US lawmaker urges France not to arm Lebanon army
A US lawmaker on Friday warned France not to sell anti-tank missiles to Lebanon, saying they could end up being used against Israel amid pro-Iranian influence in the Lebanese government.
US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued the warning after the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported the planned sale.
"The influence of Hezbollah militants and their Iranian and Syrian backers in the Lebanese government is rising," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
"Therefore, to sell weapons to Lebanon at this time would be very irresponsible, and could jeopardize security and stability in the region," she said.
"France should do the responsible thing and cancel this sale unless and until the Lebanese government takes the steps necessary to root out extremists from its own ranks and disarm Hezbollah," she said.
Asharq Al-Awsat, quoting a top French official, said French Defense Minister Herve Morin had sent a letter to his Lebanese counterpart Elias Murr in May informing him that Paris was "ready" to deliver 100 HOT missiles to Beirut.
The paper said Lebanon wants to arm its French-designed Gazelle army helicopters with the HOT (High Subsonic Optical Remote-Guided Fired from Tube) missile, a long-range, anti-tank missile system designed by Euromissile.
The French official quoted by the newspaper on its website acknowledged that Israel "protested" the French decision to provide Lebanon with arms and that Washington raised "question marks" over the missile deal.
However, he also "categorically denied" that Paris had "given in to pressure" and that this was why the sale had not been completed.
The French official instead said "confusion" within the Lebanese government was responsible for the deal's delay or failure.
On August 10, US Congressman Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced he had placed on hold 100 million dollars in aid to Lebanon's military.
Berman said he could not be sure the Lebanese armed forces were not working with Hezbollah, which Washington lists as a "terrorist" organization and whose militiamen fought a devastating month-long war against Israel in 2006.
© 2010 AFP