Obama: Deal with Syria will never come at Lebanon’s expense


In meetings with the Obama administration, Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri was said to have expressed concern over the U.S. reconciliation policy with Syria.

A Lebanese delegation met with U.S. officials on May 24 and warned that Syria has restored its influence in Lebanon, particularly in the eastern Bekaa Valley.

“The president reiterated to the prime minister that U.S. regional engagement will never come at Lebanon’s expense, and he reaffirmed the United States’ continued strong support for the special tribunal for Lebanon,” the White House said.

Officials said Obama discussed reports that Syria had shipped Scud-class ballistic missiles to Hizbullah in Lebanon. The White House statement on the meeting, however, cited only Iran’s supply of weapons to Hizbullah, reported to have amassed an arsenal of more than 50,000 missiles and rockets.

Since 2006, Washington has delivered nearly $550 million worth of weapons and military equipment to Lebanon. In April 2010, Beirut received the first U.S. heavy weapons in the form of anti-tank missiles.

Officials said the administration has encountered concern from Congress over the U.S. aid program to the Hariri government, dominated by the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah. But they said Congress was told that the weapons sent to Lebanon were defensive and meant to block attacks by foreign enemies or their proxies.

“The president stressed the importance of efforts to ensure Iran complies with its international nonproliferation obligations, and the threat posed by the transfer of weapons into Lebanon in violation of UNSCR [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1701,” the White House said.

Officials said Obama has pledged to maintain weapons and other military shipments to Lebanon in 2010. They said Obama told Hariri that U.S. defense and military aid would serve to bolster the troubled government in Beirut.

“During their meeting, the president expressed his determination to continue U.S. efforts to support and strengthen Lebanese institutions such as the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces, and to contribute to the economic growth and development of Lebanon,” the White House said.

Hariri and Obama met at the White House on May 24 amid growing unrest in Lebanon. Officials said the prime minister reviewed the security situation in Lebanon, including internal and external threats.

Over the next year, Lebanon has been promised such U.S. military aid as the M-60A3 main battle tank, Raven unmanned aerial vehicle as well as the prospect of artillery and helicopters. Officials said Washington has been coordinating the military aid with other allies of Lebanon, including France and the United Arab Emirates.

World Tribune