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US Envoy in Lebanon Discusses War on Terror, Support for Arafat - 2001-12-14


U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns is assuring Middle East leaders of Washington's support for a Palestinian state while declaring the Bush administration's commitment to the war against terrorism.

U.S. envoy William Burns is in Lebanon to, among other things, express the Bush administration's concerns regarding the militant group Hezbollah.

Mr. Burns arrived in Beirut from Syria Thursday night and visited with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Mr. Burns said he is stressing the Bush administration's determination to continue the fight against international terrorist groups.

He said the U.S. will continue its dialogue on terrorism with Syria and Lebanon and "continue to look for ways to work together."

Hezbollah is a radical Lebanese Shiite movement backed by Lebanon, Syria and Iran, and all three remain on the U.S. State Department's list of countries that sponsor state terrorism.

While in Syria Mr. Burns met with President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. envoy said the two discussed Syria's relationship with the Palestinian radical groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However he declined to disclose the specifics of those discussions. Mr. Burns told reporters his talks were useful and constructive.

The Syrian president was quoted as saying he hoped the United States would play a more active role in bringing a halt to what he called Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

Mr. Burns made clear the U.S. position regarding Israel's decision to cut ties with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Burns said the Bush administration considers President Arafat to be the leader of the Palestinian people and said, "We will continue to work with the Palestinian leadership as it must make the very difficult choices involved and move against the extremist groups who," he said, "threaten the interests of the Palestinian people."

Mr. Burns is scheduled to meet Friday with Lebanon's parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud.

As one of two U.S. envoys sent to the Middle East in hopes of restarting peace negotiations in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Mr. Burns is focusing on the issue of terrorism associated with the conflict while his counterpart, Anthony Zinni, remains in Israel to discuss getting the two sides back to the negotiating table.