US President Barack Obama and Lebanese Prime
Minister Saad Hariri on Wednesday reaffirmed their
commitment to strengthening Lebanon's sovereignty
and independence even as
Hizbullah ministers forced Hariri's year-old
unity government to collapse.
The Lebanese leader made no public comment after the
Oval Office visit and immediately left for France to
consult with French President
Nicolas Sarkozy before returning to Beirut,
according to a Lebanese official who spoke on
condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive
A White House statement issued afterward said Obama
had commended Hariri for his "steadfast leadership
and efforts to reach peace, stability and consensus
in Lebanon under difficult circumstances."
"The efforts by the Hezbollah-led coalition to
collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate
their own fear and determination to block the
government's ability to conduct its business and
advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese
people," the statement said.
The Lebanese official said Hariri was pleased with
Obama's expressions of support.
Lebanon's year-old unity government collapsed
Wednesday after Hezbollah ministers and their allies
resigned over tensions stemming from a UN-backed
tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of
former prime minister Rafik Hariri, father of the
current prime minister.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, has
denounced the tribunal, which is widely expected to
name members of Hezbollah in coming indictments.
Many fear that implicating Hezbollah could set off
sectarian tensions that have plagued the tiny Middle
Eastern country for decades.
During Obama's meeting with Hariri, the White House
said, the president also stressed the importance of
the tribunal's work as a "means to help end the era
of political assassinations with impunity in Lebanon."
He and Hariri discussed efforts with France, Saudi
Arabia and other international and regional partners
to maintain calm and ensure that the tribunal's work
continues without third-party interference.
They also agreed that all involved parties should
avoid threats or actions that could cause