Lebanon Summons U.S. Ambassador, Amid Concerns She Is Interfering

January 17, 2011 - 9:57 AM

Beirut (AP) - Lebanon's Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador Monday over concerns that she is interfering with internal politics after the Shiite militant group Hezbollah forced the collapse of the Western-backed government last week, officials said.

The controversy stems from a meeting this weekend between U.S. envoy Maura Connelly and lawmaker Nicolas Fattouch, who is seen as a key "undecided" lawmaker as Lebanon's political factions scramble to form a new government.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali Shami "considers these kinds of contacts as interference in Lebanon's internal affairs," the ministry said in a statement.

After Monday's meeting with Shami, Connelly's office denied any interference.

"She explained to the foreign minister that the United States embassy has regular contact with personalities from across Lebanon's political spectrum as part of its diplomatic mission," an embassy spokesman said.

The diplomatic spat is the latest fallout from Lebanon's government collapse. Hezbollah's minister and their allies resigned from the government on Wednesday in a dispute over upcoming indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri.

The U.S. has called Hezbollah's walkout a transparent effort to subvert justice.

The tribunal is expected to accuse Hezbollah, which denies any role in the assassination and says the tribunal is a project of Israel and the United States.

Hezbollah had asked Prime Minister Saad Hariri -- the slain man's son -- to renounce the U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the killing, but he refused.

Lengthy negotiations lie ahead between Lebanon's Western-backed blocs and the Hezbollah led-alliance. If those fail, Lebanon could see a resurgence of the street protests and violence that have bedeviled the country in the past.

According to Lebanon's power-sharing system, the president must be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite.

Each faith makes up about a third of Lebanon's population of 4 million.

On Monday, Lebanon postponed talks to form a new government as the leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Syria met in Damascus to discuss the crisis. Saad Hariri is staying on as a caretaker prime minister as Lebanon's rival factions jockey for support.

The leader of Hezbollah on Sunday defended the decision to bring down Lebanon's government, saying the Shiite movement did so without resorting to violence.

"We carried out a constitutional, legal and democratic step to bring down the government. We did not use weapons," Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech in his first comments since the government collapse.

"We are not scared of speeches, statements or anyone's threats in this world."