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U.S. may pull back support of Lebanon

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is reconsidering U.S. economic and military support for Lebanon after the militant group Hezbollah won a prominent role in the government of the fragile Mideast state where the United States has spent millions promoting a pro-Western agenda.

The administration has begun a review of political, economic and military assistance to Lebanon in light of the collapse of a U.S.-backed government two weeks ago, U.S. officials said Tuesday. The administration will probably cut or realign that aid if Hezbollah takes over key ministries under a new prime minister, Najib Mikati, who has the backing of Hezbollah, they said.

Hezbollah forced the collapse of the previous government, and holds a veto over the makeup of its replacement.

The United States considers the Iranian-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organization and has imposed sanctions against its members, with whom U.S. officials are barred from meeting.

"A Hezbollah-controlled government would clearly have an impact on our bilateral relationship with Lebanon," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters.

Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Hezbollah's emergence as power broker was a "sad day for Lebanon" that would "render [it] a satellite of Iran."

Hezbollah controlled two ministries in Saad Hariri's now-defunct unity cabinet and the U.S. officials said it would be difficult to provide any support to a government that contains more than that.

In Beirut, Mikati, a billionaire businessman, called for a unity government yesterday, a sign that Hezbollah does not want to push its growing power too far and risk isolation abroad and an escalation of sectarian tensions at home.

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