U.S. urges calm in Lebanon, fears for Siniora

Iran Materials 26 January 2007 12:09 (UTC +04:00)

(Reuters) - The United States appealed for calm in Lebanon and reiterated concern that "irresponsible" forces were working to topple the government of embattled Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

In November, the White House warned that Syria and Iran, acting through the Hezbollah group of Shi'ite Muslim militants, might be on the verge of an attempted coup in Lebanon.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack condemned the latest violence in which at least four students were shot and killed in clashes between pro- and anti-government activists in the capital, Beirut, reports Trend.

"There are certain irresponsible parties in Lebanon who have been provoking an atmosphere of confrontation and antagonism within the political system," he told reporters.

"The links between those individuals and groups and outside entities are well known. And they have been engaged in a cynical manipulation of public perceptions in the political process."

Asked whether the United States still saw the activities of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah as a threat and whether it was nervous about the safety of Siniora himself, McCormack said nothing had changed since November.

"Certainly there are forces that want to stop progress toward a free, democratic, prosperous Lebanon. We've seen that. We've seen them assassinate and attempt to kill numerous individuals," he said.

"We have no reason to believe that threat has abated in any way."

McCormack said Siniora, whose support base is largely among Sunni Muslims, has been a strong advocate for political reform in Lebanon, despite the "best efforts" of Syria and Iran to prevent this.

The United States is working to bolster Siniora's government by helping him politically and militarily.

Lebanon, which suffered a civil war in 1975-90 and has long been the target of Syrian influence, won more than $7.6 billion in grants and $770 million in soft loans from the United States, as well as $1.1 billion from Saudi Arabia, at a donors conference in Paris on Thursday.