WASHINGTON – Weapons deliveries to Hezbollah appear to have dried up and 4,000 foreign troops are on guard in an expanding peacekeeping operation in the south, the Bush administration told Congress Wednesday.
In an otherwise upbeat report on postwar Lebanon, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said the most difficult and necessary task, disarming the Hezbollah militia that fought a costly war this summer with Israel, still lies ahead.
But he suggested that Hezbollah's popularity with the Lebanese people might decline in light of 750,000 Lebanese people having been forced from their homes in a war the Bush administration contends Hezbollah began. And, Welch said he doubted the Iranian-backed militia, which is designated a terrorist group by the State Department, has the resources to make good on a promise to give each dispossessed family $12,000 to rebuild.
"The news from Lebanon is relatively good," Welch said at a 2 1/2-hour Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that produced scant criticism of administration policy in the area except for subdued urging by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that the administration take a more vigorous approach to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
And, Sen. John E. Sununu suggested that a large portion of the $230 million that Welch said the United States is spending on reconstruction and in modernizing the Lebanese army comes from other programs, including scholarships for Lebanese students.
"There is very little new funding that will be provided to the people of Lebanon," the New Hampshire Republican said.
On several fronts, Welch testified, "the trend line is good."
He said the 4,000 troops, including NATO soldiers, now in southern Lebanon to bolster a 28-year-old U.N. peacekeeping force, soon will be strengthened further by the addition of French combat troops and other contributions to an expected level of 10,000.
And, Welch said, if Syria attempts to deliver arms to Hezbollah via its border with Lebanon, the Bush administration will ask the U.N. Security Council "to bring Syria to account."
Still, Welch said "a lot depends on the will and ability of the Lebanese people" to recover and prosper.