Lebanese PM presses Obama on Mideast peace deal

WASHINGTON (AP) - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday told President Barack Obama that the "clock is ticking" on Mideast peace and that failure to reach an agreement will lead to more violence and extremism in the region.

On his first official White House visit as premier, Hariri said he told Obama during an Oval Office meeting that Lebanon is hopeful about his efforts to secure a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. The two sides recently began participating in indirect peace talks.

But the prime minister said he told Obama about a "pervasive frustration and skepticism" in the Muslim world regarding the issue and that the "clock is ticking ... against all those who believe in a just peace."

"Failure will nurture more extremism and give birth to new forms of violence," Hariri said afterward. "This poses great dangers to everyone in the Middle East and to the world at large. But the rewards of success are even greater."

Hariri said he also thanked Obama for the U.S. commitment and support for Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, and for assistance for its armed forces and other security agencies.

Hariri's visit came amid regional tensions over claims by Israel that Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group has acquired Scud missiles transferred from Syria.

Syria denied the accusations and Hariri has compared them to the false American charges that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ahead of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah has refused to confirm or deny the claims.

Hariri's government, formed in November 2009, comprises a coalition of Western-backed factions and Syrian-supported groups led by Hezbollah. He recently reconciled with Syria, which he has blamed for the 2005 assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

The State Department accused Syria of "provocative behavior" in supplying arms to Hezbollah, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused the Shiite group of having far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world.

The White House issued a statement saying Obama stressed with Hariri the importance of efforts to ensure that Iran complies with its international nonproliferation obligations. Obama also commended the prime minister for carrying on his father's legacy.

Reporters were not granted access to the meeting; only still photographers were allowed in for pictures.

Hariri also met during the day with George Mitchell, Obama's envoy to the Middle East; national security adviser James Jones, and Dennis Ross, a deputy national security adviser on Iran.

--- Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

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