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Lebanon's Prime Minister On Help For Syrian Refugees


Few countries have taken in more Syrian refugees than Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri says a quarter of his country's population is now refugees, which is partly why Hariri was in the U.S. this week. He's met with President Trump and secured another $1.4 million in American aid. But Trump also had another message for Hariri, whose country is partly governed by a group the U.S. considers to be a terrorist organization.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region.

MARTIN: For Hariri, it is not so black and white. He spoke with us yesterday and explained how he juggles America's views of Hezbollah against Lebanon's more mainstream perspective on the group.

PRIME MINISTER SAAD HARIRI: I think most administrations have said the same thing about Hezbollah. My concern is how to shield Lebanon from everything that is happening from the borders from Syria to Lebanon. We're in the front lines fighting ISIS and all terrorist groups that are coming into Lebanon. This is not something new that has been said from President Trump.

MARTIN: This is a group that has been accused of - is suspected of assassinating your father back in 2005. At the same time, Hezbollah is on the front lines of the battle against ISIS, in - particularly in the border areas of Lebanon.

HARIRI: This is something that I cannot take personal. There is an international tribunal that is working on the assassination of Rafik Hariri. And this is something that I trust completely. I believe the people should know who did this, and then the tribunal will issue whatever decision they will issue.

MARTIN: You said you can't make this personal, that your priority has to be looking after the security of your country. Does that mean that you do see Hezbollah as a partner in this moment?

HARIRI: I think you need to understand that we have been fighting terrorism for the past six, seven years. And we've accrued so many losses on this issue. Hezbollah moved on this issue unilaterally. It didn't even ask us. It didn't even ask the Lebanese government. It just did it. For me, the Lebanese armed forces, all security forces are the only ones responsible for the security of the Lebanese and the borders of Lebanon.

MARTIN: Your country is also grappling with a staggering refugee crisis.


MARTIN: The population of Lebanon is about 4 million. You have said there's an additional 1 million people living there who are refugees from Syria.

HARIRI: One and a half.

MARTIN: One and a half?


MARTIN: The Trump administration has now pledged to give Lebanon an additional $140 million to help with the refugee crisis there. Is that enough financial support?

HARIRI: I think it's good support. We need much more, definitely. But this is - it's not the only on the U.S. to do that but also on the whole international community. You know, what you need to understand - if Lebanon didn't have those 1.5 million refugee, where you think they will be? They will be scattered all over Europe, in the U.S., everywhere in the world. We're doing a public service for the international community. And the international community should help Lebanon in safeguarding their presence until the day they return to Syria.

MARTIN: President Trump said repeatedly during your joint press conference the other day that it's the U.S.'s position that the refugee crisis from Syria should be dealt with in the region, that it's better to have these people, say, in Lebanon than it would be to fly them to the U.S.

HARIRI: Yeah. Absolutely.

MARTIN: You agree?

HARIRI: I think that if you want this to happen, you need to help us. You know, I don't think any refugee doesn't want to go back to Syria. What we have to look at is how to make their stay in Lebanon or stay in Turkey or stay in Jordan dignified and well-preserved. I think it's in everybody's interest, is to make sure that the children of Syria today that are living in those three countries have education, have health care. We should give them hope that one day Syria will return like it used to be.

MARTIN: Lastly, this was the first time that you have met, in person, the new president of the United States. He's been in office now for half a year. What did you make of him? Do you think he can be a reliable partner?

HARIRI: Yes, absolutely. And I think President Trump has good leadership. And I think he understand the complexity of the region. And I think this is what's important in the region, for a credible leadership that will do what it says.

MARTIN: Saad Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, thank you so much.

HARIRI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.