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Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Clinton warns Hezbollah-backed government may alter U.S. ties with Lebanon

White House accuses Hezbollah of using 'coercion, intimidation, threats of violence' to achieve its political goals, after its candidate was tapped as Lebanon's new PM-designate.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that a Hezbollah-dominated government in Lebanon would affect the country's relations with the United States, which regards Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Hezbollah is on the official U.S. blacklist of terrorist groups, a designation that carries various financial and travel restrictions.

"A Hezbollah-controlled government would clearly have an impact on our bilateral relationship with Lebanon," Clinton told reporters in an appearance with Spain's visiting foreign minister.

"Our bottom lines remain as they always have been," Clinton said. "We believe that justice must be pursued and impunity for murder ended. We believe in Lebanon's sovereignty and an end to outside interference."

The White House on Tuesday accused the Shi'ite Muslim group of using "coercion, intimidation and threats of violence" to achieve its political goals and said the country's new government must abide by the Lebanese constitution and renounce violence.

Clinton said Washington was monitoring moves to form a new government in Lebanon, where Hezbollah-backed politician Najib Mikati has been named prime minister in a move that shifts the balance of power in the country toward Iran and Syria.

"As we see what this new government does, we will judge it accordingly," Clinton said.

Hezbollah's enhanced political strength appears likely to alarm Israel, Washington's chief ally in the region, which in 2006 fought a five-week war in a failed effort to destroy the Iran-backed movement's formidable military capacity.

U.S. officials said earlier this month that Lebanon's political turmoil would not trigger an immediate cut in U.S. aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces, but suggested that the ties would come under speedy review.

Clinton has accused Hezbollah, whose decision to pull out of a coalition toppled the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, with attempting to subvert justice before expected indictments against the group over the February 2005 killing of his father, Rafik.

U.S. officials have also accused the movement of seeking to advance the interests of Iran.

"It is hard to imagine any government that is truly representative of all of Lebanon would abandon the effort to end the era of impunity for assassinations in the country. In the meantime, we call on all parties to maintain calm," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.

The United States ramped up assistance to Lebanon's military after the 2006 war with Israel and has given the Lebanese Armed Forces an estimated e650 million to pay for such things as helicopter maintenance, weapons and ammunition, night-vision goggles and anti-tank missiles.

In a country with a long history of sectarian militias, the United States also hoped to help professionalize the army, reinforce the concept of civilian control of the military and, diminish the influence of Hezbollah's forces -- all goals that look harder to achieve following the latest political crisis.

Republicans, who following November elections have taken control of the House of Representatives, have already pledged to examine U.S. aid for Lebanon more closely.



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