By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Lebanon's president will urge US officials to speed up delivery of weapons for the nation's army during a trip to Washington in which he will meet with US President Barack Obama, a Lebanese official said Saturday.
The appeal from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who arrives in Washington Saturday, is at the heart of much of the country's political turmoil. Lebanon's government is a shaky coalition of Western-backed factions and Syrian-supported groups led by Hizbullah.
The United States has long provided military assistance to Lebanon - including $410 million to the military and the police. But America has not handed over any sophisticated arms for fear they could end up in the hands of Hizbullah.
According to the US Embassy in Beirut, the military assistance over the past years includes aircraft, tanks, artillery, small boats, infantry weapons, ammunition, Humvees and cargo trucks. It added that the US will provide the Lebanese Armed Forces with 12 Raven unmanned reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft in the coming months.
Suleiman will press US officials to deliver the promised military aid, a Lebanese official said Friday. The official, who asked that his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak publicly about Suleiman's agenda, did not give details.
Hisham Jaber, who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Public Relations in Beirut, said Suleiman's appeal is part of his work to develop a national defense strategy that would eventually integrate Hizbullah weapons into the army.
"You cannot speak about a defense strategy and disarming the resistance without the presence of a strong army," Jaber told The Associated Press.
The trip to Washington was announced earlier this month, before the Lebanese parliament approved a national unity government that will allow Hizbullah to keep its weapons despite strong criticism from pro-Western lawmakers.
Lebanon's government is loath to take strong action against Hizbullah for fear of sparking a crisis. Many fear a renewed outbreak of the sectarian violence seen in 2008, when Hizbullah gunmen swept through Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut to briefly seize control after the government moved to curb the group's military communications network.
More than 80 people were killed in the violence that followed, pushing the country to the brink of civil war.
The White House said earlier this month that Obama and Suleiman will discuss a broad range of issues, including achieving peace in the region.
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