U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time has met Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Their discussions at the White House on Monday focused largely on efforts to prevent another outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.
President Obama said that what happens in Lebanon has an impact far beyond its borders.
“Obviously, Lebanon is a critical country in a critical region,” said President Obama. “And we want to do everything we can to encourage a strong, independent and democratic Lebanon.”
He said he spoke with President Suleiman about the implementation of a United Nations Security Council Resolution passed in 2006 that was intended to end fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.
Mr. Obama said there has been progress, but not enough. He noted that while there might be differences between Washington and Beirut on the situation in the region, the two see eye-to-eye on the best approach.
“President Suleiman and I are not going to agree on every issue with respect to how Israel, Lebanon, the Palestinians, Syria are interacting,” said Mr. Obama. “What we do share is a commitment to resolve these issues through dialogue and negotiations as opposed to through violence.”
During their talks at the White House, President Suleiman urged the Obama administration to put more pressure on Israel. President Obama said the Israelis have reason to be worried about arms transfers to Hezbollah.
“President Suleiman emphasized his concerns with respect to Israel,” said President Obama. “I want to be clear that I emphasized to him our concerns about the extensive arms that are smuggled into Lebanon that potentially serve as a threat to Israel.”
Hezbollah has argued that it needs arms because the Lebanese government is incapable of protecting the country. As a result, President Suleiman was expected to urge the Obama administration to speed up delivery of weapons to the Lebanese army.
President Obama gave no guarantees in public. But he did talk in general terms about the importance of military aid to Lebanon.
“We want to strengthen Lebanese armed forces so that they can help to secure the sovereignty and the territory of Lebanon,” said Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama alluded to a Lebanese cedar tree that was planted on the White House grounds 30 years ago. He said it is strong and thriving, and represents the friendship between the two countries.