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French Version

Sultanov, Michel take temperature on Hariri tribunal

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov expressed reservations during a visit to Lebanon Tuesday about establishing an international tribunal for Lebanon under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, saying the move could create further instability.

Sultanov called on the Lebanese to depend on themselves, and not the UN Security Council, to create the international tribunal to try suspects in the murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri and others. Chapter 7 status would allow the tribunal to go ahead without Parliament's approval.

Also on a visit to Lebanon, UN Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicholas Michel admitted that the tribunal faces serious obstacles in Parliament but that the time has come for its legal framework to be approved by the legislature.

Michel arrived in Beirut on Tuesday afternoon and met shortly thereafter with Speaker Nabih Berri. He met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail late Tuesday night. Michel declined to discuss details of the meetings. He said he would continue his consultation with Lebanese officials across the political spectrum in the coming days. Michel is due to meet with President Emile Lahoud Wednesday morning.

Michel said that the UN has had contacts with Syrian officials on the matter of the tribunal. "Of course there haven't been any direct negotiations between Syria and the UN, but there have been many contacts with [Syrian] officials and experts," he said.

Sultanov, who arrived in Beirut late Monday night, met with resigned Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh on Tuesday morning before heading to Baabda Palace to meet Lahoud.

Sultanov later met separately with Berri and Siniora. He is due in Damascus on Wednesday for talks with Syrian officials.

Speaking to reporters at the Grand Serail Tuesday after meeting with Siniora and acting Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri, Sultanov said he would write a report for his government at the end of his visit, based on which Russia would define its position on several issues at hand.

"We insist the Lebanese move beyond this difficult period in their history, but as a unified nation and a single government based on national accord and a common vision for Lebanon's future," he said.

Sultanov said the repercussions of establishing the tribunal under Chapter 7 have to be examined before such a decision could be made.

"Will it ensure stability and help normalize the situation in the country, or will it result in additional instability?" he asked.

The Russian official said the longstanding position of Moscow was to support the establishment of the tribunal and uncover "the truth" behind the Hariri assassination.

"We recognize the importance of bringing criminals to justice, but if we take tangible steps [toward Chapter 7] we have to be aware of their effect, will it be positive or negative? For this reason we have reservations," Sultanov said.

Asked if he was optimistic after his meetings with Lebanese officials, Sultanov said: "I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, I evaluate the facts and the facts show that the Lebanese need to exert greater efforts to find an acceptable compromise through national dialogue, without having it imposed from outside, under the principle of no victor and no vanquished."

Speaking to reporters after meeting Lahoud, the deputy foreign minister said Russia was working to ensure that a UN Security Council presidential statement, due soon, takes into consideration the situation in Lebanon and the region.

The tribunal would only be established under Chapter 7 when all avenues for finding a Lebanese solution were exhausted, he added.

Sultanov said Russia will take the "Lebanese and regional situation," as well as bilateral relations between Damascus and Moscow, into account before making any international decisions concerning the tribunal.

Russian-Syrian relations are "good and progressing," he said.

Sultanov said his mission was to "listen to all sides in order to better understand the situation and explore all means possible to find a way out of the current crisis."

Russia is eager to help find a compromise solution to the political impasse, not to impose a solution, he said.

In comments made to reporters at Rafik Hariri International Airport on Monday night, Sultanov said the tribunal was a "matter for the Lebanese to decide."

Michel, whose diplomatic mission is being interpreted as a last-ditch effort to win approval for the tribunal from the opposition, said his role was to help Lebanese authorities move forward with a bilateral agreement with the UN concerning the tribunal.

Michel said he came to Lebanon with an open mind and would be staying for a "couple of days" to meet with Lebanese officials - among them Justice Minister Charles Rizk and judges Ralph Riachi and Chukri Sader - who helped draft the text of the agreement on the tribunal.

Michel said he will try to find "creative means" to reactivate dialogue between both sides of the political divide.

"Everyone agrees that there is an urgent need to see justice in this case, thus there should not be the slightest doubt that the tribunal will be established; but now there is need to agree over the next steps," he said.

Michel said the tribunal would need at least one year from ratification of the "legal framework" in Parliament to begin its work. "The time has come for this framework to be agreed upon," he said.

Michel said that while the UN appreciated the "internal difficulties" facing Lebanon at present, the world body did not want to take sides in Lebanon's "internal controversy" over the tribunal.

"We want the tribunal to be a real judicial organ, and not a political instrument," he said.

Michel said that Security Council members agreed that ratification of the legal framework for the tribunal within the Lebanese constitutional framework was the "preferred choice," adding that his mission in Lebanon was to take part in efforts geared toward reactivating the ratification process.

Beirut 18-04-2007
The Daily Star

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