US: No policy change on Hizbullah

White House sees no distinction between different Hizbullah "wings."

By JPOST.COM STAFF
May 23, 2010 05:00
2 minute read.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri

saad hariri 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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WASHINGTON – A top US counterterrorism official said Friday that the US makes no distinction between different wings of Hizbullah, further pushing back against suggestions that the US might change its policy toward the Shi’ite organization.

“We still do not subscribe to the division that some other countries do, including close friends of ours, that there might be a political or humanitarian wing on the one hand and a military wing on the other and we would talk to one and not the other,” Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department, told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “We emphatically reject such a distinction.”

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He stressed, “There’s been no policy change regarding Hizbullah. We’ve changed nothing regarding the contacts policy regarding Hizbullah.”

His comments followed remarks days earlier by US Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan that some saw as a sign of a shift toward the group, though the White House has also said there has been no change in policy.

On Tuesday, Brennan said that the West needs to “try to build up the more moderate elements within Hizbullah,” in a discussion of the group’s evolution from a purely terrorist organization to one that now also has members serving in the Lebanese government.

Benjamin, who was responding to a question on the controversy, described Brennan’s comments as “an analytic remark.”



But the Republican Jewish Coalition on Friday denounced Brennan’s words as “dangerously naïve.”

They also criticized him for a speech in February to an Islamic Center in which he referred to Jerusalem by its Arabic name, “Al-Quds.”

In that case, Brennan said, “In all my travels, the city I have come to love most is Al-Quds, Jerusalem, where three great faiths come together.”

Obama to raise 'grave concerns' regarding Syria, Hizbullah

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama will likely raise the US’s “grave concerns” about Syria’s arming of Hizbullah with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri when the two meet on Monday, Reuters reported over the weekend.

The two leaders will discuss a “broad range of mutual goals in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, regional peace and security,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday.

Israel believes that Syria recently supplied Hizbullah with hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles, including Scud missiles and advanced M-600 missiles capable of targeting Tel Aviv and causing extensive damage to Israel. Syria has denied the claims while Hizbullah has refused to respond to them. Hariri has denied the allegations, comparing them to the American charges that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ahead of the 2003 US-led invasion.

At their meeting, Obama and Hariri will also discuss international efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear program. Lebanon is the current rotating president of the UN Security Council, a position it holds until May 31.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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