BEIRUT,(Reuters) – A pro-Syrian Lebanese politician on Saturday shrugged off a U.S. travel ban, referring to it sarcastically as a “precious gift” that showed the Lebanese government was a tool in Washington’s hand.
President George W. Bush on Friday banned 10 Syrian officials and Lebanese politicians, whom Washington accuses of undermining Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora, from entering the United States.
The list of Syrian officials includes Assef Shawkat, director of military intelligence and brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad, Hisham Ikhtiyar, an Assad adviser, Brigadier General Rustom Ghazali, former head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, and his assistant Brigadier General Jama’a Jama’a.
The list includes six pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians — five former cabinet ministers and a former member of parliament.
Lebanese ex-MP Nasser Qandil, one of the six, said he would send a cable to Bush thanking him for his decision “which he sees as a precious gift that shows the true nature of the political conflict in Lebanon”.
“The Lebanese are confronting the American policies and the (Lebanese) government is nothing but a tool of the American plan,” Qandil’s office said in a statement.
Qandil said the ban also exposed Bush’s calls for promoting freedom of speech and democracy as “fraudulent”. He said he was considering legal steps against the U.S. president.
The U.S. move followed repeated calls for Damascus to stop fomenting instability in Lebanon, where Washington is trying to shore up the elected government of the embattled Siniora.
The Lebanese opposition, led by the pro-Syrian Hezbollah group, has been demanding a national unity government since all its ministers quit Siniora’s cabinet nearly eight months ago.
Siniora, backed by the United States, France and Saudi Arabia, has refused the opposition demand, which ultimately gives Syria’s allies veto power in his government.
Damascus, which withdrew its forces from Lebanon in 2005 after a 29-year military presence, has repeatedly denied accusations of meddling in Lebanon.
The United States backed a recent U.N. Security Council resolution setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was killed in 2005. Syria has been accused of complicity, a charge it denies.