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French Version


Syria fires back at France over Lebanese crisis

Moallem says hariri vetoed 'comprehensive' deal, freezes contact with paris

Syria said on Wednesday it was suspending diplomatic cooperation with France on ending the political crisis in Lebanon, after similar action by Paris.

France has accused Syria of not backing a deal that could allow Lebanon finally to elect a new president and bring to an end an opposition boycott of the government.

"It seems that the French want to blame Syria for their failure ... to reach a solution to the crisis," Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters during a news conference in Damascus. "Accordingly, Syria has decided to stop cooperation."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered his government last week to halt diplomatic contacts with Syria over what he called Damascus' failure to show it was working for a consensus solution after two months of contacts with France.

Moallem said Syria had been surprised by Sarkozy's announcement as it came just two days after Damascus had reached agreement with Paris on what he described as a comprehensive deal to end the crisis.

He said Syria had been led to believe that the deal had the support of Lebanon's Western-backed Cabinet but that Sarkozy's chief of staff, Claude Gueant, later said it had been vetoed by the head of the pro-government bloc in the Lebanese Parliament, MP Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 .

"We were surprised to learn of the comments of the French president during a press conference in Cairo in which he said Syria and the Lebanese opposition are responsible for the failure" to end the crisis which has left Lebanon without a president for more than a month, Moallem said.

Moallem said Syria had contributed to efforts to reach consensus, including convincing opposition politicians to accept the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president, a post that has been vacant since November.

The presidential election has been postponed 11 times because the anti-Syrian coalition and the Damascus-backed opposition are at odds over how to share power.

Parliament will try once more to confirm Suleiman as president on January 12 but looks unlikely to succeed as there is little sign of reconciliation between the rival sides.

Moallem said Syria had agreed with France on a compromise that would give the Hizbullah-led opposition veto power in a new cabinet but that Hariri refused to sign on.

"On December 28, Syria and France reached agreement on a comprehensive settlement in Lebanon ... providing for the election of a consensus president, the formation of a government of national unity in which every faction would be represented according to its political weight, and the drawing up of a fair electoral law," he said. "After Mr. Sarkozy's statement, Mr. Gueant called me on December 31 to tell me that France had been unable to sell the deal we had agreed on to Saad Hariri.

"I rang Mr. Gueant back in the afternoon and he told me that France had decided to break off contacts. He told me France was unhappy with the fact that [Syria's] official SANA news agency had divulged the contents of the telephone calls. I retorted that Syria had nothing to hide and was not ashamed of its position."

"Those who think that Syria will pressure the Lebanese opposition so that the majority monopolizes power are deluding themselves," Moallem said.

"We have been offered lots of temptations, including an economic deal with the European Union. But what is the use of such gains if Lebanon ends up mired in chaos?"

In Beirut, Hariri described Moallem's remarks as a "dangerous message to Lebanon."

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said France's freezing of political contacts with Syria would last "until Syria demonstrates its good faith and a widely supported president is elected in Lebanon."

Paris has been leading efforts to mediate a settlement of the crisis and had offered to raise levels of diplomatic and economic cooperation with Syria in return for its help. Ties between the two countries deteriorated following the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, which led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.

Beirut 03-01-2008
Redaction
The Daily Star



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