U.S. punches diplomatic weight in Beirut

Nov. 1, 2012 at 10:33 AM

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- The Lebanese government confirmed a U.S. State Department official met with rival leaders amid strains on the country's political system.

U.S. Acting Assistance Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Jones met with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, leader of the opposition March 14 coalition, to discuss ongoing political affairs.

"The meeting focused on the developments in Lebanon in light of the recent events," The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon reported, citing diplomatic statements.

March 14 announced this week it was boycotting the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Mikati enjoys support from the March 8 slate, which includes members of Hezbollah. Hariri's slate expressed frustration with Mikati's government following a bombing in Beirut last month that left a former intelligence chief dead. March 14 said the attack was the work of Syria.

Jones also met this week with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. The president's office said Jones stressed the importance of "state institutions to continue their work and avoid plunging the country into a vacuum, particularly given the current circumstances in the region, in order to prevent any negative repercussions on the domestic scene."

There were concerns that Syria's civil war could spell trouble for neighboring Lebanon, once dominated by the government in Damascus.

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