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U.S. won’t reach out to Hezbollah ‘moderates’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration will not treat Hezbollah as being divided into political and military factions.

"Despite the group’s rhetoric and political campaigning, there remains today no meaningful distinction between the military and political wings of Hezbollah," Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state in charge of the Middle East, testified Tuesday to the U.S. Senate Middle East subcommittee.

Feltman’s remarks appeared to be aimed at ending a controversy started last month when President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, suggested that the United States should cultivate Hezbollah "moderates" in the Lebanese government, as opposed to the militants who run the terrorist group.

Feltman said the United States would deal with the group, which launched a 2006 war against Israel, should it leave behind its terrorism — but added that he believed it to be unlikely.

"Should Hezbollah truly desire to join the ranks of Lebanon’s other political groups in its democratic system, its path would be clear: It would fully disarm, like all other militias, renounce terrorism and political intimidation, and acknowledge the authority of the government of Lebanon and that government’s right, like other governments, to a monopoly on the use of force," he said. "Under those circumstances we could reconsider the group’s status.

"Make no mistake, these are significant hurdles, and we have seen no indication to date that Hezbollah is ready to take these steps."

The Iran-backed group, Feltman said, "remains the most technically capable terrorist group in the world and a continued security threat to the United States."

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