi duties.”