This blog is intended to provide the reader with important world news with an emphasis on Middle East and North Africa. It will publish news, analyses, comments, and opinions concerning those two regions. However, We welcome any comments, news or opinions which are related to their countries.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Lebanon: Saudi-Syrian Bid To Solve Crisis Picks Up Steam
King Abdullah, Assad discuss Lebanese situation in extended phone conversation
By Mirella Hodeib
This article was published in The Daily Star on 29/12/2010
BEIRUT: Talks led by Saudi Arabia and Syria to solve Lebanon’s months-long stalemate gained momentum Tuesday, two days after the Syrian president and the Saudi monarch held an extensive telephone conversation on the matter.
Bashar Assad and King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz thoroughly discussed the situation in Lebanon during a lengthy telephone conversation Sunday, an Arab diplomatic source told The Daily Star. “The Syrian side is very confident and comfortable with the outcome of recent talks with the Saudis,” said the source.
Lebanon’s two main powerbrokers launched an initiative in July to contain mounting tensions in Lebanon over the indictment to be issued by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The UN-backed court is widely expected to point the finger at Hizbullah, sparking fears of violence erupting in the volatile country.
Riyadh and Damascus are said to be negotiating a package deal to end the Lebanese crisis acceptable to the country’s rival March 8 and March 14 factions.
After a slowdown due to Abdullah’s hospitalization, the Syrian-Saudi bid has received a boost in the past few days.
The slain statesman’s son, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, is currently on a visit to New York where he paid a visit to the Saudi monarch, who is recovering there after undergoing back surgeries earlier this month. King Abdullah was expected to brief Hariri about the progress of talks with Syria.
Former Prime Minister Omar Karami said Hariri’s visit to New York could indicate that a Syrian-Saudi agreement has been concluded. Karami said Hariri might have left to the US to be informed of the Syrian-Saudi brokered agreement to end Lebanon’s crisis over the disputed issue of the STL.
The Arab diplomatic source explained that Saudi-Syrian efforts aim to address a wide array of issues including the STL and its impending indictment, as well as arrest warrants issued by Syria against Lebanese and Syrians in the lawsuit filed by the former head of Lebanon’s General Security apparatus Jamil al-Sayyed.
The source also spoke about the Saudi-Syrian dialogue addressing a possible government change, with Hariri remaining premier and an overhaul of the country’s security and judicial hierarchies.
Syria and Saudi Arabia are also apparently heavily relying on an expected visit around January 12 to Washington by French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Assad had discussed Lebanon during talks with Sarkozy earlier in December.
The positive impression conveyed by the Arab diplomat echoed remarks made by the Syrian president to his Monday visitors. Assad was quoted as saying the Saudi-Syrian endeavor has reached its final stages, adding that King Abdullah’s illness has delayed its announcement.
Assad was also quoted as saying that succeeding in preventing the drastic repercussions of the STL indictment was similar to the collapse of the May 17, 1983, peace deal between Lebanon and Israel.
Hizbullah has slammed the Netherlands-based court an “Israeli project” aimed at targeting the resistance and blatantly rejected any cooperation with the STL.
The party’s Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said a settlement to the Lebanese crisis ought to be attained before the court issues an indictment.
Hariri’s adviser Mohammad Shatah told MTV that there would be “plenty of time” to contest the indictment after it is released. “The indictment can be challenged if relevant and clear-cut evidence is submitted.”
Shatah said Saudi-Syrian efforts will not compromise justice, adding that talks focused on “finding a unified stance among the Lebanese, guarantying the functioning of the government, and maintaining the level Lebanese-Syrian ties have reached.”
Beirut MP Nuhad al-Mashnouq of Hariri’s Future Movement visited Damascus Monday and held talks with the Syrian president’s top adviser Bouthaina Shaaban. The visit is considered the first known face-to-face meeting between a member of the Future Movement and a Syrian official.
Hizbullah, meanwhile, said the party welcomed all initiatives aimed at solving Lebanon’s political impasse. “[Hizbullah] extends a hand to all initiatives aimed at helping this country whether Saudi-Syrian or Turkish-Iranian to reach a solution before the indictment is issued,” said Hizbullah’s politburo member Mahmoud Qomati.
In an implicit reference to comments made by Hariri to pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat in September, the Hizbullah official slammed attempts to overlook the issue of the so-called “false witnesses.” “Some have admitted that false witnesses have harmed Lebanese-Syrian ties but they insist on paralyzing the country and the government so the false witnesses are not uncovered,” said Qomati.
The Cabinet has been stalled over the problematic issue of “false witnesses,” which the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance accuses of misleading the probe into the assassination of Rafik Hariri and calls for their trial by the country’s highest court, the Judicial Council. But the March 14 coalition fears that the investigation of “false witnesses” by the Judicial Council, rather than by the regular judiciary, would eventually block the work of the tribunal.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea said the Syrian-Saudi bid was “currently on holiday.” “We are currently facing an internal problem and we should solve it on our own through dialogue otherwise it will never be solved,” he added.