(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brennan called Hezbollah a “very interesting organization” in remarks at the Washington-based Nixon Center on Tuesday. He also said the United States needs to “build up the more moderate elements" of Hezbollah which the State Department has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
Brennan previously called Hezbollah “an interesting case stud[y]” when speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last August.
In his August remarks, Brennan praised the evolution of Hezbollah as a political force, and seemed hopeful about engaging its members in dialogue. “Hezbollah started out as purely a terrorist organization back in the early ’80s and has evolved significantly over time,” Brennan said. “And now it has members of parliament, in the cabinet; there are lawyers, doctors, others who are part of the Hezbollah organization.”
During his remarks in Washington on Tuesday, Brennan again lauded Hezbollah’s transition from “purely a terrorist organization” to a legitimate political party.
“There (are) certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us -- what they're doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” he said.
Brennan has yet to provide specifics on how the United States should support the “moderate elements” of Hezbollah, or if such support could occur under current law.
According to the State Department Web site: “It is unlawful for a person in the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide ‘material support or resources’ to a designated FTO.”
Hezbollah in recent weeks repeatedly has criticized the U.S. and called for armed “resistance” to Israel.
Speaking about the upcoming trip of the Lebanese prime minister to Washington on May 24, Wi'am Wahhab, a Druze politician affiliated with Hezbollah and head of the Tawhid Movement, said: “What will you get from the United States? Will it give you arms to empower the Lebanese Army in confronting Israel and its aggression?. . .You will hear from the Americans there the same lecture and that is 'Hezbollah and its arms pose a danger to Israel;' and 'Do not dare take a risk and provoke Israel, for it will destroy you!”
Wahhab welcomed Iran’s new ambassador to Lebanon last week in a show of support for a political ally also critical of Israel and the United States. The Iranian ambassador made comments at the Beirut airport saying, “As I mentioned previously, I stress that the Islamic Republic of Iran stands by Lebanon, its people, government and resistance. I also stress the need to focus all efforts on supporting the resistance in facing the Zionist occupation.”
Hezbollah leaders, like their Iranian allies, continue to argue that Israel has no right to exist.
According to a report last week in the Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, top Hezbollah leader Shaykh Naeem Qassem called resistance to Israel “a duty.”
“The objective behind bringing up the issue of the Scud missiles is not to instigate a war. It is a U.S. tactic to support Israel,” Qassem said, according to the article.
“It is our right as a resistance to own arms that we see appropriate to carry out our obligations. We won't surrender to explanations that they are obliging us to give.”
U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have in recent weeks expressed concerns over large numbers of Scud missiles supplied to Hezbollah by Syria.
Lebanese Minister of State for Administrative Development Muhammad Funaysh, who represents Hezbollah in the Lebanese government, dismissed the terrorist designation.
"The American categorization of the resistance as a terrorist organization is nothing new,” Funaysh said in a May 6 interview with Al-Arabiya. “Anyone expressing readiness to defend his country and confront the Israeli occupation in particular is a terrorist."
According to the U.S. State Department, “(P)rior to September 11, 2001, (Hezbollah) was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist group.” The 1983 Hezbollah bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut killed nearly 300 people.
Brennan’s comments come at a time when the relationship between the United States and Israel appear strained, especially over the issue of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
Iran brokered a deal with Turkey and Brazil last week to ship around half of its lowly enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for more highly enriched nuclear fuel. Critics of the deal say Iran means to curb further sanctions from the United Nations while continuing the pursuit of nuclear weapons.