WASHINGTON – The Bush administration dismissed Iranian and Syrian claims of victory in Lebanon Tuesday as shameful blustering.
"It is terrible that the president of Iran is trying to take advantage of this tragedy," David Welch, a senior State Department official, said.
Both Iran and Syria are "trying to pile on popular emotion and anger at a time of tragedy for their own selfish advantage," the assistant secretary of state said at a news conference.
"I think it is a sad situation when leaders of other countries can stand on this rubble" that is the aftermath of the war in Lebanon and proclaim their vision, Welch said.
Even as the big guns had barely fallen silent in Lebanon, President Bush and the State Department found cause for cheer in the outcome of the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah militia.
With 15,000 Lebanese troops and another 15,000 foreign troops perhaps only weeks away from deployment near the border with Israel, Bush said Monday that Hezbollah no longer could keep Lebanon from becoming a democracy.
The State Department, meanwhile, said the outcome was a setback for Iran and Syria, the primary backers of the Hezbollah militia.
Syria and Iran responded with rhetoric of their own.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said U.S. plans for the region had become an illusion, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Hezbollah had "hoisted the banner of victory" over Israel and toppled U.S.-led plans for the Middle East.
"God's promises have come true," Ahmadinejad told a crowd in northwestdern Iran. "On one side, it's the corrupt powers of the criminal U.S. and Britain and the Zionists... with modern bombs and planes. And on the other side is a group of pious youth relying on God," he said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed Syria's claims as "blustering" and said it finds itself "quite isolated from the rest of the people in the region."
As for Iran, McCormack said Ahmadinejad's remarks "simply ignore the facts."
Once the resolution approved unanimously last week by the U.N. Security Council is implemented, including the dispatch of 15,000 foreign troops to southern Lebanon, "it is a strategic setback for Hezbollah, its patrons in Tehran, and as well as in Damascus," McCormack said.
On a visit to Washington to thank the Bush administration for its support, Israel's deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, described the resolution as a pleasant surprise. He said its condemnation of Hezbollah was unprecedented, as was Russia's support for an embargo on weapons deliveries to the militia.
"We feel the battle is over but not the challenge," Peres told reporters. He said one was "not to let the Iranians take over the Middle East."
Peres pledged Israel would not use force if Hezbollah does not use force. "But we look upon Hezbollah today as... an Iranian armed division," he said.
The cease-fire does not propose the eradication of Hezbollah, but it revived a two-year old Security Council demand for the militia's disarmament, a tough job that the Lebanese government did not attempt on its own.
Welch said the United States will be paying very close attention to any attempts to ship weapons to Hezbollah "since it's now a matter of international obligation that countries should avoid doing this."