U.S.-Lebanese ties boosted by Al Qaida arrests

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The United States has rewarded Lebanon for it cooperation in the Bush administration's war on terrorism..

U.S. officials said the capture of nearly 50 suspected Al Qaida-aligned insurgents over the last three months has significantly bolstered Washington's confidence in Lebanese security. The officials said the arrests also revived security cooperation between the two countries.

On Friday, the State Department reopened the U.S. consulate in Beirut in a move that will allow Lebanese to apply for visas in their country. The consulate was closed in 1984 in wake of a Hizbullah car-bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Middle East Newsline reported.

"This is a new chapter in Lebanese-U.S. relations," U.S. ambassador to Beirut, Vincent Battle, said. "This consular building is our small contribution to that return to normalcy, and a sign that American-Lebanese relations continue to grow. U.S.-Lebanese relations need continued support, especially on our mutual goal of ending terrorism, to remain strong."

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Officials said the State Department has been working with the Lebanese government to improve security over the last decade in wake of the 15-year civil war. They said over the last few months, particularly since the war in Iraq, Beirut has significantly improved cooperation with the United States.

The consulate, which will launch services on June 9, was opened in a ceremony attended by Battle and Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California. Officials said the decision to reopen the consulate was also meant to facilitate visa applications by Lebanese within their country, rather than traveling to neighboring Syria or the Republic of Cyprus. Syria deploys about 16,000 soldiers in Lebanon.

"Most importantly, it will make a powerful statement to the people of this country that the United States views Lebanon as a sovereign, independent and free nation," Issa said.

Issa said he has offered to work with his colleagues in Congress to provide aid to Lebanon if Beirut works to further improve cooperation with the United States. The House member cited the need to remove Hizbullah forces and weapons from the Lebanese border with Israel and work for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.

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