European Union diplomats said Thursday that President Bush is extremely unlikely to persuade the bloc to list the Lebanese militia Hezbollah as a terrorist movement.
The United States reportedly is pressing for such a decision by the EU, which is divided on the issue, with France and several others still objecting to such a label, according to diplomats speaking on condition on anonymity. The opponents argue that the situation in Lebanon and the region is too delicate for abrupt policy changes by the EU.
“There are no indications an immediate consensus is emerging on Hezbollah,” one EU diplomat said.
Washington considers Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, a terrorist group, in part because it sponsors Palestinian violence and funds suicide bombings that have killed dozens of Israelis.
Its militia holds sway in much of south Lebanon and has occasionally attacked Israeli troops along the border. Hezbollah led a guerrilla war against Israel’s 18-year occupation of a border zone in southern Lebanon that ended in 2000, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news – web sites) has said Hezbollah was responsible for about 80 percent of terror attacks on Israel.
But in Lebanon, the Hezbollah, or “Party of God,” is considered an influential and legitimate political force, with schools, clinics, a TV station and members in Parliament.
“So many things are taking place in Lebanon in which Hezbollah plays a political role, so an (EU) decision requires an important political dimension,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The diplomat said more than one non-EU country Â— widely believed to be the United States and Israel Â— had asked the 25-nation union to put Hezbollah on the terror list, but the necessary unanimity among the 25 nations was not achieved at a Wednesday meeting. The diplomat would not specify which countries were making the demand.
The officials said there would certainly be no change ahead of the EU-U.S. summit next week.
Adding tension over the issue was Monday’s assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in a bomb attack that killed 16 others. Many Lebanese accuse Syria and the Lebanese government of orchestrating the attack. The United States withdrew its ambassador from Syria following the bombing.
Tuesday’s summit is supposed to mark a trans-Atlantic reconciliation following the divisions over the Iraq (news – web sites) war, but several divisive issues could emerge Â— including over Iran’s nuclear program, China’s arms embargo and Hezbollah.
The issue of placing Hezbollah on the EU’s terror list came up in Paris on Monday, when Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom pressed for such action.
“Hezbollah is trying to undermine the stability” of Israel, Shalom said, adding that the Iranian-backed group “owns 12,000 rockets (and) spends $9 million a year on training and funding (for) Palestinian terrorist cells, which were responsible in 2004 for over 60 attacks against Israeli citizens.”
French President Jacques Chirac’s spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont, said Tuesday the Hezbollah question is “complex and must be examined with a regard to the regional context in all its aspects and, in particular, Lebanon.”
Listing Hezbollah as a terrorist group “could have consequences that would be worse than not listing it,” a French diplomat added.
The United States already pressured the EU to declare the Palestinian Islamic group Hamas a terror organization in 2003. Washington now wants to push the EU into cutting aid going through charities to Hamas.