Clinton backs moderate voices in Lebanon

US SECRETARY of state Hillary Rodham Clinton reassured the Lebanese people yesterday that Washington supports “voices of moderation” and will never make a deal with Syria that undermines the country’s interests.

Clinton spoke on a surprise visit to Beirut, ahead of a critical June 7 election that could see the pro-US Lebanese government ousted by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies, possibly paving the way for renewed Syrian influence over the country.

“The people of Lebanon must be able to choose their own representatives in open and fair elections without the spectre of violence or intimidation and free of outside interference,” Clinton told a news conference in Beirut after meeting with President Michel Suleiman.

“Beyond the elections, we will continue to support the voices of moderation in Lebanon and the responsible institutions of the Lebanese state they are working hard to build. Our ongoing support for the Lebanese armed forces remains a pillar of our bilateral cooperation,” she added.

Syria dominated Lebanon for nearly three decades before it was forced to withdraw its tens of thousands of troops, four years ago this week, in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

There have been concerns among anti-Syrian factions in the pro-US parliamentary majority that the Obama administration talks with Syria could weaken American support for Lebanon.

But Clinton said she delivered a letter from Obama to Suleiman expressing strong support for a free, sovereign and independent Lebanon. “There is nothing that we would do in any way that would undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty.

“I want to assure any Lebanese citizen that the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people. You have been through too much and it is only right that you are given a chance to make your own decisions.

“It is a complicated neighbourhood you live in and you have the right to your own future,” she said.

Speaking on the Hezbollah’s Al-Manar satellite TV station after Clinton arrived, the group’s spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi said it was too early to tell whether the Obama administration has reassessed its policy. He also criticised what he called “double standard and deception” when the US calls for Islamic factions to participate in elections and then refuses to accept the results if they win.

Clinton would not speculate on election results and what the US would do if Hezbollah wins.

“We certainly hope that... the results of the election will continue a moderate, positive direction that will benefit all of the people of Lebanon.”

But US officials have said they would review aid to Lebanon depending on the composition of the new government. The US has given $1 billion (e753m) in aid since 2006, including $410 million in security assistance to the military and the police.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says the group knows trying to dominate Lebanon’s politics would destabilise the country.

Nasrallah has even said if the coalition wins, it would invite its opponents to join in a national unity government to ensure stability.


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