|France postpones Paris talks on Lebanese crisis until mid-July
|France announced Thursday that a Paris meeting scheduled for June 29 to pursue a resolution to the political crisis in Lebanon has been postponed until July. Meanwhile, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, on a one-week visit to Europe, met Thursday with France's newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss the political stalemate in Lebanon, among other issues.
The king's trip to France was meant to precede the Paris meeting between rival Lebanese leaders, which the French Foreign Ministry said would now take place in mid-July.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Lebanon earlier this month and invited leaders from the country's rival political groups and representatives from civil society to take part in the Paris meeting.
"We are continuing to prepare this meeting, which is not a conference, but an informal meeting. It could take place in mid-July," said ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei.
Mattei said trips abroad by Kouchner, a visit to Paris next week by Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora and events on the ground in Lebanon had led to the meeting being delayed.
"For all these reasons we decided to pick a date that would allow us to prepare the meeting well," the spokesman said.
Sarkozy is scheduled to meet with Siniora on Tuesday, his office said Thursday.
Sarkozy will also hold meetings next week with UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The US State Department announced Thursday that Rice will also meet with Siniora.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice will additionally meet with Kouchner and Defense Minister Herve Morin during her visit to the French capital.
Abdullah and Sarkozy's Thursday meeting was the first between the two leaders.
"[Sarkozy] saluted the Saudi initiatives to defend peace in the Middle East and the efforts of the Saudi security to fight terrorism," said presidential spokesman David Martinon following the meeting.
The Saudi leader met with Kouchner earlier in the day, and both men reaffirmed their support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his trial of strength with Hamas rivals, French officials said.
Abdullah arrived in France from Spain, where he had met with King Juan Carlos and held talks on economic relations and the situation in the Middle East with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Juan Carlos bestowed on the king Spain's highest distinction, the Order of the Golden Fleece.
The pro-communist opposition group United Left dubbed the award an "insult to democrats," charging that Saudi Arabia "does not respect basic human rights," particularly those of women.
The Daily Star