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French Version

Hoss hopes Riyadh can break Beirut deadlock

Berri sets deadline for resolving political crisis - 'or else'

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Hoss visited the country's top three leaders on Tuesday to inform them of his recent tripss to Saudi Arabia and Syria, as the Parliament speaker set a deadline - the end of February - for the Lebanese to find a solution to the deadlock, "or else."

Hoss carried with him on Tuesday messages from Saudi Arabia and Syria to his meetings with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Speaker Nabih Berri and President Emile Lahoud.

"The talks with King Abdullah and President Bashar Assad were overall positive," Hoss told reporters following his meeting with Lahoud at Baabda Palace.

Hoss denied media reports that a Saudi initiative had been launched to defuse the political crisis, saying there "is no Saudi initiative, just proposed ideas."

However, he added "I believe Saudi Arabia is going to play an important role similar to the one it played in the past to end the Civil War by hosting the Taif Accord."

Hoss is due to visit Iran next week to seek help in resolving his country's impasse.

Hoss denied any ambitions to actively participate in government again, repeating his vow not "to meddle" in Lebanese politics - a pledge the former premier first made after he was defeated in the 2000 parliamentary elections.

"However, I am prepared to play at any moment a national role to bring closer all conflicting views and help end the political deadlock," he said.

Asked if he was prepared to lead a Cabinet in Lebanon or be the neutral minister, widely referred to as the "guarantee" or "king" minister in a national unity government, Hoss joked: "I don't mind becoming a king, but not a minister."

Criticizing the opposition's deliberations on resorting to civil disobedience as the latest step in their anti-government campaign, Hoss warned that "threats to resort to civil disobedience are very serious ... and we should try to find a solution in order not to reach such extremes."

Egypt, another major regional player mediating the crisis, also clarified on Tuesday through its ambassador to Lebanon, Hussein Darrar, that the Egyptian role is a "supportive" one, executed by the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.

"The Arab League initiative is the one being considered and discussed as it is founded on the principles of no victor or vanquished," he told reporters after a meeting with Druze religious leader Sheikh Naim Hassan.

Darrar dismissed media reports that Moussa's initiative had reached a dead end in Damascus, saying: "What the head of the Arab League announced was that there were some difficulties ... and not a dead end."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abou al-Ghaith conveyed to visiting Future Movement MP Mohammed Hajjar the importance of resolving the crisis through dialogue on ideas put forward by the Arab League.

As for the Iranian-Saudi meetings, Darrar said "the outcome ... will have great long-term effects and what gets announced is not a reflection of the whole picture."

But Free Patriotic Movement MP Nabil Nicolas said that the Saudi-Iranian meetings had led to a "solution."

"The solution they have arrived at is satisfactory to us and to Berri," Nicolas told the Voice of Lebanon on Tuesday. "We are now waiting until the end of the week to hear from the other camp on whether or not they agree with this solution."

Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri returned from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, meeting with Saudi Ambassador Abdel-Aziz Khoja upon his return. No statements were made by either after the meeting.

Former MP Ghattas Khoury, who is close to the Hariri family, said highly anticipated talks between Berri and Hariri were on hold "awaiting a response from Syria."

"Everyone is waiting for the final signal from Syria before moving forward," he told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.

This came a day after Berri, who also heads the Amal Movement, said the Lebanese need to reach a solution soon, "or else" he would "expose those obstructing the creation of an international tribunal" to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

"If the situation remains like this, and ... we fail to find compromises, I will hold a news conference before the end of February to explain to the Lebanese everything from A to Z," Berri told local daily An-Nahar. "In short, I will expose those who are hampering the creation of the international tribunal and the formation of a national unity government because it is my duty to enlighten the Lebanese about these details."

Amal MP Anwar Khalil delivered a dismal picture on Tuesday, saying: "Channels of communications have been frozen."

"There are leaders in the March 14 Forces who have refused all the solutions proposed that would have helped the two sides move closer to an agreement," said Khalil.

Central News Agency sources reported on Tuesday that Khoja had been contacted by MP Walid Jumblatt and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who expressed strong stances against giving the opposition a "blocking third" in a unity Cabinet.

Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan named and blamed Jumblatt and Geagea as the two leaders from the March 14 camp who are "responsible" for the persistence of the political deadlock.

A member of Jumblatt's parliamentary bloc, MP Akram Chehayeb, said there was a "freeze" on internal discussions.

"There has been no progress made," he said, "and it isn't clear what the black or white points are over the issue of the international tribunal and the government."

Beirut 21-02-2007
The Daily Star

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