U.S. Denies It Will Talk to Hezbollah's Political Wing

'Hezbollah is a designated foreign terrorist organization', says White House.

The United States has denied allegations that it is considering reaching out to political elements in Hezbollah.

White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Haaretz that "U.S. policy toward Hezbollah has not changed and is not changing. Hezbollah is a designated foreign terrorist organization and our efforts against the group are in line with that status."

Hezbollah - AP - Nov. 12, 2010

Vietor reiterated the United States' no-contact policy with Hezbollah as with other terrorist organizations, and said the policy is not up for a change. According to an article in the Washington Post on Friday, the Obama administration is considering reaching out to Hezbollah's political wing. According to the newspaper, at this stage it is an intelligence effort, not a policymaking one.

In an opinion piece in the paper's online edition, columnist David Ignatius said Washington was considering an effort similar to the one Britain implemented "during the 1990s with Sinn Fein, the legal political wing of the terrorist Irish Republican Army."

"That outreach led to breakthrough peace talks and settlement of a conflict that had been raging for more than a century," Ignatius wrote, adding that several U.S. officials were expected in an upcoming intelligence report to endorse dialogue with political leaders of both Hezbollah and the Taliban.

Writing of the effect the recent Mideast turmoil may have had on U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to accept these recommendations, Ignatius said that the "political time bomb ticking away in the [intelligence report] is the question of whether the United States should seek some kind of direct or indirect engagement with Hezbollah - at least with its political wing. Officials who support this course argue that the organization is like the IRA or the PLO - with nonmilitary components that can be drawn into a dialogue."

Ignatius quotes intelligence official John Brennan, known for supporting a move toward dialogue with the Lebanese militant group, as saying that while "Hezbollah started out as purely a terrorist organization back in the early '80s," it has "evolved significantly over time."

"The bottom line," the Washington Post article concluded, "is that after a decade of American wars in the Middle East, the Obama administration is increasingly looking for ways to talk with adversaries and draw them into a process of dialogue. The world is changing, and perhaps so should U.S. policy."