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French Version

Washington and Hizbullah trade blows on disarmament

U.S. President George W. Bush slammed Lebanese resistance group Hizbullah calling it "a terrorist organization with American blood on its hands" and insisted U.S. policy toward the party had not changed.

Bush's attack follows what has been widely seen as a softening of attitude within the White House after comments the president made earlier in the week hinting that if Hizbullah disarmed the U.S. would recognize it as a political party.

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He said: "Hizbullah is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations for a reason. It is a party that has killed Americans in the past and it will remain on the list."

But despite the strong attack, Bush again appeared to leave open the possibility that Hizbullah could become a recognized political party if it disarmed and disavowed violence.

He said: "I like the idea of someone running for office. Maybe some will run for office and say: 'Vote for me, I look forward to blowing up America.' I don't think so. I think people who generally run for office say: 'Vote for me, I'm looking forward to fixing your potholes or making sure you got bread on the table.'"

But Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah angrily rejected Bush's call to disarm, insisting Hizbullah "will never lay down its arms."

Speaking during a live interview on the Hizbullah-backed Al-Manar television station, Nasrallah said: "I'm holding on to the weapons of the resistance because I think the resistance is the best formula to protect Lebanon and to deter any Israeli aggression."

He added: "As long as Lebanon is threatened, even if we remain threatened for a million years, our will to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren is that their national, human, moral and religious holy duty is to protect their people."

Nasrallah said: "If the Americans were able to disarm Hizbullah by using military means, Bush would have sent his troops in straight away. They haven't already done so because the U.S. is stuck in Iraq and would rather broker a deal with Iran, Syria or even the Lebanese themselves to disarm us and create internal conflict."

Nasrallah said the Syrian government had rejected a U.S. offer to disarm Hizbullah in return for staying in Lebanon and consolidating its influence over Lebanon's political system.

He said: "I bet if Syrian President Bashar Assad calls Bush now, the withdrawal of the Syrian troops would be reversed."

He said: "We are being asked to disarm so Lebanon remains defenseless as it was from 1949 until 1970, when Israel repeatedly attacked Lebanon, taking advantage of a weak government that did not have a strategy to defend the country's sovereignty."

Nasrallah also rejected claims that the Lebanese consensus on supporting the resistance has changed following the liberation of the South in 2000.

He said: "The minority of the Lebanese political groups has never supported the resistance from start. I have to be frank and say without any compliments that these groups are still the same."

As to whether the new conditions in Lebanon had urged France and the U.S. to disarm Hizbullah now, he said: "The core of the problem is that the United States and Israel want to disarm Hizbullah."

He said: "The Lebanese people must know for sure that freedom sovereignty and independence mean nothing to the U.S. administration."

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Beirut 17-03-2005
Adnan El Ghoul
The Daily Star

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