US, Lebanon to discuss military aid
Beirut, May 22, 2009
US vice president Joe Biden, carrying a message on military aid to Lebanon, arrived in Beirut on Friday, 16 days before a parliamentary election that may see a shift in power from a Western-backed coalition.
Lebanese vote on June 7 in a poll that pits an alliance including Hezbollah - an Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shi'ite group that Washington classifies as terrorist - against an anti-Syrian coalition now holding a majority in parliament.
The vice president, who visited Serbia and Kosovo earlier this week, is due to meet Lebanese president Michel Sleiman, prime minister Fouad Siniora and Parliament speaker Nabih Berri.
He will also join Lebanese Defence minister Elias al-Murr in making an announcement on assistance to Lebanon's military, Biden's office said, without giving any details.
Since the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the United States has expanded military aid to Lebanon to strengthen its armed forces as a counterweight to Hezbollah, the only Lebanese faction to remain armed after the 1975-1990 civil war.
US military assistance to Lebanon since 2006 has exceeded $400 million. Planned deliveries include artillery, tanks and aerial drones as well as light weapons, ammunition and vehicles.
Biden will reiterate US support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon, as did secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited in April to call for an open and fair election.
Hezbollah criticised Clinton's visit as meddling in Lebanese affairs and is likely to view Biden's trip in the same light.
It was the first visit by an American vice president to Lebanon since 1983, the year when Shi'ite suicide bombers attacked the US embassy and Marine headquarters, and the most senior U.S. visit since that time, a US embassy official said.
Many Lebanese analysts predict a small election swing toward Hezbollah and its allies. Opinion polls are not reliable.
Saad al-Hariri led a US- and Saudi-backed coalition to victory in the 2005 election, held soon after an outcry over the assassination of his statesman father, Rafik al-Hariri, forced Syria to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon.-Reuters