(AFP) – May 22, 2009
PRISTINA (AFP) — US Vice President Joe Biden ended a Balkans tour, leaving Kosovo for Beirut to bolster US support for pro-Western forces ahead of Lebanese elections, according to an AFP correspondent.
In Beirut, Biden was set to affirm US support for the "independence and sovereignty" of Lebanon, said the White House.
"The vice president will meet with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri," it said in a statement on Thursday.
Biden visited Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo during his three-day Balkans tour to demonstrate the four-month-old Obama adminstration's engagement in the volatile region.
During his stay in Sarajevo, Biden sharply rebuked Bosnian politicians, warning they faced a stark choice between European Union and NATO integration or a return to bloody conflict over nationalist rhetoric.
In Belgrade, he pledged a clean slate in ties with Serbia.
Biden said Belgrade does not need to recognise the US-backed independence of Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian-majority province that broke away from Serbia in February last year.
He received a hero's welcome on Thursday in Kosovo, whose leaders presented him with the territory's highest award, The Golden Medal of Freedom, in honour of his outspoken support for independence in the late 1990s.
"Your independence is irreversible," he said in a speech lawmakers greeted with standing ovations. "The success of an independent Kosovo is a priority for our administration."
According to a Lebanese government source, Biden would discuss with Sleiman "the Middle East peace process as well as bilateral relations."
Biden and Sleiman will both make a statement after the meeting, and Biden will also make an announcement on US military assistance to Lebanon with Defense Minister Elias Murr, the White House said.
Biden's trip comes as the tiny Mediterranean country prepares for a June 7 parliamentary election in which Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its allies could win a majority.
Washington considers Hezbollah a terrorist organisation and has been a staunch backer of the current Western-backed majority in parliament headed by Saad Hariri, son and political heir of slain ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
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