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French Version

Possible signs of breakthrough in Beirut

Despite criticism of the inflammatory speeches made during the two-year commemoration of late premier Rafik Hariri's assassination on Wednesday, feverish diplomatic efforts continued on Thursday to restart a national dialogue and push initiatives forward to resolve the political deadlock.

This came as reports of a possible meeting between Speaker Nabih Berri and the Parliament's majority leader, MP Saad Hariri, were neither confirmed nor denied by Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil, who told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation only that "everything is possible."

Khalil said the Hizbullah-led opposition "has agreed to the [international] tribunal [to try those accused of killing Hariri] in principle and has expressed a readiness to discuss details."

Asked if Damascus was pleased with the idea of a meeting between Hariri and Berri, Khalil said: "What we hear from the Syrians is that they encourage inter-Lebanese dialogue."

Hariri met Thursday Egyptian Ambassador Hussein Darrar, with whom he discussed initiatives to end the country's crisis. Darrar told reporters after the meeting that Hariri had told him "there is flexibility being shown on the Lebanese issue and that matters are subject to discussion and negotiation."

"We hope these negotiations lead to what the Lebanese people hope for and restore calm to this nation. My personal evaluation is that the fact that [the anniversary of Rafik Hariri's assassination] passed without incident in the streets is an indication a solution is possible," Darrar said.

Meanwhile, the UN's special coordinator in Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, said that it was time "to move from principle declarations to actual discussion" on the international tribunal.

Speaking to reporters following a meeting with former Premier Salim Hoss, Pedersen said they had discussed the importance of proceeding with the international tribunal and the need to return to dialogue.

He said there is agreement as to the need to give the international tribunal a chance so that a national consensus may be built around it, which he said needs dialogue.

"There is a pressing need for a return to national dialogue in Lebanon," he added.

Pedersen said he noted positive comments by the opposition on Hariri's speech Wednesday, hoping this would lead to some serious breakthroughs.

Commenting on Hizbullah's having "observations" on the draft agreement of the international tribunal, Pedersen said: "This is why we see a need for the Lebanese to sit together and discuss this issue and take this matter seriously."

Diplomatic sources following the progress of Arab efforts to resolve the impasse told the Central News Agency that the pace of progress is very slow, especially on the tribunal.

The sources said Iran failed in its first attempt to convince Syria to accept the tribunal, even with modifications, as the Iranians promised Saudi Arabia they would. The sources also concurred that "it is evident the tribunal is pivotal to any resolution to the political crisis."

However, the opposition issued a statement Thursday stressing its openness to a political solution to save Lebanon from "the evils of the US plot."

In a statement, the opposition said that despite this, it would continue its "peaceful, open actions without respite until its goals are achieved."

The statement said the "offensive" speeches Wednesday came from leaders whose "criminal and bloody past is well known, as well as their total rejection of a country of institutions and law, who desire to divide the country to set up their own cantons only to protect their narrow interests at the expense of the their country's and their people's interests."

The statement said the speeches constituted an attack on a political settlement by imposing impossible terms and by using the occasion to commemorate the assassination to attack the "arms of the resistance" and "brandish the international tribunal as a weapon."

"Accusing the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) of involvement in [Tuesday's] terrorist bombing in the Metn reflects a prior and premeditated intention [by March 14] to accuse national forces of crimes that the enemies of Lebanon and their agents in Lebanon are behind," the statement said.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said Thursday that the Lebanese should look inward to one another, and not to the outside, to solve their problems and work as "one hand and one heart."

Sfeir said that while the problem in the country has persisted for 30 years, nothing the country has gone through in the past three decades compares with what is happening today.

"The [branches of government] contradict one another and the people are in utter confusion," the prelate said.

In a separate development, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met Thursday French Ambassador Bernard Emie, with whom he discussed recent political developments. Emie left without making any comment. Siniora also held talks with the deputy speaker of the German Parliament, Katrin Goering-Eckardt, who is also the head of the Green Party in her country.

Goering-Eckardt arrived in Lebanon on Thursday and was expected to meet with several Lebanese officials during her one-day visit.

Siniora also met former President Amin Gemayel, who briefed the prime minister on his recent visit to the United States, which included talks with senior US officials.

Gemayel told reporters later that his visit was positive and that certain important points were put forward that need to be translated on the ground "once intentions are pure."

Asked if the bombing in Ain Alaq was a message to the Gemayel family, he said it was "a message to all the Lebanese to create further chaos and frighten people."

Beirut 16-02-2007
The Daily Star

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