BEIRUT — Ten days after he resigned under pressure from street protests, Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami on Thursday asserted that the country's pro-Syrian leadership enjoyed majority support, but he vowed to defuse the political crisis by inviting the opposition to join a new government.
President Emile Lahoud formally reappointed Karami after 71 members of the 128-seat parliament expressed support for him. Karami said the support in parliament, along with a pro-Syria rally called this week by Hezbollah that drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, reflected a public mandate for the current leadership.
The massive protest by the Shiite Muslim militant group was a display of its strength and made it clear that Washington and its allies cannot afford to ignore it.
Karami's reappointment struck a note of defiance by a government apparently feeling that the political winds had shifted in its favor.
"We proved that in parliament and on the street, we are the majority," Karami said during a news conference.
Despite Karami's promises to include the opposition in his new administration, hope for a break in the stalemate appeared dim. He offered no sign that he planned to meet opposition leaders' demands that a full withdrawal of Syrian troops and other conditions be fulfilled before they considered taking part in his Cabinet.
"This is an indication that they have no intention to change anything, really, in substance. This is no doubt an attempt to convey that message," said Farid Khazen, chairman of the political science department at the American University of Beirut. "The tension will continue."
Karami's reappointment signals that Syria probably will continue its deep involvement in Lebanese politics and society, analysts said.
In Washington, the administration appeared to be ready to face the reality that Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist group by the State Department, is an important player in Lebanese affairs. There were indications that the administration was prepared to not press a provision in a U.N. resolution calling for the immediate disarming of the group's militia.
A European diplomat, who declined to be identified, said a number of European Union nations had sought to convince the U.S. that an immediate confrontation with Hezbollah over disarmament could undermine Lebanon's fragile stability. They advocated waiting until after the May parliamentary election to put pressure on the group.
The diplomat said the Europeans argued that additional time would allow the Palestinian-Israeli peace process to gain momentum, a development that could reduce tensions in the area and thus remove one of Hezbollah's justifications for retaining its arms. If the group did well in the election, it also would be easier to persuade them to forsake violence for a larger stake in the political mainstream. It is believed that the Bush administration has accept that logic -- at least for now.
A United Nations Security Council resolution co-sponsored by the United States and France calls for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and the immediate disarmament of all Lebanese militias. The latter provision has been largely ignored.
During a one-day trip to Mexico, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted Thursday that "the American view of Hezbollah has not changed." She told reporters that after the withdrawal of foreign forces, "the Lebanese people will then have a chance to have free and fair elections and they'll have to chart their own future."
At both the State Department and the White House, spokesmen echoed Rice's comments, indicating that the administration was prepared to accept Hezbollah as a part of Lebanon's political landscape, even as officials insisted that U.S. policy on the group had not changed.
"It's not up to us to determine who has a political role in Lebanon from among the Lebanese," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.
Earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan described Hezbollah as having "significant political standing and organizational strength within Lebanon" and said the party would be a factor in the May elections.
On Feb. 28, Karami surprised allies and foes when he abruptly announced during a parliamentary session that he was stepping down. He had become the focus of swelling street protests -- made up mainly of Maronite Christians, Druze and Sunni Muslims -- over the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose death some critics blame on Syria. Syria and the Lebanese government have denied involvement.
Karami, who remained as a caretaker prime minister, insisted Thursday that his government was never in danger of collapse when he quit last week.
The premier said he planned to meet with supporters and opposition figures early next week to try to form a Cabinet that would not be as pro-Syrian as the previous one. "These difficult times require a national unity government," he said.
Karami said it was up to opposition figures to decide whether to join a transitional government before the parliamentary election.
"We have extended our hand for dialogue. If they refuse, they must accept responsibility for the consequences," Karami said.
Ellingwood reported from Beirut and Marshall from Washington.