Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora announced his Cabinet yesterday, offering Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim militant group considered a terrorist organization by Washington, its first ministerial post ever.
The decision poses a diplomatic dilemma for the United States, which welcomes the new Lebanese government but will not meet with members of listed terrorist organizations.
“To the extent that there are active members of a foreign terrorist organization in a government, then our ability to interact and work with those individuals is circumscribed,” said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli yesterday.
Mr. Ereli said the presence of Mohammed Fneish as energy minister in the 24-member Cabinet will not prevent Washington from working closely with the Cabinet as a whole.
“We’ll deal with the government of Lebanon to the fullest extent possible,” a State Department official said later.
The Cabinet, which was approved by President Emile Lahoud after three previous lineups were rejected, is the first elected government since Syria ended its three-decade military presence in April.
“It is a coherent team … chosen to overcome the challenges confronting Lebanon. It is excellent that Hezbollah is in the government. … It has a strong popular base and must be represented,” Mr. Saniora said yesterday in Beirut.
Mr. Fneish is expected to be endorsed by parliament, where Mr. Saniora has a majority.
The Bush administration on the whole welcomed the government’s formation.
“We believe that this is a positive and important step forward that reflects and is responsive to the will and desires of the Lebanese people as expressed through historic elections,” said Mr. Ereli.
Another name on Mr. Saniora’s list, Foreign Minster-designate Fawzi Salukh, is said to be a Hezbollah sympathizer, but that does not disqualify him from contacts with the United States, Mr. Ereli said.
Washington does not meet only with “active members” of terrorist organizations, Mr. Ereli said.
In Lebanon’s first election since Damascus ended its military presence in April, an anti-Syria coalition led by Saad Hariri, son of assassinated former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri, won a majority of the votes.
Of the new ministers, 15 were said to be Hariri loyalists and five pro-Syrian.
Michel Aoun, leader of the largest Christian bloc in the 128-member parliament, refused to join the government after his demand for four ministries was rejected.
The United States and some Lebanese politicians accuse Syria of continuing to meddle in Lebanon’s internal affairs by maintaining intelligence agents on its territory and contributing to instability and insecurity.
Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Syria to “knock it off.”
Mr. Saniora said yesterday that he would visit Damascus in the very near future.
“I have made it clear that as soon as the Cabinet receives a vote of confidence, I will immediately visit our sisterly neighbor Syria and remove all the causes for the lukewarm ties,” he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports