By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON - A top State
Department official informed Congress on Thursday that
Iranian cadre were training Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.
Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told the House International
Relations Committee the information was provided by "our own
Welch also testified there was "a continuing covert Syrian presence
there" despite the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
And, Welch said, there are armed Palestinian groups in Lebanon, as well.
Welch said the United States would have no contact with Lebanon's energy and water minister,
Mohammed Fneish, who is a member of Hezbollah.
The State Department official reiterated the long-standing U.S. determination that Hezbollah is a
terrorist organization. The group is known to operate with weapons provided
by Iran that are channeled to it through Syria, which borders Lebanon.
Asked by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., whether
Iranian cadre were training Hezbollah in Lebanon, Welch replied, "Yes."
"There continues to be an Iranian presence in association with Hezbollah
in Lebanon," he said.
Welch said the Lebanese army should extend its authority to southern Lebanon and the militia groups should be
But on Wednesday, the leader of Hezbollah said no one can uproot the Shiite
Muslim group. "The resistance in Lebanon is not an armed gang that can be
hit or eradicated," he told supporters in Beirut's southern suburbs.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora pledged to protect Hezbollah, saying the Lebanese
government considers it "an honest and natural expression" of
resistance to Israeli aggression and threats.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., called the statement
"profoundly disturbing." He said he was not aware of any Israeli
threats to Lebanon.
Welch agreed. Challenging Saniora, whose government
has the Bush administration's support, Welch said
"there is no part of Lebanon occupied by Israel."
"I don't know what they would be resisting," he said.
"Hezbollah admits its material support for Palestinian terrorist
operations, which undermines the Palestinian leadership's goal of stopping
violence in israel and the Palestinian
territories," Welch said.
Still, Welch and James Kunder, an assistant adminstrator of the U.S. Agency for International
Development, said the administration had asked Congress to approve $35
million in U.S. aid and $1.7 million in other
He said plans would be made for an international donors
conference in Beirut this fall.