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French Version

D'Alema puts optimistic spin on impasse in Beirut

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema hinted on Tuesday that agreement could be reached soon between Lebanon's sharply divided political camps, speaking of a "positive mood" in Damascus following a visit during which he met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.

D'Alema, who arrived in Beirut Tuesday afternoon, met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail and later held a news conference, during which he said he had made it clear to the Syrians that "we want to consider behaviors and not only declarations."

D'Alema said he hoped that in the coming days an agreement could be reached among the political groups in Lebanon.

"I feel that would be a clearer indicator that UN Security Council Resolution 1757 will not result in instability in Lebanon," he said, referring to council's recent decision to mandate the creation of a special court to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The foreign minister said the tribunal was not meant to be a threat to any country or aimed against any group in Lebanon.

D'Alema said that while the Syrians were not happy with the Security Council decision, they must now deal with the situation and consider the future.

"The Syrians understand the possibility of a tradeoff with them, because we want their cooperation, we want Syria as part of a solution," he said.

He said there are three main crises around Syria - in Iraq, in Palestine and in Lebanon. "We need Syrian cooperation in respecting the full independence of Lebanon, in cooperating to control its borders and in cooperating with Lebanon and the international community against terrorism," D'Alema said.

He also expressed his support for Lebanon and its armed forces, which he said were being attacked by terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda: "We are confident that Lebanese democracy will successfully overcome this attack and will emerge from this crisis stronger than before."

As for reports that peacekeeping troops from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon might be used to monitor the border with Syria to guard against arms smuggling, he said that was the job of the Lebanese Army.

"But as I have said before, the European Union is prepared to extend technical support in this regard," he added

D'Alema also called on Damascus to act against the infiltration of "terrorists" from Iraq through Syria into Lebanon.

"We have made clear to the Syrian authorities that we value actions and not words," he said. "We encourage all aspects of cooperation in order to prevent the infiltration of extremist terrorist groups. We spoke about this with the Syrian leadership. We also spoke about such cooperation with Lebanon."

He said that during his talks in Damascus, Moallem expressed dismay at the infiltration of Al-Qaeda elements from Iraq to Syria, and probably to Lebanon.

"He assured me they have tried to put an end to such an inflow, and there were confrontations which led to the killing of some of them, while others were arrested," D'Alema said.

Moallem told D'Alema that Syria is holding 24 members of Fatah al-Islam, the group battling the Lebanese Army near Tripoli, in its jails and has killed six militants who tried to cross to Iraq recently.

D'Alema also addressed a news conference in Syria after meeting Assad.

"We are optimistic on the subject ... My talks in Damascus have shown there are encouraging and useful elements," he said, referring to the security and political crises in Lebanon.

D'Alema said he conveyed to Syrian leaders Italy's wish to work with Syria to resolve the problems in Lebanon. Before leaving Damascus, he condemned "the threat of terrorist groups" in Lebanon and called for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for the dismantling of armed groups in the country.

Once in Beirut, D'Alema met Speaker Nabih Berri at about 3:30 p.m. Talking to reporters afterward, D'Alema said discussions centered on "the unity of the Lebanese and [negotiations for a] unity government."

Beirut 06-06-2007
The Daily Star

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