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Secretary of State Rice Pays Surprise Visit to Beirut


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Beirut on a brief, surprise visit to express support for Lebanon's newly elected President Michel Suleiman. Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut her visit is also seen as a U.S. seal of approval for the yet-to-be-formed, elected government, which will include the pro-Syrian Hezbollah.

Security was extremely tight for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's first visit to Beirut since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Lebanese Army helicopters hovered overhead, as Secretary Rice's motorcade worked its way through the city's teeming southern suburbs to the mountainside presidential palace in Baabda.

Photographers took pictures of a smiling Secretary Rice as she shook hands with Lebanon's recently elected President Michel Suleiman and told him the United States was supportive of him and his government.

Suleiman was elected after Lebanon's bickering leaders reached a political agreement last month in Doha, Qatar. The agreement followed a military show of force by Hezbollah and its allies in the streets of Beirut.

Despite initial U.S. disapproval of Hezbollah's military action, Secretary Rice insisted the United States supports the Doha political agreement.


"And so, obviously, as in any compromise, there are compromises. But this was an agreement that I think served the interests of the Lebanese people, and since it served the interests of the Lebanese people, it served the interests of the United States," she said.


The pro-Syrian Hezbollah is a State Department designated terrorist organization, but Secretary Rice gave her seal of approval to the upcoming, as yet unformed Lebanese government, in which Hezbollah will have veto-power.


"As to the question about the United States and who it supports, we support the democratically elected government of Lebanon," she added.


Prime minister-designate Fouad Saniora, who headed the previous U.S.-backed government, which Hezbollah and its allies refused to recognize, has been unsuccessful in putting together a new government, despite the political agreement in Qatar.

Hezbollah ally General Michel Aoun is reportedly demanding the Finance Ministry portfolio, which is currently held by a member of parliament majority leader Sa'ad Hariri's Future Movement. Rival parties are also reportedly quibbling over who will hold the posts of defense and foreign ministers.

Secretary Rice also insisted that Syria, the former top power-broker in Lebanon, establish diplomatic relations with its smaller neighbor. Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who has long resisted official relations said recently that his country is "ready to open an embassy" in Beirut if a "friendly government" is formed.

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