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US expresses concerns over Syrian activities in Lebanon

WASHINGTON, Oct 28 (KUNA) -- The United States expressed on Thursday its concern about Syrian activities in Lebanon but renewed US commitment to engage with Damascus.
"Within the context of Lebanon, we remain very concerned about Syria's activities, not only its ongoing support of Hezbollah, its attempted intimidation of the Lebanese government, the ongoing provision of arms to Hezbollah in violation of Lebanon's sovereignty," said Assistant Secretary of State for public diplomacy Philip Crowley in a press briefing.
"If Syria wants the potential change in the relationship with the United States, a change in the opportunities that come with normal relations, then it has to improve its performance," he added.
Crowley noted that their bilateral meeting last September in New York, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was "very clear" with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem "about our expectation that Syria would play a more constructive role in the region." "We expressed during that meeting our deep concern for Syrian interference with Lebanon's sovereignty. We also expressed in that meeting hope that Syria would make progress in its thread of the Middle East peace process," he added.
Crowley further said that the US administration "laid out for Syria our hopes for cooperation both regionally and bilaterally, but we did in that meeting and we do not hesitate to express our concerns publicly and privately about Syria's ongoing behavior." "It is one of the reasons why we have offered to engage Syria. We have had high-level meetings with Syrian officials. We do still hope to place an ambassador in Damascus, so we have the opportunity both to continue to express our concern," he added.
Crowley affirmed that there is "a choice here for Syria. If it wants to have a better relationship with the United States, then it has to be a more constructive player in the region." Crowley said that the US administration "will continue to engage Syria, but obviously we continue to have sanctions on Syria." Asked about the reportedly good relationship between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Crowley replied "I am not sure I would completely share that characterization, but obviously Lebanon and Syria are neighbors. They have a history together." "We would expect leaders of both countries to engage directly, but by the same token, Syria has to respect the sovereignty and security of Lebanon. And its ongoing support of a group like Hezbollah undermines both Lebanon's independence and Lebanon's sovereignty," he added.
Crowley also welcomed the United Nations' Secretary General report on Security Council Resolution 1559 "particularly its candid portrayal of the continuing threat to Lebanese sovereignty and security posed by the presence of Hezbollah and other armed militias in Lebanon." "We continue to have deep concerns about Hezbollah's destructive and destabilizing influence in the region, as well as attempts by other foreign players, including Syria and Iran, to undermine Lebanon's independence and endanger its stability," he added. (end) jm.sd KUNA 290053 Oct 10NNNN