Friday, February 29, 2008


Al Jazeera - The US has sent three warships, including the USS Cole, to take up positions off the coast of Lebanon in a show of force over the ongoing political deadlock in the country.

A senior US official said Washington was "very concerned" about the situation in Lebanon and called the move "support for regional stability".

The US declined to say whether the decision was a show of force aimed at Syria, which it has accused of interfering in Lebanon.

Lebanon's Western-backed governing coalition and the opposition, who are led by Shia group Hezbollah and backed by Syria, have failed to reach a deal to end the country's political deadlock.

"The United States believes a show of support is important for regional stability," said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We are very concerned about the situation in Lebanon. It has dragged on very long."

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the decision to send the warships should not be seen as threatening to any particular country.

The US has increased pressure on Syria in recent weeks, targeting more individuals with sanctions.

Hassan Fadlallah, a Lebanese MP from Hezbollah, called the US decision to position the warships off the coast "an attempt to spark tension".

"The American administration has used the policy of sending warships to support its allies in Lebanon before, and that experiment failed and backfired," he said.

"We don't succumb to threats and military intimidation practised by the United States to implement its hegemony over Lebanon."

Richard Murphy, a former US ambassador to Syria, told Al Jazeera that the move was a sign that the US did not know what to do about Lebanon.

"It is gunboat diplomacy. I think it would be more useful for the US to find a way to engage with the conflicting parties in Lebanon.

"We have no dialogue with Syria and this is a moment for dialogue."

A US defence official said the USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, left Malta on Tuesday and was headed toward Lebanon, adding it would not be stationed within visible range of Lebanon but "well over the horizon."