Pull out your spies from Lebanon, U.S. tells Syria

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DEAD SEA, Jordan (Reuters) – The United States said on Friday Syria must pull out all its intelligence agents from Lebanon, and accused Iran of funnelling “millions of dollars per month” to Hizbollah guerrillas.

“Pulling out military forces is not enough. You have to pull out all your intelligence agents,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told reporters during a World Economic Forum regional meeting in Jordan.

Under huge world and Lebanese pressure following the February killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Syria last month pulled its troops from Lebanon, which it entered in the early days of the 1975-1990 civil war.

But Scott Carpenter, deputy assistant secretary of state, said Syria was still meddling in Lebanon despite the pullout.

“We still remain deeply concerned about the level of interference and continued manipulation (by Syria) on the part of the security and intelligence services within Lebanon,” Carpenter said.

“We will continue, as the international community, to put pressure to make sure those connections are also withdrawn or suspended,” he said.

The remarks by Zoellick and Carpenter come as Lebanon prepares to hold parliamentary elections starting on May 29, the first in 30 years without Syrian troops present in the country.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Thursday that Damascus had no influence over Lebanon’s daily political life since its withdrawal.

Carpenter told a panel discussion on Lebanon that Washington was monitoring Syrian troop movements to make sure they don’t return.

“We need to make sure that the temptation to re-enter through the back door, the side door, the basement, the roof, the window left open are kept at bay.”


Carpenter also reiterated calls for Hizbollah to disarm, as stipulated under U.N. Security Council resolution 1559.

The resolution, sponsored by the United States and France last September, called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and “for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militia”.

Branded a “terrorist” organisation by Washington, the group has broad support among Lebanon’s large Shi’ite community for helping end Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in 2000. It has several elected members of parliament and runs welfare services as well as an armed militia.

Hizbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, is the only Lebanese group to openly keep its arms after the end of the civil war.

“Resolution 1559 states very clearly that groups within Lebanon have to be disarmed … The international community through the Security Council resolution has been very clear and Hizbollah must disarm,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter, who said the forthcoming elections will help Lebanon become a “normal country”, also had harsh words for Iran, accusing the Islamic republic of funnelling “millions of dollars per month” into Hizbollah.

“We will continue to put a good deal of pressure on both Syria and Iran to stop funding and providing support for Hizbollah,” he said.

Israel accuses Hizbollah of training Palestinian militants behind suicide attacks against Israelis.