Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri Seeks from White House Visit

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri Seeks from White House Visit

Article excerpt

In his first official White House visit, Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri is looking for President Obama to help ease tensions with Israel. His coalition government includes a member of Hezbollah, whose fighters say they are readying for a fresh war.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with President Barack Obama today for talks that were expected to focus on recent tensions between US ally Israel and Lebanon's militant Shiite organization, Hezbollah.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday that the two leaders would discuss "a broad range of mutual goals in support of Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, regional peace and security.

Supporting Lebanon was a cornerstone of the Bush administration's Middle East policy, particularly following the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad's father, when the tiny Mediterranean country broke briefly from neighboring Syria's tight grip.

President Obama's administration has been focused on drawing Syria out of Iran's orbit and lessening its support for Hezbollah. But recent US and Israeli allegations that Syria has been transferring Scud rockets to Hezbollah's control have brought Lebanon back toward the center of Washington's radar screen.

Scud allegations raise tensions

Scuds have a range of more than 400 miles, bringing all of Israel within range from Hezbollah's bases in the Bekaa Valley. US officials who asked not be named say it is unclear whether the rockets have crossed into Lebanon or whether they are still inside Syria.

The speculation over the Scuds has aggravated tensions with Israel. Many Lebanese and Israelis fear that another war could be brewing. This week Israel launched military exercises that made Israelis jittery and drew fresh vows from Hezbollah fighters that they stand ready to fight.

While Israel has invaded Lebanon before, Hezbollah's leaders say that the group is stronger than ever and thus a fresh conflict would be of sufficient scale and intensity to change the geopolitical balance in the region. …

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