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Maura Connelly, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department Near Eastern Affairs bureau, and former charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Damascus, was nominated last month by US president Barack Obama to be the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon. That’s the job her boss Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman previously held.

During her confirmation hearing on Tuesday in Washington, DC before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee she warned that Hezbollah is seeking to expand its influence in the country.

The party’s agenda differed from American prerogatives in Lebanon and the Middle East, told the Committee .

Were Hezbollah to procure extra support and jurisdiction, Connelly said, Lebanon would witness “a future defined by violence, a vision that is both fueled and funded by an outside power with its own negative agenda.”

She said Hezbollah’s media has launched a nonstop campaign against U.S. military aid to Lebanon.

“The options for Lebanon remain stark nonetheless: should the future of Lebanon be in the hands of leaders who recognize that regional peace is vital to the well-being of future generations of Lebanese, who want to put their energies into restoring the state institutions that can provide for and protect the Lebanese? Or, should Lebanon’s future be in the hands of those who preach eternal resistance and who paint a picture of a

future defined by violence, a vision that is both fuelled and funded by an outside power with its own negative agenda?” she said

She will replace Ambassador Michelle Sison, effective Aug 1, 2010.

“My experiences lead me to believe that despite the numerous sources of conflict in the Middle East, many in the region yearn for a brighter future and a realization of a just, lasting and comprehensive Middle East peace,” Connelly said. “I will support the Lebanese in their efforts to achieve this goal.”

She added: “US assistance to Lebanon over the past five years has been unapologetically directed at transparently supporting those Lebanese leaders who want to build a strong Lebanon.”

Connelly also envisaged further reform of public administrations and institutions, following parliamentary elections in June last year which were hailed internationally as a success.

“Under President Barack Obama, US commitment to Lebanon remains strong. Economic and political reform are crucial to strengthening Lebanon, to building the institutions of the state, and restoring the role of the central government in the lives of all Lebanese,” she said.

“Economic and political reform are crucial to strengthening Lebanon, to building the institutions of the state, and restoring the role of the central government in the lives of all Lebanese,” she said.

Connelly also called for increased electoral reform in Lebanon.

“We are working with the government of Lebanon to urge adoption of an electoral reform law, and strengthen the independence of the judiciary and citizen access to justice – priorities that the Lebanese people

themselves have identified and continue working to support, including through the efforts of a number of vibrant civil society organizations, ” she said

She reiterated that US support for the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, created by the UN to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the cause of much political bickering in recent weeks.

She confirmed her full support to the comment made earlier this year by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s regarding Lebanon’s 400,000 registered Palestinian refugees, over whom debate has raged this month.

“ Taking into account Lebanon’s unique concerns, The United States will not support the forced naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon,” Connelly said.

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