AP: A top State Department official informed Congress on Thursday that Iranian cadre were training Hezbollah fighters
in Lebanon. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told the House International Relations Committee the information was provided by “our own sources.”
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON – A top State Department official informed Congress on Thursday that Iranian cadre were training Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.
Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told the House International Relations Committee the information was provided by “our own sources.”
Welch also testified there was “a continuing covert Syrian presence there” despite the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
And, Welch said, there are armed Palestinian groups in Lebanon, as well.
Welch said the United States would have no contact with Lebanon’s energy and water minister, Mohammed Fneish, who is a member of Hezbollah.
The State Department official reiterated the long-standing U.S. determination that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. The group is known to operate with weapons provided by Iran that are channeled to it through Syria, which borders Lebanon.
Asked by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., whether Iranian cadre were training Hezbollah in Lebanon, Welch replied, “Yes.”
“There continues to be an Iranian presence in association with Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he said.
Welch said the Lebanese army should extend its authority to southern Lebanon and the militia groups should be disarmed.
But on Wednesday, the leader of Hezbollah said no one can uproot the Shiite Muslim group. “The resistance in Lebanon is not an armed gang that can be hit or eradicated,” he told supporters in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora pledged to protect Hezbollah, saying the Lebanese government considers it “an honest and natural expression” of resistance to Israeli aggression and threats.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., called the statement “profoundly disturbing.” He said he was not aware of any Israeli threats to Lebanon.
Welch agreed. Challenging Saniora, whose government has the Bush administration’s support, Welch said “there is no part of Lebanon occupied by Israel.”
“I don’t know what they would be resisting,” he said.
“Hezbollah admits its material support for Palestinian terrorist operations, which undermines the Palestinian leadership’s goal of stopping violence in israel and the Palestinian territories,” Welch said.
Still, Welch and James Kunder, an assistant adminstrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the administration had asked Congress to approve $35 million in U.S. aid and $1.7 million in other support.
He said plans would be made for an international donors conference in Beirut this fall.