Rice Tells Hezbollah It Must Disarm to Stay in Lebanon Political Process

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped up international pressure on Hezbollah to disarm, saying the guerrilla group must surrender its weapons if it wants to remain part of Lebanon's political process.

Rice, in an interview with the privately owned Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. aired Friday, urged Hezbollah to lay down its arms according to the Aug. 14 cease-fire that ended its 34-day war with Israel, and choose between being a militant group and a legitimate political organization.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, has refused to disarm despite heavy international pressure to surrender its weapons. The group holds 11 seats in the Lebanese parliament and two spots in the Cabinet.

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"If Hezbollah wants to be in politics... Hezbollah should be disarmed. You cannot have one foot in terror and the use of violence and the other foot in politics. It just doesn't work that way," Rice said.

"Hezbollah has to decide whether it's going to maintain its terrorist wing and remain a terrorist organization or whether it's going to ... be part the political process," she added.

The interview was taped at Rice's office in Washington and conducted by May Chidiac, a Lebanese journalist who lost an arm and a leg in a car bombing in Lebanon in September 2005.

The U.S. government has labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization and blames it for the deaths of 241 U.S. Marines in the bombing of their Beirut barracks in 1983, as well as for two attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and the 1985 TWA hijacking that killed an American serviceman on board. Hezbollah repeatedly has denied such accusations and says it now opposes terrorism.

Rice also urged the Lebanese government to end what it called Hezbollah's "state within a state" and prevent weapons from reaching the militant group.

"I'm counting on Lebanon to live up to its obligations, and I'm counting on Lebanon to want to evolve to a normal state," Rice told the satellite channel. "And a normal state has an army and police that answer to the state, not to a state within a state."

The U.N. cease-fire resolution that ended the Hezbollah-Israel war called for the Lebanese army to deploy alongside international peacekeepers in Hezbollah strongholds across south Lebanon. Some 16,000 Lebanese troops have fanned out across the region, including along the border with Israel, for the first time in decades.

Rice warned that as Lebanon tries to rebuild, some people might try to destabilize its Western-backed government.

"We've heard that there are people who would like to intimidate or assassinate again," she said, referring to the 2005 assassinations of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other anti-Syrian politicians. She did not elaborate.

Asked if Syria was trying to destabilize Lebanon following its withdrawal last year, Rice said: "It's not any great secret that there are concerns about what Syria, which once occupied the country, might try and do through continuing contacts in the country. But I don't want accuse any one place. I just want to make very clear that the international community believes there should be no foreign intimidation of the Lebanese people."

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