WASHINGTON – Responding to a strong showing by Hezbollah (search) in Lebanese parliamentary elections, the United States considers it a terrorist organization that should be disarmed, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday in the first U.S. reaction to the voting.
A State Department official said "there should be no role for an armed militia" in a democratic government.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as President George W. Bush flew to Florida for a speech, McClellan said the U.S. focus in the Lebanese elections has been to make sure they are free and fair with no outside intimidation or interference.
"That remains our focus," he said. "These elections are ongoing and in terms of Hezbollah, I think our views are well known and they remain unchanged. You have a Security Council (search) resolution that calls for the disarming of groups like Hezbollah and that remains our view. Hezbollah, as you are well aware, is a terrorist organization."
Hezbollah and its allies swept south Lebanon's parliamentary elections by a landslide, the Lebanese Interior Ministry said Monday. The next round of voting will be Sunday in Mount Lebanon (search), the traditional Maronite Christian heartland.
McClellan said the United States continues to have concerns about outside interference in Lebanon, mentioning that the killing last week of anti-journalist Samir Kassir (search) "kind of "underscores the environment created by Syria's long presence in that country.
"His assassination is something that needs to be fully investigated. We continue to call on Syria to make sure that all intelligence operations are out of Lebanon," he said.
Kassir, a 45 year-old columnist for the newspaper An Nahar, had long demanded the removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and an end to its influence there.
If Hezbollah renounces violence and disarms, it can be removed from the State Department's list of terror organizations and be acknowleged as a legitimate political actor in Lebanon, said an official who spoke only on grounds of anonymity due to the sensitivity surrounding the balloting in Lebanon.
The State Department said that with two more rounds of elections still to be held later this month it would premature to offer an assessment on whether this weekend's balloting was free and fair.