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US House of Representatives Leader Visits Lebanon, Defends Trip to Syria


U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are visiting Lebanon amid intensive diplomatic activity and attempts to resume Arab-Israeli peace talks. Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Beirut.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her bi-partisan delegation paid a symbolic visit to the tomb of slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri, before meeting top Lebanese officials.

Pelosi defended her visit to Syria, planned for Tuesday, which has come under criticism from the White House. Pelosi said it was quote "important" to hold a dialogue with Damascus and to "discuss its role in supporting Hezbollah and Hamas."

"We [will] go there [Syria] and will be talking about the overarching issue, the fight against terrorism and the role that Syria can play to help or to hinder that goal," she said.

She made no apologies for the trip, insisting that it was beneficial to the U.S. national interests.

"The purpose of the trip is part of our responsibility for the national security of the United States. We are here to see how we can make the world safer and to fight terrorism," said Pelosi.

The U.S. congressional delegation met with both sides in Lebanon's four-month old governmental crisis, including Pro-Syrian Speaker Nabih Berri, as well as the leader of Lebanon's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority Sa'ad Hariri, and Prime Minister Fouad Saniora.

During a visit to Israel during the weekend, Pelosi met with the families of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerillas this past summer. She is expected to raise the issue of the capture soldiers with Lebanese officials.

Bit Pelosi and her delegation have no plans to meet with leaders of the pro-Syrian Hezbollah, which is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

Beirut's An Nahra newspaper says Pelosi is visiting Beirut in a bid to "counterbalance tomorrow's controversial visit to Syria."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is the current President of the European Union, also made a whirlwind stop in Beirut, in her words, "to express Europe's support for the government of Prime Minister Saniora."

She was given a warm welcome by the prime minister at Beirut Airport, discussing the current political stand-off with Lebanese leaders, before heading off to inspect a German naval task force that is patrolling Lebanese waters for the UN.

Chancellor Merkel told a press conference with Prime Minister Saniora that Germany is also helping Lebanon to control its borders with Syria, to prevent arms smuggling.