US sends warship toward Lebanon
( dpa ) - The United States has sent a warship toward waters off the Lebanese coast in a show of support for stability in the region, US officials said Thursday.
The USS Cole, a destroyer armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, was dispatched to the area from Malta amid the political crisis in Lebanon that Washington has blamed on Syrian interference.
"This is a show of support for regional stability," White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "The president is concerned about the situation in Lebanon and would like to see it resolved."
The Pentagon confirmed the destroyer's deployment, but officials declined to say whether the ship's presence was meant as a warning to Syria over its support of Hezbollah.
" Syria needs to quit meddling in the internal affairs of Lebanon," a Bush administration official said.
Pro-Syrian opposition parties in Lebanon's Parliament led by the Shiite militant party Hezbollah and pro-Western parties opposed to Syrian influence have been in a stalemate over choosing a new president. Lebanon has been without a president since November, deepening the political crisis in the country.
This week saw the 15th delayed attempt at a parliamentary vote on the Lebanese presidency, frustrating US efforts to promote a stable democracy in Lebanon and heightening tensions with Syria. The next scheduled attempt by Parliament to vote is scheduled for March 11.
Syria has been implicated in the assassinations of several top Lebanese figures opposed to Damascus' influence in Lebanon. The United States this month widened existing sanctions against Syria.
Syria withdrew its forces three years ago under intense international pressure following the assassination of Lebanese former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, ending a 29-year occupation of Lebanon.
The United States accuses Syria and Iran of financing and arming the Hezbollah militia, which Washington designates as a terrorist organization.