BEIRUT: Top U.S. official Jeffrey Feltman has urged Lebanon to re-evaluate its long-term policies given developments in the region, particularly neighbouring Syria.
During an interview with Al-Arabiya television aired Thursday, Feltman, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, said Lebanon should not isolate itself anymore but rather keep up with the upcoming peaceful transition of rule in Syria.
He also said that Lebanon’s rival political parties, regardless of their relationship with President Bashar Assad, recognized the need to think in a strategic manner and to keep up with a changed Syria, far different than the previous Syria that he said had caused many problems for Lebanon.
Lebanese political factions are split over the crisis in neighboring Syria: the March 14 coalition staunchly supporting the anti-government movement while the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance voice Damascus’ version of events of the unrest – that “armed gangs” backed by foreigners are seeking to topple Assad's rule.
The U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed as a result of the violent security crackdown on protesters. Syria said Thursday some 2,000 members of the army and security forces had been killed since unrest began in mid-March.
During the interview with journalist Gisele Khoury, Feltman spoke about his recent visit to Lebanon and said Lebanese officials had expressed their wishes to remain neutral on the Syria crisis in a bid to isolate the country from developments in the region.
Feltman, who served as ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2008, met with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and a range of politicians from the government and the March 14 coalition earlier in the month.
During the interview with Al-Arabiya, Feltman was quoted as saying that Lebanon’s neutral policy would not be easy to maintain and that Assad would not stay in Syria forever, given that he could not meet the demands of the Syrian people.
The United States and Western countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Syria and have called on Assad to step down.
On Monday, Syria said it had signed a protocol to allow an observer mission into the country. An advance team is already in Damascus.
Hours after Damascus signed the protocol, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said he hoped the regional organization would now lift its punitive sanctions on Syria after Damascus failed to implement the Arab League initiative of November that calls for an end to the violent crackdown on protesters, the release of political prisoners and the complete withdrawal of the military from the streets.
This article was amended on Friday, December 23 2011
The original article stated that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffery Feltman had urged Lebanon to abandon its policy of neutrality toward the crisis in Syria. Feltman in fact urged Lebanon to re-evaluate its long-term policies given developments in the region, particularly neighbouring Syria.