White House warns Hizbullah gov't endangers US aid

Sec. of State says US wants independent sovereign Lebanon, concerned about "outside forces"; Crowley calls larger Hizbullah role "problematic."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON— The Obama administration warned Lebanon's  political leaders on Monday that continuing US support for their country will be difficult if the militant Hizbullah movement takes a dominant role in government.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that formation of a Hizbullah-dominated government in Lebanon will mean changes in the US political and economic relations with the country.
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The US is considering exactly how to respond to the new government forming this week in Beirut, but cuts or realignment of military aid to Lebanon are likely if the militant group controls key parts of the government.
Clinton says the US wants an independent sovereign Lebanon and is concerned about "outside forces."
The makeup of the Lebanese government is Lebanon's decision, the US State Department said. But the larger the role for Hizbullah, the "more problematic" for relations with Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
The United States considers Iranian-backed Hizbullah as a foreign terrorist organization and has imposed sanctions against it and its members. US officials do not meet with Hizbullah members and US money is not supposed to be used to further the group's activities.
Crowley's comments came as Hizbullah moved into position to control the next Lebanese government as it secured enough support in parliament to nominate the candidate for prime minister.
"Our view of Hizbullah is very well-known," he told reporters. "We see it as a terrorist organization, and we'll have great concerns about a government within which a Hizbullah plays a leading role."
Crowley would not say what the United States would do should Hizbullah's candidate become prime minister and be able to form a government, but he said it would be hard to carry on business as usual if that should happen.
Asked whether the US would be able to continue economic support for a Hizbullah-controlled government in Lebanon, he replied, "That would be difficult for the United States to do."
The United States has provided Lebanon with hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid during the past five years, following withdrawal of Syrian forces that had controlled the country for decades.
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The United States called the fragile Lebanese democracy a counterweight to authoritarian and militant influences in the Middle East. Washington underwrote Lebanon's army as a counterweight to Hizbullah, and argued that without US support Iran or Syria might fill the vacuum.
Congressional critics of that policy cite a worry that the weapons and equipment could slip into the hands of Hizbullah for use against Israel. Hizbullah, which forced the collapse of the Lebanese coalition government last week, fought a month-long war with Israel in August 2006.
Since 2006, the United States has provided four kinds of security assistance to Lebanon, the bulk of which has been about $500 million in sales of weapons and equipment such as mortars, rifles, grenade launchers, ammunition, body armor, radios and Humvee utility vehicles.
The US also has increased its spending on military education and training for Lebanese officers and on programs designed to improve Lebanon's ability to counter terror threats.
Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was among lawmakers who last year blocked $100 million in US military aid to Lebanon. They relented and allowed the money to go through after the White House gave assurances in classified briefings that the aid would bolster both Lebanese and US national security and would not be hijacked by Hizbullah.
Berman's successor as head of the committee, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has raised similar objections.