Vice President Joseph Biden is in Lebanon today...the second highest US official to visit in 25 years. His trip follows a stop by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month, prompting the militant group Hezbollah to accuse the US of trying to influence the June 7 elections. The World's Aaron Schachter reports.
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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Vice President Joe Biden was in Lebanon today. He met with political leaders there and said the United States supports the country's independence. But the visit also came just two weeks before key parliamentary elections in Lebanon. That affected the tone of Mr. Biden's visit, as The World's Aaron Schachter reports from Beirut.
AARON SCHACHTER: Vice-President Biden's trip marks the highest-level visit here by a US official in more than 25 years. It comes, not coincidentally, two weeks before elections that many believe could shift power from a Western-backed coalition to a Syrian and Iranian-backed one led by the militant Islamic group Hezbollah. The US sees Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and a tool for Iran's ambitions in the region. Hezbollah accuses the US of meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs. Biden today rejected that.
JOE BIDEN: I do not come here to back any particular party or any particular person. I come to demonstrate strong United States backing for certain fundamental principles. The principle that the Lebanese people alone â€“ the Lebanese people alone â€“ should choose their leaders, a principle that Lebanese sovereignty cannot and will not be traded away.
SCHACHTER: In another attempt to steer clear of political divisions, Biden met with Lebanon's neutral President, with the pro-Western Prime Minister and with the Hezbollah-allied Parliament speaker. But it's unlikely this visit was viewed by anyone as non-partisan.
RAMI KHOURI: The likelihood is that Biden's visit, like Hillary Clinton a few weeks ago, is simply going to aggravate tensions rather than do anything else.
SCHACHTER: Rami Khouri heads the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut.
KHOURI: The American government wants to show its support for its allies in the region, but in most places where the US has intervened in situations where you have local strife like in Lebanon or in Palestine, the American intervention has generated stronger resistance by the people who are critical of the US and has made the anti-American group stronger in many ways.
SCHACHTER: That's a worrisome scenario for Lebanon's US-backed ruling coalition, which currently holds only a narrow majority. But in the political climate of Lebanon, everyone accuses the â€œother guysâ€ of meddling. So Joshua Landis says the US might as well make its presence felt to its allies. He's the director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and author of an influential blog called â€œSyria Commentâ€.
JOSHUA LANDIS: Politicians in these elections are looking to see, â€œShould I go with the pro-western American support, or is America no longer interested in Lebanon? Are they going to throw us under the bus as they engage with Syria and Iran?â€
SCHACHTER: Today, Vice-President Biden suggested the US would review its financial aid to Lebanon depending on the composition of the next government. The US has provided Lebanon with hundreds of millions of dollars in the last three years. Far from being intimidated, Hezbollah today held a mass rally in southern Lebanon to mark the departure 9 years ago of occupying Israeli forces. For The World, I'm Aaron Schachter, in Beirut.