WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is facing a foreign policy crisis in Lebanon where the Iran-backed Hizbullah and Syria threaten to topple the weakened democratic government in Beirut.
"The future of the Middle East, certainly the future of Lebanon may well
be decided in the next several days," U.S. envoy to the United Nations John
Bolton told BBC radio. "A successful re-emergence of democracy there is
being directly challenged by the terrorist Hizbullah and those who support
them, Syria, Iran and others."
The U.S. dilemma is whether or not to provide up to $200 million in military aid to Lebanon over the next
Officials said the State Department intends to determine the stability
of the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora before the aid is
sent to Beirut, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the assassination of Trade Minister Pierre Gemayel
and the resulting unrest could lead to a delay in U.S. weapons to Lebanon.
"The nightmare is that we help build a military that is taken over by
Hizbullah or Syria," an official said.
On Saturday, the Siniora government approved a proposed international
tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister
Rafik Hariri in 2005. The decision came amid warnings by Hizbullah of
Under the administration plan, the United States would provide at least
300 Humvee combat vehicles to the Lebanese Army over the next few months.
Officials said this could be followed by additional U.S. military surplus to
Lebanon, including air defense systems and air platforms.
So far, the administration has focused on training Lebanese military
officers and demining southern Lebanon in the wake of the Israel-Hizbullah
war. Officials said Washington has helped remove about 50,000 pieces of
unexploded ordnance in Lebanon, or about half of the estimated total.
"There's a major problem with unexploded ordnance on the ground and our
efforts to help remove that are also proceeding very rapidly," U.S. Agency
for International Development administrator Randall Tobias said on Nov. 15.
"At the time I was there, the estimate was that we had removed or assisted
in the removal of about 50,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance."
Officials said the administration has allocated $250 million for
humanitarian and reconstruction in wake of the war, which ended on Aug. 14.
They said about $100 million has been sent to Lebanon as a first step until
a donor conference in Paris in January 2007.