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US Warns of Syrian, Iranian Effort to Topple Lebanese Government


The United States Wednesday expressed concern Syria and Iran are working with Lebanese allies to try to topple the Beirut government. The White House said U.S. officials are warning all those concerned to keep hands off the elected government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The unusual public statement from the White House said there is mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah, and Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple the Siniora government, in office since the middle of last year.

Bush administration officials declined to provide details of the evidence, citing the need to protect intelligence sources.

But the Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is backed by both Iran and Syria, has been threatening mass demonstrations unless a so-called national unity cabinet is created that would give Hezbollah and its allies veto power over key decisions.

The written statement in the name of White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said any attempt to destabilize Lebanon's elected government through manufactured demonstrations or threats to its leaders would be, at the very least, a clear violation of Lebanese sovereignty and various U.N. resolutions.

It said a motive for Syria may be to prevent the Siniora government from approving a statute creating an international tribunal on the February, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in which Syrian figures have been implicated.

The White House said any effort to sideline the tribunal will fail however, since the international community can proceed with it no matter what happens internally in Lebanon.

White House spokesman Snow told reporters later preserving a democratic Lebanon is key to regional stability, and that the United States is making clear to everyone in the region that, in his words, there ought to be hands-off the Siniora government.

At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the threats of political upheaval from Hezbollah's leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah have to be taken seriously given the organization's recent record, including provoking a war with Israel:

He said, "Quite clearly, Hezbollah has its patron in Damascus and certainly in Tehran. This is an organization that has shown that it has very few boundaries concerning what it will do and what won't do. The most recent example is that it started a war in the region. This group started a war with a sovereign state. So it would seem the benefactors of this group will stop at nothing to achieve their ends."

The U.S. statement followed a Washington visit earlier this week by Lebanese Druze leader and parliament member Walid Jumblatt, who is a sharp critic of Syrian meddling in Lebanese affairs.

Jumblatt, who met Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said Tuesday the international tribunal on the Hariri case might be the only way to deter further assassinations and change the behavior of the Syrian government.

In an interview released Tuesday with Lebanese television correspondent May Chidiac, who was maimed in a car-bomb attack more than a year ago, Secretary Rice said the United States has received information of possible efforts to, in her words, intimidate or assassinate again in Lebanon.

Rice said it is no secret that there are concerns about what Syria, which once occupied the country, might try to do through continuing contacts in Lebanon.

But she suggested U.S. concerns about interference in Lebanon go beyond just one country and said the world community believes there should be no foreign intimidation of the Lebanese people.