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Amid Contentious Elections, Biden’s Lebanon Visit Draws Ire From Hezbollah

BY Admin  May 22, 2009 at 4:45 PM EDT

Biden and Defense Minister Elias Murr; Getty/AFP

“It appears that this visit is part of a U.S. bid to supervise the electoral campaign of a Lebanese party which feels threatened politically,” Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah told the Agence France-Presse.

“We call on all Lebanese, regardless of their political views, to rise up against such meddling which represents a flagrant violation of Lebanese sovereignty,” he said.

But Biden told reporters after meeting with President Michel Suleiman, “I do not come here to back any particular party or any particular person.”

He said instead he came to demonstrate U.S. support for the principles of the Lebanese people to choose their own leaders and maintain sovereignty.

“To the extent that Lebanon adheres to these principles enshrined in the Security Council resolutions, the United States looks forward to being your strong and enduring partner,” said Biden, according to a White House-issued statement.

In parliamentary elections scheduled for June 7, the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist group, is seeking to bolster its 14 seats in the 128-member legislature.

Gains by Hezbollah could weaken the U.S.-backed coalition led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. A campaign that is reportedly becoming increasingly abrasive has divided the country into basically two camps: a pro-Western one made up mostly of Sunnis, and another dominated by Shiites backed by Iran and Syria.

In addition to Suleiman, Biden planned to meet with Siniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is allied with the Hezbollah-led bloc, during a visit that was only expected to last a few hours, according to the BBC.

Biden is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Lebanon in more than 25 years and the second by a top U.S. official in two months.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to the country in April, and Hezbollah criticized her visit as interfering in the country’s affairs as well.

The United States has given Lebanon more than $1 billion, including $410 million to the military and police, since 2006, the Associated Press reported.

The United States has gradually strengthened ties with Lebanon over the course of four years. Relations between the countries degraded in the 1980s during Lebanon’s civil war when pro-Iranian militants targeted Americans with bombings and kidnappings. The violence led to a U.S. ban on Americans traveling to the country, which was lifted in 1997.