Lebanon News

New American policies coming, embassy says

AWKAR, Lebanon: The coming weeks will see change in U.S. policies toward the Middle East materialize in line with a key address by President Barack Obama, a U.S. diplomat in Lebanon said Friday.

The change will feature in the rhetoric of American government officials, as well as U.S. programs in the Middle East, according to Ryan Gliha, chief of media affairs at the U.S. Embassy.

Gliha, who led a round table discussion at the embassy on Thursday’s speech by Obama, said the people’s right to freedom of speech through peaceful movements remains a top priority on the U.S. administration’s agenda, in parallel to Washington’s priorities of maintaining stability and security in the region.

“Security and stability are still important to us but we add to these priorities new ones relating to the people’s right to peaceful movements,” Gliha said.

Although the U.S. is neither capable of determining the outcome of change movements sweeping the Middle East nor of dictating the course of events, according to Gliha, the Obama administration will not relinquish its support for economic and political reforms in the Arab world.

“The path to democracy is not easy but we will pursue efforts and assistance to achieve these democratic goals in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and elsewhere,” Gliha said.

After Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the wave of popular demands for change in the Arab world recently unfolding in Syria requires President Bashar Assad to undertake reforms or face further U.S. sanctions, according to Gliha.

However, the spokesman at the U.S. Embassy refused to speculate with regard to any future steps if Assad fails to act, dismissing for the moment military intervention.

Gliha said the lack of consensus between members of the Arab League and within the United Nations prevented the possibility of military intervention in Syria similar to Libya.

The unrest in Syria and its impact on border security with Lebanon was among issues Secretary of State Assistant for Middle Eastern Affairs Jeffery Feltman was tasked to discuss with Lebanon’s top officials.

According to Gliha, Feltman’s visit to Beirut was aimed at conveying to Lebanese officials the U.S. new policies in the Middle East as announced in Obama’s speech.

As for the government formation, Feltman was expected to reiterate that the U.S. administration would determine its position vis-a-vis the new Cabinet based on its makeup, policy statement and cooperation with the international community when it comes to Lebanon’s commitment, Gilha added.

Stressing the continued U.S. support for Lebanon, Gliha denied Hezbollah’s accusations that the U.S. was putting pressure on Lebanese officials to obstruct the government formation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned back in January that a “Hezbollah-controlled” government would impact U.S.-Lebanese ties.

“A Hezbollah-controlled government would impact on our bilateral relationship with Lebanon,” Clinton told reporters in an appearance on January 25, after Hezbollah and its allies toppled Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet following his failure to cut his government’s ties with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, investigation the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2011, on page 2.

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