Obama voices support for embattled Lebanon PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama expressed solidarity with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in talks on Wednesday amid the collapse of his coalition government in Beirut.

Obama and Hariri urged all parties to refrain from causing further instability, and the White House charged that Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Lebanon’s government showed its “own fear.”

Obama also stressed the importance of a U.N. special tribunal “to help end the era of political assassinations with impunity in Lebanon.”

Ministers from the Hezbollah Islamist movement and its allies resigned while Hariri met Obama at the White House, toppling the government before expected indictments against the Shi’ite group over the 2005 killing of Hariri’s father.

Hariri cut his trip short and flew back to Lebanon right after talks with Obama.

“The efforts by the Hezbollah-led coalition to collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate their own fear and determination to block the government’s ability to conduct its business and advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people,” the White House said in a statement.

“The president and prime minister reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, implementing all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and continuing a wide-ranging and long-term partnership between the United States and Lebanon,” it said.

“The president and prime minister specifically discussed united efforts with France, Saudi Arabia, and other key international and regional actors to maintain calm in Lebanon and ensure that the work of the Tribunal continues unimpeded by third parties,” the White House said. “All parties should avoid threats or actions that could cause instability.”

Lebanese politicians had said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia and Syria had failed to reach a deal to contain tensions over the U.N.-backed tribunal, which is expected to issue indictments soon over the assassination of former Premier Rafik al-Hariri.

Under Obama, the United States has ramped up military aid to Lebanon to help beef up the Lebanese army as a counterweight to Hezbollah, an enemy of neighboring Israel, and has tried to shore up Hariri’s fragile government.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Doina Chiacu