March 1, 2008 / 1:08 PM / 12 years ago

U.S. "muscle flexing" won't work in Lebanon: Syria

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria on Saturday accused the United States of prolonging a crisis in Lebanon by deploying a warship off the country’s coast and said that Washington could not impose a solution by “flexing its muscles”.

A Lebanese policeman stands guard outside the parliament building during the meeting of Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa with Lebanon's rival leaders in Beirut February 8, 2008. Syria accused the United States on Saturday of obstructing a solution to Lebanon's political crisis by deploying a warship off the Lebanese coast. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

In the first reaction by the Damascus government to Washington’s announcement on Thursday of the deployment of the USS Cole, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said force was not the answer to Lebanon’s political problems.

“We have been saying that the United States was obstructing the political solution in Lebanon and the existence of this ship affirms this,” Moualem said after meeting Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League.

“Those Lebanese who are betting on the United States flexing its muscles will be disappointed. Washington cannot impose the solution it wants. The way out has to be based on a Lebanese consensus,” Moualem told reporters.

Lebanon’s 15-month power struggle has turned into a test of wills between the pro-Western government and Hezbollah-led opposition. Syria and Iran support the Shi’ite movement.

The United States had suggested that the Lebanese parliament majority it backs could elect a president on their own. The post has been vacant since November.

ARAB INITIATIVE

Moualem said this would be counter to an Arab initiative for a comprehensive solution to the crisis.

“I cannot predict the intentions of the United States but I can say that this show of force will lead nowhere,” he said.

A Western diplomat, however, said the deployment could help deter escalation in regional tension after the assassination of a Hezbollah commander in Damascus last month.

Hezbollah said Israel was behind the killing of Imad Moughniyah and welcomed “open war” if Israel wanted one.

A U.S. defense official said the USS Cole, which was attacked by Islamist militants in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000, would not be visible from the Lebanese coast.

U.S. forces are already deployed on Syria’s border with Iraq, another point of tension between Damascus and Washington.

He said the deployment was to signal U.S. concern over Lebanon’s political crisis, which Washington blames on what it describes as Syrian interference.

Syria said achieving political stability in Lebanon was in its national interest and that it was still hopeful the crisis would be solved in time for a summit of Arab leaders in Damascus on March 29-30.

Hezbollah said on Saturday the warship’s deployment “prevents the Lebanese from agreement, hinders initiatives and incites groups against each other.”

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