Last updated: 23 October, 2012

Washington wants new government in Lebanon without Syrian influence

The United States said Tuesday it backs efforts to form a new governing coalition in Lebanon, after last week’s deadly bomb blast in Beirut plunged the country into political crisis.

“We support the efforts of President (Michel) Suleiman and other responsible leaders in Lebanon to build an effective government and to take the necessary next steps in the wake of the October 19th terrorist attack,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The car bombing in Beirut killed police intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan, who led a series of probes linking the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to political assassinations in Lebanon.

Asked specifically if Washington supported a change of government in the country, Nuland said: “President Suleiman is engaged in discussions with all parties to form a new government. We support that process.”

“In the interim, we don’t want to see a vacuum,” she added.

“The export of instability from Syria threatens the security of Lebanon now more than ever, and it’s really up to the Lebanese people to choose a government that is going to counter this threat.”

Nuland’s remarks echoed those of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who on Tuesday also expressed concern about Lebanon’s stability.

The bombing has raised fears about unrest in the country, which is divided between supporters and opponents of Assad, whose country supervised its small neighbor for nearly 30 years.

Hassan’s murder also has provoked a political crisis, with a Syria-hostile opposition calling for the resignation of the government dominated by the Syrian-backed Hezbollah.

The opposition — which has blamed Damascus for Hassan’s killing — has announced that its delegates would boycott all meetings with the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati until he steps down.

Mikati expressed a desire to step down but said Saturday he would stay at the request of Suleiman in the “national interest.”

While it supports the opposition, the international community reacted by backing Mikati amid fears of a political void.

On Monday, the ambassadors of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States expressed their “unequivocal condemnation of any attempt to destabilize Lebanon through political assassination”.

Also on Monday, the United States said it would send a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) team to Lebanon to assist in the investigation of Hassan’s murder. Nuland said Tuesday the team would be sent “shortly”.