Bloomberg: The Bush administration today accused Iran and Syria of plotting to depose the government of U.S.- backed Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. By Janine Zacharia
Nov. 1 (Bloomberg) — The Bush administration today accused Iran and Syria of plotting to depose the government of U.S.- backed Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
The U.S. is “increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon’s democratically elected government,” the White House said in a statement.
The Bush administration said there are “indications” Syria is trying to disrupt passage of a statute by the Lebanese government permitting an international tribunal to try those accused of involvement in former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. The U.S. statement noted that an international tribunal can be established “no matter what happens in Lebanon.”
Siniora’s removal could mean a resurgence of Syrian power in its former client state, more influence for the Islamist movement Hezbollah and increased tension along Lebanon’s border with Israel. Hezbollah’s influence over southern Lebanon was curtailed after a 33-day conflict with Israel that was ended by a United Nations-brokered truce in August.
Syria’s ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha, called the White House statement “ridiculously silly,” and denied Syria was trying to interfere in Lebanese affairs. Whether to endorse an international tribunal is “a purely domestic, Lebanese issue,” he said in a telephone interview. “Syria has nothing to do with this.”
Moustapha said Syria has “no position whatsoever” on whether to have a tribunal. “We have said repeatedly that we are committed to cooperating, to finding those who committed these terrible crimes,” he added.
Syrian intelligence officials, including President Bashar al-Assad’s brother and brother-in-law, have been implicated in the attack, which is being investigated by UN-appointed officials. Syria has denied any involvement.
The Feb. 14, 2005, Beirut truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in Beirut triggered public outrage that forced Syria to withdraw its troops from neighboring Lebanon. The April 2005 withdrawal ended a 29-year presence and led to an election victory that gave the anti-Syrian political bloc a majority in Lebanon’s parliament.
President George W. Bush demonstrated his backing for Siniora by hosting him at the White House in April. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has visited Lebanon twice to express American support.
The White House statement followed a visit earlier this week to Washington by Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze minority, who is a sharp critic of Syrian meddling in Lebanese affairs.
Jumblatt, who was also critical of Hezbollah’s cross-border raid into Israel, met with Vice President Dick Cheney and Rice. Hezbollah’s incursion — in which two Israeli soldiers were taken captive and three were killed — triggered the war in July and August that killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and 159 in Israel.
David Schenker, a senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the White House statement reflected the situation on the ground. Syria and Iran are encouraging Hezbollah to hold mass protests next week demanding enough cabinet seats to replace the government. Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal hold five out of 24 seats.
“Hezbollah has been saying they want to bring down the Siniora government, that they want a national unity government, which means more pro-Syrian influence,” Schenker said.