The United States warned Monday that a dominate role in the next Lebanese government for the pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement would be "problematic" for U.S.-Lebanon relations. Hezbollah has long been on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
U.S. officials are closely monitoring the political maneuvering in Beirut, and they are serving notice that the larger the role Hezbollah has in a new government, the more difficult it will be for the U.S.- Lebanon relationship.
The United States strongly supported the fallen government of the now-caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and the U.N.-backed international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The tribunal issued a long-awaited, but still secret, indictment in the case last week and Hezbollah figures are widely expected to be named in it.
The United States has long listed the pro-Iran Shi'ite militia and political party as a terrorist organization, blaming it for two 1980s bomb attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beirut.
With a Hezbollah-backed candidate, businessman Najib Mikati, emerging as the likely successor to Saad Hariri, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States will reserve judgment until a new government is formed. He made clear, however, U.S. apprehension about a broader Hezbollah role.
"We’ll wait to see what the government looks like, who is involved in that government, and what the policies of that government will be, and we’ll evaluate what the impact on our relationship will be," said Crowley. "All I’m saying, which is obvious, is that we have great concerns about Hezbollah. We see it as a terrorist organization. And the larger the role played by Hezbollah in this government, the more problematic it is for the relationship between the United States and Lebanon."
Crowley said it is "hard to imagine" any new Lebanese government being truly representative of the entire country if it backs away from its support of the Hariri tribunal, as Hezbollah has demanded.
He said the United States wants to see a government that serves the interests of the Lebanese people and not the government of another country - an apparent reference to Iran, which helped found and supports Hezbollah.
Crowley said there is every indication that the ongoing deliberations in Beirut are in line with the country’s constitutional process and that the United States would not want to see any factions resort to violence.
Hezbollah members, who took to the streets in previous cabinet crises in 2006 and 2008, have staged marches in recent days. Some Hariri supporters have accused Hezbollah of, in effect, staging a coup, and have called for a "day of anger" protest Tuesday.
Because of Hezbollah’s terrorist listing by the United States, the rise of a government dominated by the group could jeopardize U.S. aid for Lebanon.
The United States has been aiding the Lebanese armed forces as a counterweight to Hezbollah, a program that is unpopular among Congressional Republicans and some Democrats.