Thursday, November 02, 2006

U.S. accuses Syria, Iran, Hezbollah on Lebanon

U.S. accuses Syria, Iran, Hezbollah on Lebanon
By Caren Bohan, REUTERS

The United States on Wednesday accused Syria, Iran and Hezbollah militants of plotting to topple the Lebanese government and warned them to keep their "hands off." The United States has held up Lebanon as an example of emerging democracy in the Middle East. "We are therefore increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah, and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government," White House spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement. He later told reporters, "We're making it clear to everybody in the region that we think that there ought to be hands off the (Prime Minister Fouad) Siniora government; let them go about and do their business." Syria's embassy in Washington denounced the comments as "ludicrous" and "unfounded." "What is happening in Lebanon is a purely domestic political issue," the Syrian Embassy said in a statement. "Syria fully respects the sovereignty of Lebanon and does not interfere in its internal politics." The statement also urged Washington to stop meddling in Lebanese politics and "to stop instigating the Lebanese people against each other and against other countries." U.S. officials declined to give evidence for the accusations, saying the information was classified.

Hezbollah and its allies have been demanding a new government since a 34-day war between Israel and the Shi'ite guerrillas ended in August. Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, has been a fierce critic of Western-backed Siniora, whom it sees as keen to disarm its guerrillas. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has given Siniora's ruling coalition -- which has an anti-Syrian bent -- until mid-November to agree on the formation of a unity government or face protests demanding new elections.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack cited Nasrallah's comments as one of the reasons that the United States has "real concerns" about the intentions of Hezbollah and other players toward Lebanon. "We want to make it absolutely clear that the United States stands firmly with the government of Prime Minister Siniora," McCormack said.


Asked what the United States could do to prevent the collapse of Siniora's government, McCormack said Washington would do whatever it could to support him politically, diplomatically and economically. "We are not going to interfere in Lebanon's domestic politics. What we don't want to see is others interfering in Lebanon's domestic politics and I am afraid that is our fear," he said. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced concerns about Siniora's safety during an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. Snow said the United States believes that one of Syria's aims was to block the creation of an international tribunal to try those accused of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria ended three decades of military dominance of Lebanon last year after Hariri's assassination in February 2005. Many Lebanese blamed it for the murder and an ongoing United Nations investigation has pointed the finger at Syrian security officials and their Lebanese allies. The White House statement said any attempts to destabilize the Lebanese government would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions. Snow also said that any effort to "sideline" a tribunal on Hariri's death would fail because "the international community can proceed with establishing it no matter what happens internally in Lebanon."

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Sue Pleming)

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