Washington, Paris in agreement Syria not part of Lebanon solution- US official
WASHINGTON, June 29 (NNN-KUNA) -- A US official has said that Washington and Paris share the same perspective that Damascus should be excluded from the ongoing international effort to overcome the deadlock in the Lebanese political crisis.
Director of the Office of Egypt and Levant Affairs in the State Department Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley said Thursday the United States and France "continue to work closely together" on the Lebanese issue and both agree that "we should talk to the Lebanese not the Syrians" to resolve the ongoing political crisis.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met earlier this week in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
In an exclusive interview with KUNA, Abercrombie-Winstanley described the meeting between Rice and Siniora as "important" reiterating the administration's support for the Lebanese prime minister who "has handled these amazing numbers of crises that emerged last year".
"Both parties took the opportunity to update personally about what is going on Lebanon," she added, noting that the United States is committed "to the democratically elected government of Lebanon and to assist the Lebanese people as they navigate through the crisis".
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is leading a shuttle diplomacy to bring representatives of rival Lebanese political figures to Paris in mid July to meet for the first time since national dialogue broke down last summer.
She said there are no high and low expectations for the upcoming Paris conference. "We should wait and see," she added.
Abercrombie-Winstanley said the United States is not looking for the formation of a new unity government but still support "whatever the Lebanese decide to do".
"If there is an agreement that both parties can reach and this government is accepting them, we obviously would support that," she noted.
"We are not saying you do this, you do not do that," she concluded.
The US official addressed as well the upcoming Lebanese presidential elections next September emphasizing that it "needs to be held on time".
"We recognise that there are rumours and discussions out there about what can happen between now and then," she added, noting that these elections should be conducted in "a straightforward, legitimate fashion and as successful as possible".
With all the worst case scenarios about what could happen in Lebanon, Abercrombie-Winstanley said she is not worried Lebanon would slip away, saying that US commitment to Lebanon is "strong and unprecedented".
Yet, Abercrombie-Winstanley expressed concern over the "very troubling" attack on UN forces known as "UNIFIL" in Lebanon. Six Spanish army peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were killed last Sunday in a roadside bomb south of Lebanon.
"We condemn any such attack on a body that is trying to help the Lebanese people maintain safety and security," she added.
The mission of UNIFIL was expanded on Aug 11, 2006 to meet the requirements of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the Israeli war on Lebanon. "We are very sorrowful for the loss of lives of those soldiers killed and we are very much gratified" that Spain decided to maintain its role in peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon.
The UNIFIL comprises over 13,000 peacekeepers from over 130 countries. Its current mandate will end next August.
Abercrombie-Winstanley said that the Security Council could review the mandate of UNIFIL in the coming months to see how this peacekeeping force should address the problems on the ground.
She said that the United States still does not know who was behind this attack, adding that these sort of political and security pressures since last year on Lebanon at large and the Lebanese government in particular are "often tied to those who support Syria".
A stream of scattered explosives are raging Lebanon in the past period, as the political crisis is still not resolved. "These events help destabilize Lebanon, prevent it from getting back to the task of pulling the country together and getting it economically sound," she added.
"While we have not pointed specific fingers, we recognise who benefit from this lack of stability within Lebanon, and that is Syria," she added.
Abercrombie-Winstanley said there is "no definitive answer" now on how much al-Qaeda is rapidly growing in Lebanon. "It is something to be watched," she added.
Abercrombie-Winstanley noticed that there are "lot of different centres of tension within Lebanon that have to be managed by the government".
"Our support is for unity of Lebanon and the ability of its government to enforce this unity through the Lebanese armed forces," she added.
The Lebanese army is still leading for the 40th consecutive day a fierce battle against al-Qaeda inspired militant in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp north of Lebanon, causing so far the death of over 85 soldiers, 200 militants and 20 civilians.
She said that the Lebanese army "has been a unifying force for the people of Lebanon" and should do the job a national army is supposed to do, which is to keep the country together.
The US official said that the Syrian-Lebanese borders should be monitored, suggesting international security experts or greater number of custom officials.
A UN report released last Thursday after three weeks of assessment mission recommended better monitoring and control of the Lebanese-Syrian border calling for "the deployment of international security experts", a step highly contested by Syria.
"Whatever it takes, there are variety of ways it can be addressed," she added, asking Syria to monitor its side of the border and respect US resolution 1701.