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US Calls Lebanon Peace Deal Strategic Setback for Iran, Syria


The United States says the U.N. Security Council resolution on Lebanon, if successfully implemented, will be a strategic setback for Iran and Syria. The U.N. plan would curb Hezbollah and prevent Iran and Syria from rearming the Shi'ite militia.

U.S. officials considered Hezbollah a virtual arm of Iranian policy in the Middle East, and they are expressing optimism that the U.N. peace plan will sharply curtail the military and political role of the militia, which has been armed by both Iran and Syria.

In addition to calling for a full cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the resolution provides for the Lebanese army and a beefed-up U.N. force to deploy in southern Lebanon, which Hezbollah had controlled since Israel dismantled its self-styled security zone in the area in 2000.

It would require Lebanon to prevent arms from reaching non-state actors in the country, and require implementation of Security Council resolution 15-59 of 2004 calling for Hezbollah to be disarmed.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged that implementation of the complex plan has only begun, but said that, if it is fulfilled, it would yield a strengthened Lebanese government, and diminish the influence of Iran and Syria.

"It think it is fair to say, if this resolution, when this resolution is fully implemented, this a strategic setback for Iran, a strategic setback for Syria," said Sean McCormack. "Because you will have a strengthened, democratic Lebanon. You will have a more stable area along that border. You will not have Hezbollah roaming freely in the south of Lebanon. Iran and Syria will not have the ability to re-arm Hezbollah. So, I think, very clearly, that when this resolution is fully implemented, and when you have 15-59 implemented, even further, that would represent a setback to Iran."

In early bargaining at the United Nations, the Bush administration indicated it was seeking a robust multi-national force for southern Lebanon that would have a U.N. mandate, but not be directly run by the U.N. bureaucracy.

What emerged from last week's negotiations was a decision to expand the current two-thousand member U.N. force in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, by 15,000 troops, and extend its mandate for another year.

UNIFIL, in Lebanon since 1978, had long been criticized by U.S. and other analysts as being ineffectual. But spokesman McCormack, making an allusion to the famed 'Superman' comic book series, said the new UNIFIL will be far more muscular than its much-derided predecessor.

"What we have is the version of UNIFIL with an 'S' on its chest, as opposed to the Clark Kent version of UNIFIL," he said. "In fairness, the previous UNIFIL had a weak mandate, a relatively weak mandate. This is an enhanced UNIFIL. It is just different. It may have the same name, but it is a completely different organization, in terms of its size, its abilities, and its mandate."

McCormack downplayed assertions by a number of Middle East experts that the month-long war had made a regional hero figure out of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

He said, it is an emotional time for people across the Middle East. But he said they will see that Friday's U.N. plan will produce an enhanced democratic Lebanon, with Hezbollah disarmed and, in his words, out of business in the south.