Washington raised concerns about attempts by Syria and its allies in Lebanon, like Hizbullah and Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun, to impede the formation of a national unity government.
A high-ranking U.S. official, speaking in Washington to An-Nahar newspaper's correspondent Hisham Milhem, saw this as part of a "pattern designed to undermine the democratic institutions of Lebanon."
"Syria's friends in Lebanon don't want to accept the results of democracy which they claim they praise," the official said.
He mentioned that U.S. President Barack Obama seeks to "improve and normalize relations with Syria."
"The Syrians are mistaken if they think that their relations with us will not be affected as a result of what they are doing in Lebanon ... President Obama wants to improve relations with Syria, but it would be impossible if Syria and its friends in Lebanon continue to cripple the democratic institutions," the official added.
The official reiterated Obama's as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's commitment to Lebanon's sovereignty and independence. His remarks were translated into English by Naharnet.
He also restated the Obama Administration's determination to continue providing support for Lebanon and helping out at the political, economic and military levels.
Moreover, the official talked about the "deep support" for Lebanon from both Congress and the White House, as well as from Democrats and Republicans.
The official stressed that Washington will not "interfere" in Cabinet formation. "This is a Lebanese issue," he insisted.
He pointed to the fears of some Lebanese circles from Syrian-American contacts, saying: "I know that certain Lebanese circles are under the impression that President Obama's sincere commitment to improve relations with Syria will come at the expense of Lebanon... The reality is we want to improve relations with Damascus in a way that would also serve the interests of Lebanon."
"I hope that the Syrians know there are limits to the improvement of relations with the United States," the official said, but warned that "if signs indicated Syrian intervention in Lebanon and in the event there was a return to previous practices as if the military withdrawal did not happen, then exchange of ambassadors will not take place."
When asked about Syrian meddling and other kinds of intervention, the official replied: "We all know who Wiam Wahab is. Wiam Wahab is everywhere. But it seems that the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon has disappeared."
He expressed dismay because Syria did not keep pledges it has made to the United States on Lebanon, including the demarcation of the border.
Turning to Hizbullah, he said Washington is aware that the Shiite group has "influence in Lebanon with a base and deputies and alliances and also has military forces on the ground."
"But it seems that Lebanese sovereignty or democratic governance is not acceptable in some circles," the official pointed.
"Hizbullah's arsenal is a tool in the hands of a foreign power, and Hizbullah is ready to use its military forces to protect this foreign force regardless of Lebanon's wellbeing," a reference to Iran.
This article was first posted on August 25, 2009 at www.reformsyria.org
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