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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

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Sep 23rd
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Extremism In Lebanon arrow Biden Visits Lebanon Ahead of Parliamentary Election
Biden Visits Lebanon Ahead of Parliamentary Election PDF Print E-mail
Written by WSJ, Naharnet   
Friday, 22 May 2009

In this photo released by Lebanon's official government photographer Dalati Nohra, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, left, meets with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 22, 2009. Biden reinforced U.S. support for Lebanon's government Friday ahead of key parliamentary elections that could see the pro-Western faction ousted by Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies. (AP Photo/Dalati Nohra, HO)
In this photo released by Lebanon's official government photographer Dalati Nohra, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, left, meets with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 22, 2009. Biden reinforced U.S. support for Lebanon's government Friday ahead of key parliamentary elections that could see the pro-Western faction ousted by Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies. (AP Photo/Dalati Nohra, HO)

Biden: U.S. Aid to Lebanon Hinges on Composition and Policies of New Cabinet 

Biden Visits Lebanon Ahead of Parliamentary Election

By CHIP CUMMINS AND NADA RAAD

BEIRUT -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden landed in Lebanon for a short visit Friday, some two weeks before polls here will pit a Western-backed coalition of politicians against Hezbollah.

Mr. Biden's trip follows a stopover last month by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The high-powered, back-to-back visits underscore the regional stakes in a tight parliamentary election scheduled for June 7.

The vote will determine who has the upper hand in forming Lebanon's next government. In a statement, the White House said Mr. Biden's visit, the first here by a sitting vice president in more than 25 years, was meant to "reinforce the United States' support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon."

Hezbollah said Friday that the two visits raised "strong suspicion and amounted to a clear and detailed interference in Lebanon's affairs," according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Biden was expected to meet with President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri. The White House said Mr. Biden would also announce fresh U.S. military assistance to Lebanon's armed forces. The U.S. has provided Lebanon with considerable financial assistance since 2006, including some $400 million in security aid.

The U.S., along with other Western powers including France, has been a strong backer of Mr. Siniora's government amid a long, political standoff with an opposition led by Hezbollah -- the Shiite Muslim group backed by Iran and Syria. Hezbollah is listed by Washington as a terrorist group.

The stalemate was broken last year, after Hezbollah sent its militia into the streets of Beirut. The muscle-flexing forced the government, in a deal brokered by Qatar, to offer the opposition a number of political concessions, including a veto in a new power-sharing government.

Next month's vote will be first after the accord. Lebanon's political and electoral system apportions top government posts and parliamentary seats by sects. That means no matter which side comes out ahead, the make-up of Lebanon's next government most likely won't look too different from today's. Big government decisions must be made by consensus. And Lebanon's president, Mr. Suleiman, is largely seen as independent from both sides.

Still, if Hezbollah was to increase its power in the next government that would jeopardize further U.S. financial aid. It could also complicate President Barack Obama's broader Mideast diplomacy.

Any gains by Hezbollah could be interpreted across the region as further encroachment by Iran and its proxies. Israel and many Western-allied Arab states have grown increasingly concerned about Tehran's influence in the region.

George H.W. Bush, at the time vice president under Ronald Reagan, visited Lebanon in 1983 shortly after the bombing of a U.S. Marines barrack here that killed more than 200 Americans.

Write to Chip Cummins at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124299352330147099.html

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Biden: U.S. Aid to Lebanon Hinges on Composition and Policies of New Cabinet

Vice President Joe Biden, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Lebanon in more than 25 years, said Friday Washington will evaluate its future assistance to Lebanon based on the policies of the government that will be formed after the June 7 polls.

"The U.S. will evaluate the shape of its assistance program based on the composition of the new government and the policies it is advocating," Biden told a news conference after meeting President Michel Suleiman on his first visit to the Middle East since taking office.

"The U.S. looks forward to the shape and composition of the Lebanese government which is for the Lebanese to decide," he added.

He called for "fair, free and transparent elections," and warned that "Lebanese sovereignty cannot and will not be traded away."

Biden said the Obama administration is committed to a comprehensive peace in the region that benefits all people in the region, including the Lebanese. 

"Washington is committed to ensuring the strength of the military institutions in Lebanon," he said, adding that he "cannot imagine peace in the region without Lebanon." 

Biden said his visit to Lebanon, the first by a U.S. vice president in nearly three decades, was not aimed at interfering in the country's internal politics.

"I did not come here to back any party," he stressed.

Biden urged "those who think about standing with the spoilers of peace not to miss this opportunity to walk away," an apparent reference to Hizbullah supporters.

"It's not an accident that the president (Barack Obama) asked me to come to Lebanon to personally demonstrate to you (that) our commitment to Lebanon is meaningful and it's real," he said.

Voice of Lebanon radio said Suleiman received a phone call from Obama during Biden's talks with the Lebanese president.

Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah, shortly before Biden's arrival, accused the U.S. vice president of coming to meddle in Lebanon's internal affairs ahead of the elections.

"It appears that this visit is part of a U.S. bid to supervise the electoral campaign of a Lebanese party which feels threatened politically ... in light of the expected outcome of the legislative vote," Fadlallah told AFP.

Biden is the second from the Obama administration in about a month, following in the footsteps of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The attention underscores Washington's concerns about a possible win by Hizbullah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group.

The White House said Biden's visit was meant "to reinforce the United States' support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon."

Biden, whose visit comes on the heels of a trip to Kosovo, also met with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally as well as several members of the pro-Western faction in parliament.

He wrapped up his seven-hour visit at Beirut airport, standing before an array of military equipment, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters that he said are part of more than half a billion dollars in U.S. military assistance to Lebanon since 2005.

"We believe it's crucial that you be able to do your mission to defend the state and citizens of Lebanon," Biden said, standing next to Defence Minister Elias Murr.

"One army, one armed group, one police power, one capability to control your own country," he added, in an apparent swipe at Hizbullah, the only armed Lebanese faction and arguably one of the most powerful non-state actors in the Middle East.

Biden and Murr noted that the United States had committed to provide further training and assistance to the Lebanese armed forces over the next five years.

The June 7 vote pits the parliamentary March 14 coalition against the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance.

Hizbullah and its allies stand a good chance of winning the majority of seats in parliament.

Such a scenario would force the United States to rethink its strategy towards Lebanon, a deeply divided nation which has endured decades of wars, political crises and political assassinations.

Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who held talks with French officials in Paris on Wednesday, was cautious about his expectations for the elections, pan-Arab daily al-Hayat said.

Hizbullah officials say they have received assurances that the West does not envisage imposing the same sort of boycott it slapped on the Palestinians when a Hamas-led government took power in Gaza after an election in January 2006.

Obama's administration has also been making efforts to repair its relationship with the Muslim world, including Syria and Iran.

But it has sought to reassure its allies in Beirut that any rapprochement with Damascus, which dominated Lebanon for nearly three decades, would not be at their expense.

Simon Karam, Lebanon's former ambassador to Washington, said the visits by Clinton and Biden could signal a shift in U.S. policy in Lebanon.

"I think the United States is hedging its bets on the eve of this new term in Lebanese political life and signaling strongly that they will be investing in state institutions first and among these institutions, in the president," he told AFP.

"There is a serious chance that the opposition will turn into the majority on the eve of the election, and the U.S. will in this case have to re-orient its engagement in Lebanon, and this visit could be one way for them to pave the way toward such a development," he added.(Naharnet-AFP)

Beirut, 22 May 09, 07:51

http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&36ADF9211D04C0FBC22575BE0019FD6A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 
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