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French Version

Moussa puts positive spin on efforts to end crisis in Beirut

Arab mediation efforts have yet to reach a deal ending the political standoff between the government and the opposition despite some progress made on Wednesday. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said following talks with leaders from both camps that there is a great hope of reaching an agreement once compromises are made.

"In my estimation, there is great hope that we will reach something on the various issues," Moussa told reporters after talks with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whom he met twice on Wednesday.

"There can be no progress without all sides agreeing on a common ground that has gains and maybe some concessions. What is important is the Lebanese principle of 'no victor and no vanquished,'" said Moussa.

"When I speak of progress, it is progress in the whole package," he added, saying his talks with various Lebanese leaders focused on a number of controversial issues, not just the government crisis.

Moussa was speaking after two days of negotiations with key leaders including Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his opposition ally MP Michel Aoun, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement.

Moussa also met Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt, and former President Amin Gemayel, whose son, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, was assassinated last month.

Speaking after meeting with Sfeir, Moussa said that he had briefed the prelate on the talks and that Sfeir "supported and blessed my initiatives and the efforts I am making."

Moussa added that the Council of Maronite Bishops' "declaration of principles" put forward by Sfeir earlier this month, which stipulates a consensus Cabinet and early presidential and parliamentary polls, is "being taken into consideration."

Senior Moussa aide Hesham Youssef told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday the mediators had an "extremely positive" meeting on Tuesday with Nasrallah.

A source close to Moussa told Agence France Press that Nasrallah said he "was open to certain ideas put forward by the Arab League secretary general and that encouraged Moussa to pursue mediation."

Moussa and Sudanese presidential envoy Mustafa Othman Ismail have also held talks with President Emile Lahoud, Speaker Nabih Berri and the parliamentary majority leader, MP Saad Hariri.

"Responses are so far encouraging," said Youssef, "but we haven't reached a conclusive outcome as of yet."

The Arab League is pushing for a deal that includes a number of debatable issues, namely the shape of a national unity government, early presidential and parliamentary elections, and plans to set up an international court to try assassins in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"We are awaiting responses from key political forces," Youssef said. "We're hopeful that it will be a quick process because the situation is extremely tense. I am hopeful."

The opposition launched massive street protests on December 1 to demand a national unity government which it says is required by power-sharing arrangements in force since the 1975-90 Civil War.

The government responded by accusing the opposition of staging a coup d'etat and of seeking to derail the international court at the behest of Syria, which has been implicated in Hariri's murder by a UN commission of inquiry. Damascus denies any involvement.

Siniora was to visit Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that will focus on the Lebanese crisis, his office said.

The premier told a delegation from the Bekaa who came to support his government on Wednesday that he welcomes "any local or Arab initiative to end the crisis."

Jumblatt said Moussa's Arab solution constituted a reaffirmation of the importance of the Taif Accord, which ended the Civil War.

"When Moussa offers an Arab solution to Lebanon that means that in a way he is reaffirming the importance of the Taif Accord and the Taif is the base and start point," the legislator said.

Moussa said he will announce the final outcome of his talks Thursday evening before leaving for Cairo.

Beirut 21-12-2006
The Daily Star

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