Hizbullah wants new language from West

Deputy welcomes new US, European approach; British Foreign Office denies pursuing secret talks.

Miliband speaks to AP 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Miliband speaks to AP 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah deputy leader Sheik Naim Kassem said Saturday that he welcomes a new American and European approach toward the Lebanese guerrilla group. He added that his group expected new language by the West in dealing with the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim group which calls for Israel's destruction. Kassem's remarks Saturday came a day after Hizbullah officials said they would welcome public talks with Britain. On Thursday, Britain's Foreign Office announced that it had contacted Hizbullah's political wing in an attempt to reach out to its legislators. Its ultimate aim, it said, is to encourage the group to abandon violence and play a constructive political role in the deeply divided country. But the Foreign Office Friday denied that it had pursued any secret talks with Hizbullah. Britain ceased contact with the group in 2005 and listed its military wing as a terrorist organization last year. Hizbullah became part of a unity government in Lebanon in May after violent street clashes with rivals in which its gunmen took over large parts of Beirut. Mahmoud Komati, deputy leader of Hizbullah's political bureau, said Friday: "The British have been constantly trying for nearly a year to hold a dialogue with us, but they wanted a secret dialogue," Komati said. "If [Britain] wants a dialogue, let this dialogue be in public." However, a British Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy, said that was not true. She said as the British government reconsidered its policy toward Hizbullah last year, "we sought an opportunity for our ambassador to meet with [Hizbullah] MP Ali Amaar. The meeting of the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Committee was the first occasion such a meeting took place. It was a public meeting, and we have publicly informed the British Parliament about it." The spokeswoman was referring to a January meeting that was discussed Thursday by the Foreign Ministry when it announced its attempts to re-establish contact. The Foreign Ministry also said that the government was seeking to build relations with other legislators attached to the group. Legislator Mohammed Fneish, who represents Hizbullah in the unity government, welcomed Britain's decision to establish contacts with the group. "Hizbullah has no objection to holding contacts with Britain," Fneish told The Associated Press. "Hizbullah's policy is to be open. Therefore, we are ready for dialogue and contacts with any country that is not hostile to us." Hizbullah spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi also praised Britain's decision as "a step in the right direction." In London, Foreign Secretary David Miliband explained Britain's decision to reconsider its policy toward Hizbullah as part of an effort to press the group to disarm. "We've sanctioned low-level contacts with them so that we can make absolutely clear our determination to see UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for the disbanding of militias among other things in Lebanon, taken forward with real speed," Miliband said Friday on BBC Radio 4's "Today" program. That resolution also ended the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war. Miliband said Hizbullah's military wing remains on Britain's list of outlawed groups. "Our objective with Hizbullah remains to encourage them to move away from violence and play a constructive, democratic and peaceful role in Lebanese politics, in line with a range of UN Security Council Resolutions," the ministry said Thursday.