TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan's foreign minister met Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah in April in Beirut, a government spokesman said Tuesday, despite the group being named a terrorist organization by the United States, the island's major ally.
James Huang met Nasrallah during a visit to Lebanon in April to strengthen relations with the Middle Eastern country, Foreign Ministry spokesman Michel Lu said.
"Hezbollah was a member of Lebanon's ruling coalition, so it is normal for Taiwan to have contacts with government parties to strengthen relations," Lu said.
Both the U.S. and Israel asked Taiwan for a clarification following Huang's visit, but discussion of the matter has now been shelved, Lu said. Taiwan has had no contact with Hezbollah since the meeting with Nasrallah, he added.
Hezbollah, which Nasrallah has headed since the early 1990s, carried out a 1983 attack on a Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. servicemen. It is included on a list of terror organizations compiled by the U.S. Department of State.
Most recently it has been involved in more than three weeks of deadly combat with Israel. The fighting broke out after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.
Taiwan maintains good relations with both the Jewish state and the United States, its major arms supplier and key diplomatic benefactor.
Ruth Kahanoff, Israel's representative in Taiwan, said despite the Huang-Nasrallah meeting, relations with the Taiwan government are normal.
"We have an open and positive dialogue with the Foreign Ministry on many issues of mutual concern including the issue of Hezbollah, and we keep the ministry abreast of our views and developments in the region," she said.
There was no immediate comment on Huang's meeting from the U.S. representative office in Taiwan.
The Huang-Nasrallah meeting was first reported by Taiwan's mass circulation Apple Daily. Hezbollah also referred to it on its Web site.
Taiwan has been eagerly searching for diplomatic allies as it attempts to break out of a straitjacket imposed on it by China, from which it split amid civil war in 1949.
Beijing claims sovereignty over the self-ruled island and denies its right to conduct diplomatic relations or join major international organizations like the United Nations.
On Sunday, Taiwan said it was breaking off ties with Chad in a pre-emptive move before the central African country could switch its recognition to Beijing.
Chad's defection reduced the number of countries recognizing Taipei to 24, most of them small, impoverished nations in Latin America, Africa and the Pacific.