Bolton: Future of Mideast 'may well be decided' in days

Monday, November 27, 2006

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 year.

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 massive protests.

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.

Copyright 2006 East West Services, Inc.

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