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U.S. wants new Lebanon government free of Syria influence

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday threw its support behind efforts by Lebanon's president to form a new government in the aftermath of last week's deadly car bombing in Beirut that many blame on Syria or its ally, Hezbollah.

The State Department said the United States thinks it is time for the Lebanese people to choose a government that will counter the threat posed by the civil war in neighboring Syria, like Friday's bombing that killed an anti-Syrian intelligence official. But it also warned against any leadership changes leaving the country with a power vacuum.

"The export of instability from Syria threatens the security of Lebanon now more than ever," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

She said U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly is meeting with Lebanese politicians this week to get a sense of what might be possible as President Michel Suleiman looks to revamp the government that is now dominated by the militant Shiite Hezbollah movement, a Syrian and Iranian proxy that the United States has designated a foreign terrorist organization.

"We've been making clear that we support the efforts of President Suleiman and other responsible leaders in Lebanon to build an effective government and to take the necessary next steps in the wake of the Oct. 19 terrorist attack," Nuland said.

The comments signaled that the United States thinks government change may be realistic, given anger over the bombing.

Friday's assassination of intelligence officer Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan has stirred up sectarian violence in Lebanon, where people are deeply divided between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. Syria has intervened heavily in Lebanese affairs during the past decades and is blamed for the deaths of many prominent critics.

U.S. wants new Lebanon government free of Syria influence 10/23/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 10:58pm]

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