Don't bet on a U.S.-Hizbullah dialogue

Posted in Broader Middle East | 22-Aug-05 | Author: Haytham Mouzahem| Source: The Daily Star (Lebanon Edition)

Haytham Mouzahem is one of our experts for the "Broader Middle East"

Following the recent statement by Lebanese Labor Minister Tarrad Hamade (whose appointment was backed by Hizbullah) that last spring he had held talks with American officials, and that these had been approved by Hizbullah, questions arose as to whether a dialogue has started between Washington and the Shiite party. Given Hizbullah's hostility toward the U.S. and the fact that the U.S. government considers Hizbullah a terrorist organization, any dialogue would reflect a sharp reversal of position on both sides.

In Washington, Hamade met with officials at the State Department, including Elizabeth Dibble, a deputy assistant secretary of state. However, an American source insisted there was no U.S.-Hizbullah dialogue, because American officials are barred from contacts with any group designated a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. State Department. This doesn't apply to Hamade, a self-described supporter of Hizbullah but not a party member.

The U.S. has repeatedly criticized Hizbullah for its attacks against Israeli military positions in the Shebaa Farms area and its support for militant Palestinian groups. It has also called on the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbullah in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1559. Washington blames Hizbullah for its attacks against American soldiers and civilians during the 1980s, especially the attacks against the U.S. Embassy and the Marine compound in 1983, and the kidnapping of American citizens then and later on.

Hamade has urged the Bush administration to change its policy on Hizbullah and open a direct line to the party. However, he denied he was an intermediary and criticized "the diplomacy of closing doors and opening windows," in reference to the fact that while the U.S. does not mind talking to him, it announced it would boycott Electricity and Water Resources Minister Mohammad Fneish, who is a member of Hizbullah.

Fneish has also denied that any sort of dialogue is taking place between Hizbullah and the U.S., saying the party would not change its position toward the American administration, which has adopted "hostile" policies toward Arabs and Muslims while favoring Israel. Fneish also rejected American interference in Lebanese affairs, and accused the U.S. administration of having not "forgiven" the resistance its victory against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. Indeed, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Beirut recently, she declared that Hizbullah has a "bloody record," in reference to its attacks against Americans.

A State Department official told me in December 2004 that "the first step for Hizbullah is to dissolve its militia and end support for terrorism. Hizbullah knows what it needs to do to accommodate with our views." He added the America government did not yet have any approach to deal with Hizbullah once it becam