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LEBANON: Government policy statement on Hezbollah's arms irks Washington

December 7, 2009 | 11:21 am

Williams hezbollah After half a year of electoral controversy, political deadlock and threats of war, it appears the Lebanese government is right back where it started: trapped between a rock and a hard place.

Lebanon has always tried to strike a balance by maintaining strong ties to the West while continuing to support the militant group Hezbollah's ongoing conflict against Israel.

Last Wednesday, the newly-formed consensus government rankled its allies in Washington when it adopted a policy statement that repeated the language of a previous mission statement legitimizing the weapons of Hezbollah.

The final draft of the Cabinet ministers' statement affirms the right of "Lebanon, its government, its people, its army and its resistance" to liberate all Lebanese territory. Hezbollah is referred to in Lebanon as the "resistance."

Some Christian leaders had expressed concerns about whether the ministerial statement would undermine attempts to disarm Hezbollah, exposing all of Lebanon to the threat of an Israeli attack. The 2006 "July war" between Hezbollah and Israel killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and severely damaged the country's infrastructure and economy. Israel has repeatedly said it will consider all of Lebanon fair game in any new conflict.

The statement was adopted just as Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah delivered the group's new manifesto, in which he sought to balance internal political demands with the group's Islamic identity and its ongoing ideological war against the U.S. and Israel.

Most analysts and news organizations remarked on the party's softer tone, especially regarding its relationship to the idea of an Islamic state.

But in an interview published Friday in the Lebanese newspaper As Safir, a U.S. State Department official said Washington will not cooperate with Hezbollah lawmakers.

Nicole Shampaine, head of the department's Office for Egypt and the Levant, said that although Hezbollah has backed off from its original goal of establishing an Islamic state, its recent manifesto was meant as a show of force to the U.S. and Israel.

"It's not clear to me that this helps progress toward peace and security in the region, including the people of Lebanon," she was quoted as saying.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: U.N. coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams meets with Hezbollah lawmaker Mohammad Fneish. Credit: Hussein Mallah / Associated Press