'Palestinian state as soon as possible'

In Beirut, Mitchell says Obama committed to aggressively seeking comprehensive Mideast peace.

mitchell hariri 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
mitchell hariri 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
President Barack Obama's special Mideast envoy George Mitchell said Friday that Washington supports the creation of a Palestinian state "as soon as possible." Mitchell also sought to reassure Lebanon that US efforts toward a comprehensive peace in the Middle East - including reaching out to Syria and Iran - would not come at Lebanon's expense. Some Lebanese are wary of Washington's outreach to Syria, which dominated the politically fractured country for decades and continues to maintain some influence through its support of the powerful Hizbullah terror group. "President Obama remains committed to actively and aggressively seeking comprehensive peace in the Middle East. This includes supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state as a homeland for the Palestinian people as soon as possible," Mitchell told reporters in Beirut. Mitchell spoke after talks with President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Fuad Saniora in Lebanon, his latest stop on a Mideast tour that will also take him to Syria. The tour follows the Obama administration's new efforts to revive the stalled peace process. It comes just a week after Obama's landmark speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in which he promised to work aggressively to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama specifically demanded Israel freeze all settlement construction on land Palestinians claim for their future state and endorse the concept of such a state - something Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has so far refused to do, leading to the most public US-Israel disagreement in a decade. Mitchell is the first high-ranking US official to visit Lebanon since a pro-Western coalition defeated the Iranian-backed Hizbullah in Sunday's parliamentary election. Mitchell stressed that "there can be no lasting solution reached at Lebanon's expense." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other US officials have said before that Beirut does not have to fear that Washington's efforts to engage Syria could hurt Lebanon. Lebanese factions have long been concerned that an improvement of US-Syrian relations might help restore Syria's influence in Lebanon. Syria caved to international pressure and withdrew its troops from Lebanon after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a killing many Lebanese blamed on Damascus. Syria has denied the claim. The Lebanese also worry an Arab-Israeli settlement could prompt many of the 400,000 Palestinian refugees that live in the country to stay permanently, altering Lebanon's delicate sectarian demographic balance. Lebanese officials stressed their opposition to such an outcome in meetings with the US envoy. Before leaving for Syria, Mitchell also held talks with Saad Hariri, the billionaire businessman and son of the slain former prime minister, who is emerging as the favorite to lead Lebanon's government after the election. Hariri, 39, is leader of the largest parliamentary bloc in the winning coalition.