US and UK in major spat over Hezbullah talksLondon's Daily Telegraph reports that the first major row between the United States and the United Kingdom is not over a package of DVD's: It's over the UK's decision to seek talks with Hezbullah.
A senior US government official said that he would like to ask the British to "explain the difference between the political, military and social wings of Hezbollah", adding, "we don't see a difference between the integrated leadership that they see".The Americans are right about Hezbullah. But if someone could please explain the difference between Hezbullah on the one hand, and Hamas, Iran and Syria on the other, we're all waiting to hear it.
He noted that Hezbollah's strongholds in south Beirut had recently marked the first anniversary of the death of Imad Mughniyeh [pictured. CiJ] with mass celebrations. Mughniyeh was a senior figure in the organisation associated with the Beirut barracks and US embassy bombings in 1983, which killed more than 350 people, as well as the kidnapping of dozens of foreigners in Lebanon in the 1980s.
"For years Hezbollah denied knowledge of Imad Mughniyeh," said the official. "And now all over south Beirut are these posters extolling the virtues of Imad Mughniyeh."
Asked if Washington had been informed of the decision in advance by the Foreign Office, he said "informed under a previous administration" would be a "more accurate description".
At the time of its announcement, the Foreign Office issued a statement saying that Britain had "reconsidered our position on no contact with Hezbollah in light of more positive recent political developments in Lebanon", referring to the formation of a national unity government that included Hezbollah.
Washington has always maintained that Hezbollah is funded by Iran and has a long track record of terrorist activity. Though it has a political office and runs a network of welfare offices, the Americans take the view that it is one cohesive organisation.
The state department has publicly said that it was "alerted" that the British "were considering taking this position".
"We are not ready to take the same step. Our position on Hezbollah has not changed," said state department spokesman Gordon Duguid last week.
UPDATE 2:44 PM
The Los Angeles Times adds:
The Obama administration's readiness to reach out to adversary regimes, such as Syria and Iran, has been a key point of its foreign policy. But the administration has shown no interest in talking to groups on its terrorist registry, such as Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.So the Obama administration would argue that if Hezbullah and Hamas win what are likely to be 'elections' in Lebanon and the 'Palestinian' territories, respectively, they will then have a 'national interest' and it will be worth speaking with them? If that's the case, why do they object to what the British are doing since all the British are doing is anticipating a Hezbullah victory the next time Lebanon goes to the polls. I am not advocating the US or Britain talking to Hezbullah but this makes NO sense.
A State Department official explained that the difference is that governments such as Syria and Iran, though they may support terrorism, can be productively engaged because they can be swayed on the basis of their national interest. Unlike groups branded as terrorist, "they have the interests of states and may respond to interaction," this official said.
The official said he was appalled that Hezbollah has been hanging posters in Lebanon celebrating the slain Imad Mughniyah, an accused terrorist mastermind that Hezbollah has long said was not connected to its organization. Mughniyah, assassinated in Damascus, the Syrian capital, in February 2008, was believed responsible for a long list of attacks and had a U.S. bounty on his head.But is Obama 'appalled' enough that he won't speak to the terror organization that murdered over 200 US Marines in Beirut in 1983?
David Schenker, who was a Pentagon specialist on the Middle East during the Bush years, said the British may be positioning themselves to deal with Hezbollah if the group wins elections in June that could put it and its allies in control of the government.Again, I fail to see the difference between Iran and Syria on the one hand, and Hamas and Hezbullah on the other. They are simply two sides of the same coin.
But he said the British move would be "unhelpful" to the Obama administration's efforts to begin collaboration on Mideast issues that could involve Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and to further the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort.
No Western country should be holding negotiations with terror organizations or terror states. End discussion.