|Rice and Sarkozy repeat vows to stand by Siniora
|'No one will give in to terror or scare tactics'
France and the United States reiterated their support for the United nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the government of Premier Fouad Siniora on Tuesday following talks in Paris between the premier and top leaders from both countries.
The declaration of support came two days after a rare attack killed six UNIFIL troops in South Lebanon and as fighting continued between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.
After meeting French President Nicholas Sarkozy Tuesday, Siniora said France had vowed to continue to support the government of Lebanon and its army in its fight against terrorist groups.
"The position of President Sarkozy is that there will be no compromise or backtracking from the position of UNIFIL members," Siniora said after his meeting at the Elysee Palace.
"This is a firm position, no one will give in to terror or scare tactics that intend to send a message to countries participating in UNIFIL to abandon the mission that 13,000 troops from 29 countries came to fulfill."
France, which headed UNIFIL for seven months following last summer's war, currently has 1,600 troops serving in the force.
Siniora said UNIFIL troops would continue with their work to preserve security and stability in Lebanon regardless of attempts to spread fear and to interrupt the force's role.
Addressing prospects for a meeting in France among leaders of Lebanon's various political factions, as suggested by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on a previous visit to Beirut, Siniora said that a lower-level meeting might be possible.
While such a meeting would be important, he said, it would involve only "second-tier" representatives from the political factions and would discuss only certain specific issues.
Siniora met Tuesday morning with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who expressed her government's support for the premier's leadership and that of his government.
Rice was in Paris on a two-day visit to attend a meeting Monday on the Darfur crisis.
Following his meeting with Rice, Siniora said talks had centered on security issues, including the attack on UNIFIL in the South and attempts at destabilizing the country resulting from attacks by a "terrorist group" in the North of the country.
"This attempt to threaten international forces in Lebanon which came to help Lebanon and based on Lebanon's request ... will not produce the results that those who carried out this attack intended," Siniora said.
Rice emphasized continued US support for Siniora's government as it "confronts the threat posed by violent extremism."
She said it was "remarkable" how well the Lebanese and their government were "standing up to the many challenges facing Lebanon."
"We have great admiration for the leadership of Premier Siniora and his democratically elected government, which is
a government that is working on behalf of all the Lebanese people for democracy and for freedom," Rice said.
Before her meeting with Siniora, Rice emphasized the importance of UN efforts to conduct a tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, and noted the active US and French roles in Lebanon in recent years.
Speaking on France's TF-1 television, Rice said that a lot was accomplished at the UN Monday night. "Now we are in a phase in which we need to carry through on the tribunal," she said, "to carry through on the obligations of the UN Security Council resolution that will not tolerate Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs, and to support the Siniora government."
Siniora also met in Paris with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who said that UNIFIL forces would remain in Lebanon.
Siniora handed Ban a letter formally requesting the extension of UNIFIL's mission in Lebanon for an additional year without altering its mission. Discussions between Ban and the Lebanese delegation headed by Siniora also covered the report of a UN inspection team sent to monitor the Lebanese-Syrian border.
The Daily Star