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French Version

'Very positive' to 'no progress :' Latest installment of national talks draws mixed reviews

Berri says participants have 'begun to trust each other'

Consultations day 3
No headway was made on the formation of a unity government during national talks on Thursday...

No headway was made on the formation of a unity government during national talks on Thursday, with parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri saying that the only positive outcome so far was that politicians have slowly "begun to trust each other." The consultations were to resume on Saturday. MP Atef Majdalani, who left the session an hour after it began, said the atmosphere in the talks was "worse than that of Tuesday's, unless Speaker Berri manages to break the ice."

MP Ghassan Tueni said it was time for a change.

"It is time for the Lebanese to change the tag they have held as people who constantly fight amongst each other. Peace must prevail," he said.

While Tueni said he "supports Murr's suggested plan" to include four additional representatives of Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun in the current Cabinet, "this has not been approved by all participants."

Berri said Thursday's session was "very positive and was one of the best rounds of consultations that we've had so far, despite all the attempts to ruin it. It was an ice-breaker.

"We have agreed to postpone the next consultation session for more deliberations until this Saturday at 11 a.m," the speaker said. "We hope to reach good results then."

MP Walid Jumblatt and Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad refused to speak to reporters after the session. Reports from inside the meeting described passing friction between Raad and MP Saad Hariri.

"No matter what you say about supporting the resistance's weapons, we don't believe you," Raad was reported to have told Hariri.

Hariri was said to have replied: "And no matter how much you speak of the international tribunal that will try [former Premier] Rafik Hariri's assassins, I will not believe you."

Jumblatt was quoted as having asked: "Why do we go around in circles when we can never reach a solution? The problem is having two states and two governments."

Raad was reported to have responded: "Well, let's unify the two governments."

Jumblatt then said: "And the two states."

Premier Fouad Siniora said directly after the session that a plan to expand the government "lacks several ingredients, including salt and vegetables."

Responding to the premier's comments, Berri said: "I spoke to Siniora myself and he told me that he meant that the plan proposed by MP Michel Murr to expand the Cabinet to 26 ministers didn't work."

Berri, who will travel to Tehran Saturday for the Asian Parliamentary Speakers' Convention, said he would discuss the situation in Lebanon with Iranian officials.

"Iran and its officials have always called for unity and good relations among the Lebanese and the stability of the Lebanese internal situation," Berri said.

Berri denied reports that the Shiite ministers in Cabinet would resign if Hizbullah and the FPM's demands for one-third of governmental portfolios were not met.

"No one has spoken of toppling the Cabinet," Berri said. "The subject is to expand it to include a fairer representation" of realities on the ground.

"One third of Cabinet's portfolios to ensure a veto is not the demand. Our demand is the participation of all in the unity government," he said.

Berri also warned against false rumors spread by "ill-wishers and those who are trying to create an atmosphere of tension between the Lebanese."

"They have spoken of the March 14 Forces asking the permission of the Interior Ministry to demonstrate against the March 8 Forces on Monday, and vice versa, and all of this turned out to be untrue," he said.

In addition to local issues, participants in Thursday's consultations "unanimously condemned the Israeli massacres against the Palestinian people ... and the Israeli atrocities committed against the Lebanese," the speaker said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea told reporters that "no progress" had been made.

"The March 14 Forces has no problem with more ministerial representation for Aoun ... but the current proposition under discussion lacks something," Geagea said. "We have been trying to reach a solution, but solutions need the highest level of reasoning," he added. "Today, there is a part that is demanding wider participation in the Cabinet under the pretext that they cannot stop any decision they don't approve of, and based on this they are demanding a third of the Cabinet's portfolios."

Geagea said the most important issue was the presidency. "The Cabinet [is the product of] a free and democratic Parliament, while the extension of the presidential term was imposed on us" by Syria, he said.

While Geagea said his allies would not "take to the streets," he said that the opposition was free to do so "in a democratic and civilized manner."

"Aoun's response to this was positive," he said, "but we don't know about Hizbullah."

As The Daily Star went to press, a fax purporting to contain a transcript of the session was received by this and other newspapers in Beirut. The sender was anonymous, however, so the authenticity of the document could not be ascertained

Beirut 10-11-2006
The Daily Star

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