Clinton warns Syria against arming Hezbollah

Washington, April 30: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the risk of sparking a regional war if he supplies long-range Scud missiles to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

“Transferring weapons to these terrorists — especially longer-range missiles — would pose a serious threat to the security of Israel,” Clinton said.

“We do not accept such provocative and destabilizing behavior — and nor should the international community.

“President Assad is making decisions that could mean war or peace for the region. We know he’s hearing from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas,” the chief US diplomat said.

“It is crucial that he also hear directly from us, so that the potential consequences of his actions are clear.”

A US anti-terrorism assessment team visited the main Lebanon-Syria border crossing this week, a US embassy official said on Thursday, amid allegations that Damascus was supplying its ally Hezbollah with missiles.

The team visited the Masnaa border crossing in the eastern Bekaa region on Wednesday, according to Lebanese media reports.

Israel waged a bloody 34-day war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 and fighting claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

In addition, Israeli flights over Lebanon occur on an almost daily basis and are in breach of UN Security Council resolution 1710, which in August 2006 ended the war.

Clinton urged Arab states to do more to back Israeli-Palestinian peace moves.

But Clinton, speaking to a pro-Israel group, said she also expected Israel to halt settlements in occupied Palestinian land, meet the humanitarian needs of Gazans, and help the Palestinian Authority build institutions needed for statehood.

“We do not expect the Arab states to move forward in a vacuum,” the chief US diplomat said in remarks to the American Jewish Committee.

President Barack Obama’s administration is trying hard to relaunch indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that were aborted last month when the right-wing Israeli government announced new illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

Clinton also urged the US-backed Palestinian Authority to continue its work to improve security in the West Bank.

Arabs “should take specific steps that show Israelis, Palestinians and their own people that peace is possible and that there will be tangible benefits if it is achieved,” Clinton said in a speech to a pro-Israel group.

The chief US diplomat urged Arab states to offer more financial support to the Palestinian Authority and its two-year development plan as well as move toward ending Israel’s boycott by opening or re-opening trade offices.

“The United States has done our part, becoming the PA’s largest bilateral donor, and Europe also has stepped up,” she said. “Arab states need to share a greater portion of these responsibilities.”

Gulf Arab states like Qatar and Oman closed Israeli trade offices in 2000 when the Oslo the peace process collapsed in violence. Qatar closed the Israeli trade office when Israel launched an offensive against Gaza in December 2008.

Clinton also suggested that Arab states grant Israel the right to fly over their territories as well as allow cultural or educational exchanges between Israelis and Arabs.

“As negotiations proceed between the Israelis and Palestinians, and mutual confidence increases, Arab states should reach out to the Israeli public,” she said.

They should do so by “demonstrating that Israel’s isolation in the region is ending, and all sides should resume multilateral discussions on critical regional issues,” she said.

In addition to the Palestinian territories (Gaza, Wes Bank and East Jerusalem), Israel also currently illegally occupies the Lebanese Shabaa Farms and the Syrian Golan Heights.

Meanwhile, Clinton on Thursday also warned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he will fail if he tries to disrupt next week’s UN nuclear talks.

Ahmadinejad has asked for a visa to travel to New York to lead his country’s delegation to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, something US officials say they expect to approve.

“I don’t know the purpose that Iran sees, because their record of violations of the non-proliferation obligations that they assumed as a signatory to the NPT is absolutely indisputable,” said Clinton.

“So if President Ahmadinejad wants to come and announce that Iran will abide by their non-proliferation requirements under the NPT, that would be very good news indeed and we would welcome that,” the secretary of state said.

But if he believes “he can somehow divert attention from this very important global effort or cause confusion that might possibly throw into doubt what Iran has been up to… I don’t believe he will have a particularly receptive audience,” she said.

The United States charges that Iran is secretly developing atomic weapons but Iran says its program is to generate electricity.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East that actually has nuclear bombs.

Clinton’s spokesman Philip Crowley said earlier that the State Department is still processing visas for the Iranian delegates asking to attend the conference.

He also told reporters that “a face-to-face meeting between a US diplomat and an Iranian diplomat is highly unlikely,” when asked if such direct talks would take place at UN headquarters where 189 nations will be represented.

And Crowley said Clinton spoke by telephone earlier Thursday with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo about the US-led push for tougher UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

China — one of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the 15-member council — as well as current but temporary members Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon have been reluctant to embrace biting sanctions.