WASHINGTON (AFP) – US officials urged Lebanon’s Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun to back a broad, reform-minded coalition for his country but renewed their opposition to the militant Islamist group Hezbollah. Former Prime minister Aoun,  and now a member of the Lebanese parliament, met with senior US officials as part of a two-week visit to the United States begun on November 14.He conferred with David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and was meeting later Wednesday with Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, number three in the State Department.

A State Department official, who asked not to be named, said the talks covered the investigation into the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.Also discussed was this week’s violence on the Lebanese-Israeli border and UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah as well as an end to the Syrian presence in Lebanon. "We are encouraging … General Aoun to support a broad coalition of political parties as Lebanon struggles to implement political economic and constitutional reforms," the official said.

But the official made it clear this did not include Hezbollah, which has scored well in parliamentary elections and holds the energy portfolio in the Beirut government.

"We are going to emphasize in the two meetings with the general that the US lists Hezbollah as a designated terrorist organization," the official said.

Aoun, who was interim prime minister of a Christian-led government during the Lebanese civil war before being forced into exile for 15 years by a Syrian-backed offensive, has excellent ties with Washington.

He said he had come to the United States to thank Washington for its help in forcing Syrian troops out of Lebanon in April, and denied he was seeking US support to eventually succeed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

"It was not the goal of my trip. I am categorical on this," Aoun told AFP after his talks with Welch.