Britain approves low-level talks with Hezbollah

Hezbollah hails move as "step in the right direction"


Britain has authorized low-level contact with the political wing of Lebanon's Hezbollah to stress the urgency of disbanding militias, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Friday.

He underscored the need to curb Iran's influence with the Lebanese group and others in the region in a statement immediately hailed by Hezbollah.

London has had no official talks with Hezbollah since 2005, and last July added its military wing to a blacklist of designated terror groups.

Britain said Wednesday it was prepared to engage in direct contacts with Hezbollah's political wing, after it became part of a national unity government last year.

"The military wing of Hezbollah is proscribed in the UK," but the political wing is now represented in the Lebanese government, Miliband explained on BBC radio.

Step in the right direction

"In Lebanon they have one cabinet member and we've sanctioned low-level contacts with them so that we can make absolutely clear out determination to see United Nations Security Council resolution 1701, which calls for the disbanding of militias, among other things in Lebanon, taken forward with real speed."

In addition, he said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be telling Tehran that "Iranian engagement in the region with Hezbollah and others needs to be curbed because at the moment it's a force for instability."

Ibrahim Mussawi, a Hezbollah spokesman, welcomed Miliband's announcement saying it was a "step in the right direction."

"Now we are waiting to see how these statements translate into actions," he told AFP.

Lebanon's political rivals, including members of Hezbollah, formed a national unity government last July, following an accord which saved the country from the brink of renewed civil war.

Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said Wednesday there had already been a "first meeting", between a delegation of lawmakers from Britain's main opposition Conservative Party visiting Lebanon and a Lebanese parliamentary delegation which included a Hezbollah member.

However, he stressed there would be no such change towards Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement, saying: "I don't think there's an analogy."

Now we are waiting to see how these statements translate into actions

Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Mussawi