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Jimmy Carter: I Would Have Been 'Delighted' To Meet With Hezbollah

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — Jimmy Carter said Friday he would have been "delighted" to meet with Hezbollah officials during his visit to Lebanon and regretted the militant group's leaders refuse to meet with current or former American presidents.

Carter spent five days talking to top Lebanese leaders and members of parliamentary blocs but didn't sit down with lawmakers from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which is on the State Department list of terrorist groups.

Carter offered to have his Atlanta-based Carter Center monitor Lebanon's parliament elections next year. The vote will be fiercely contested between Western-backed groups that now hold a majority in the 128-member parliament and a Hezbollah-led coalition supported by Syria and Iran.

During a lecture at the American University of Beirut on Friday, Carter expressed disappointment Hezbollah refused to see him.

"We came here with the hope that we can meet with all the political parties and factions in Lebanon," he said. "If the leaders of Hezbollah wanted to meet with me, I would have been delighted."

A senior Hezbollah official contacted by The Associated Press declined to comment.

Carter was widely criticized in April when he met in Syria with Khaled Mashaal, the exiled leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The group, which violently seized control of the Gaza Strip last year, is also on the U.S. terrorist list.

Carter planned to go to neighboring Syria on Saturday for meetings with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hamas leaders based in Damascus.

In his speech, Carter said Iran and Syria _ both supporters of Hezbollah and militant Palestinian factions like Hamas and Islamic Jihad _ could have a major role in Mideast peacemaking efforts.