March 6, 2009 / 11:54 AM / 10 years ago

Hezbollah says British dialogue offer is positive

Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Bill Rammell (R) speaks during his meeting with the media at the British ambassador's home in Amman October 28, 2008. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Britain has taken a “step in the right direction” by signalling willingness to talk to Hezbollah, a spokesman for the Lebanese Shi’ite group said on Friday.

Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Bill Rammell said this week that Britain had reconsidered its position because Hezbollah had joined a national unity government in July, formed under a deal to end a paralysing political conflict in Lebanon.

“This policy revision is a step in the right direction and we shall see how it translates in practical terms,” Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim al-Moussawi said.

Britain’s policy since 2005 had been to shun contact with the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Islamist group, which was founded in the early 1980s to fight Israeli occupation of Lebanon and is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the government was exploring contacts only with Hezbollah’s political wing, not its military arm, which features on Britain’s list of banned organisations.

Hezbollah itself makes no distinction between its political and military functions. It also runs medical, educational, social and reconstruction activities. Its leadership is highly centralised and all members undergo military training.

Hezbollah, which has 14 members of parliament, has taken part in successive Lebanese governments since 2005. It has just one minister in the current cabinet, but along with its allies, wields veto power over important decisions.

Rammell said a delegation of British Conservative MPs had held talks with a Lebanese parliamentary committee that included one Hezbollah member. The British ambassador to Lebanon was present at the meeting.

Reporting by Laila Bassam, Writing by Yara Bayoumy, Editing by Alistair Lyon

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