BEIRUT, Lebanon – Senators John Kerry and Christopher Dodd held talks on Monday with Lebanese leaders on the country's deepening political crisis, a day before the two Democratic lawmakers head to neighboring Syria.
Kerry and Dodd met with U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora whose government is facing open-ended street protests staged by the Hezbollah-led opposition to pressure him into resigning.
The National News Agency said Saniora briefed the two senators on his government's efforts to deal with the crisis. It did not elaborate.
Saniora also told Kerry and Dodd about Lebanon's preparations to convene an international donors' conference scheduled in France next month with the aim of revitalizing the national economy following the devastating Hezbollah-Israel war last summer, the agency said.
The two senators also discussed the Lebanese crisis with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally. No details of their talks were disclosed and the two senators did not speak to reporters after their meetings.
Kerry, a Massachusetts lawmaker and a critic U.S. President George W. Bush's administration policies in Iraq, arrived here after visits to Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. Dodd, a Connecticut senator who is considering a run for U.S. president in 2008, also was in Iraq — his third trip there since the war began. The two are due to visit Syria on Tuesday for talks with President Bashar Assad.
Syria has influence with Iraqi Sunnis, and some leaders of the Sunni-led insurgency are believed to be living there. Kerry has criticized the Bush administration for refusing to engage with Syria and Iran, as was recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
The White House has criticized trips to Syria by U.S. lawmakers as "inappropriate," saying they give Damascus a public relations victory. Bush has accused Syria of fueling crises in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
The two senators' trip to Beirut came on the eve of a visit by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa who is due in Lebanon Tuesday to resume his mediation efforts to end the Lebanese crisis.
Moussa held talks in Riyadh on Sunday with Saudi King Abdullah and was reported to have urged him to intervene to help solve the Lebanese crisis.
Moussa last week managed to get the pro-government parties and the Hezbollah-led opposition to agree on the outlines of a national unity Cabinet, but the rival factions failed to bridge other differences that threaten to scuttle the deal.
The crisis erupted in Lebanon when the Hezbollah-led opposition ordered thousands of supporters Dec. 1 to stage mass protests and ongoing daily sit-ins, forcing Saniora to live in his office complex in central Beirut, surrounded by security forces and barbed wire.
The Syrian and Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and its allies are demanding a national unity government which would give them veto power over major government decisions.
However, Saniora and his anti-Syrian supporters have rejected Hezbollah's demands, calling the campaign a Syria-backed coup.
Lebanon's political crisis also extends beyond its borders. The United States has accused Iran and Syria of seeking to undermine the Saniora government, while Hezbollah accuses Saniora's government of taking orders from Washington.