|A child drinks milk in the back of a car decorated with Hezbollah flag in front of a polling station in Nabattiyeh, southern Lebanon|
The United States said Monday Lebanon's Hezbollah movement must renounce violence and disarm before it can be considered a legitimate political factor. The pro-Iranian Hezbollah scored major wins in the latest round of parliamentary voting in Lebanon.
Despite Hezbollah's strong election showing, officials here say the United States still considers it to be a terrorist organization, and that this will not change, until it renounces violence and disarms.
Hezbollah, whose militia arm controls a swath of southern Lebanon along the Israeli border and has been involved in periodic clashes with Israel, scored a sweeping victory along with its fellow Shiite Muslim group Amal in Sunday's regional parliamentary voting.
In a talk with reporters, a senior State Department official reiterated a comment earlier Monday by White House Spokesman Scott McClellan that the U.S. view of Hezbollah as a terrorist group has not changed.
The State Department official, who spoke on terms of anonymity, said Hezbollah is responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any terror organization other than al-Qaida, and is also actively trying to undermine Middle East peace efforts by supporting Palestinian terrorist groups.
He said Hezbollah, on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997, must renounce violence and disarm before it can be considered for removal from the list and, in his words, "be acknowledged as a legitimate political actor."
The United States has long pressed the Lebanese government to assert full security control in southern Lebanon. Last September's U.S. -and French- sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution 15-59 on Lebanon, in addition to demanding a Syrian troop withdrawal, also called for the disbanding of all militias in Lebanon.
The State Department official said extending its sole and exclusive control over all its territory must be a priority issue for the Beirut government in the current political process, and that the United States and other countries are prepared to assist in these efforts.
The official said that as in any other state, the role of protecting an independent, sovereign and democratic Lebanon should be the responsibility of its government, and there should be no role for autonomous armed militias, especially those financed, armed or directed by foreign powers.
U.S. officials say Hezbollah is armed and in large part financed by Iran, and that Syria has facilitated the flow of supplies to the group through its territory.
Despite the outcome of the southern Lebanon voting, the official said the United States congratulates the Lebanese people for the successful and peaceful conduct of the second round, and said it and the international community will continue to support the process as authorities prepare for the subsequent rounds later this month.
He said with two more rounds to go, it would be premature to assess the fairness of the elections, but that the United States notes what he termed the very positive role played by domestic and international observers.