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Clinton Assures Support for Lebanon

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made an unannounced stop in Lebanon. Clinton expressed hope that Lebanon's June parliamentary elections will be free and fair.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Lebanon, on the heels of her trip Saturday to Baghdad, comes less than six weeks before parliamentary elections in early June.

The next parliament will be the second elected since Syria pulled its troops out of Lebanon in April 2005, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri. Many Lebanese politicians accuse Syria of his killing, which Damascus steadfastly denies.

The current parliament has had rocky relations with Syria, following a series of political assassinations.

Clinton met with President Michel Suleiman, but pointedly avoided meeting other political figures to avoid giving the impression the United States is supporting them.

"We certainly hope that the election will be free of intimidation and outside interference and that the results of the election will continue a moderate, positive direction that will benefit all of the people of Lebanon," she said.

The Secretary of State also noted the Lebanese people have endured a great deal during 15 years of civil war and unrest.

"I want to assure any Lebanese citizen that the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people," she said. "You have been through too much."

Clinton also warned rival political forces, as well as outside meddlers that Washington would no longer tolerate political assassinations, which have been frequent in recent years:

"There needs to be an absolute end to an era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon," she said. "It can not and must not be used as a bargaining chip."

An international tribunal meeting in the Hague is investigating the slaying of former Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri, as well as the deaths of a dozen other politicians and journalists, most of whom were opponents of Syria.

Lebanese American University Political Science Professor Sami Baroudi says he thinks Washington wants to make sure the parliamentary elections take place on time, and without outside meddling:

"It was kind of an unplanned visit, but it is an important indicator that the Obama Administration has not lost interest in Lebanon, entirely," said Baroudi. "I think the position of the current administration is kind of clear to all parties, that the U.S. wants the elections, the U.S. is somewhat concerned about whether Hezbollah is going to have a stronghold over the government, but I think the primary message is that the U.S. wants the political process to work and elections to take place."

The Hezbollah party, which is supported by both Iran and Syria, enjoys veto-power in the current national unity government and a Hezbollah win in parliamentary elections would reinforce Syria's hand inside Lebanon.