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French Version

Siniora Cabinet hopes for Arab League help

Statement to underline need for prompt presidential poll, end to foreign interference

With an "open ended" vacancy in the presidency likely and the opposition demanding veto powers in any new government before it consents to holding a presidential election, all eyes are on the upcoming Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy met with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Aqaba Friday and discussed regional developments, including the crisis in Lebanon, according to a Jordanian palace statement.

"The two leaders expressed their concern that the parties [in Lebanon] had been unable to reach agreement on electing a new president and avoid a political vacuum," the statement said. Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 is set to meet Sarkozy Tuesday, Hariri's press office announced Friday.

The government has prepared a document that it will present at the Arab foreign ministers meeting, to which acting Foreign Minister Tarik Mitri will head a Lebanese delegation despite protest from resigned Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh of the opposition, who suggested that two Lebanese delegations attend the meeting.

Mohammad Shatah, adviser to Premier Fouad Siniora, said in an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation Friday that the government's paper to be presented at the meeting would stress the need to convene a presidential election immediately and to thwart external interference in Lebanon's internal affairs "whether from Syria or any other country."

The March 14 alliance on Friday also urged Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo Sunday to put pressure on Syria to end its interference in Lebanon and facilitate the election of a new president.

"March 14 Forces appeal to the Arab League to exert pressure to lift the hand of the Syrian regime off Lebanon and help it elect a consensus president as soon as possible," the March 14 statement said.

The statement accused Syria off funding terror in Lebanon, paralyzing constitutional life in the country and mounting a constant attack at the present government to try and topple it through violent and nondemocratic means. It also blamed the constant closure of the Parliament on the Syrian regime.

It said Lebanon's government and political system were under threat by forces loyal to Syria and Iran. The March 14 statement said the opposition was threatening strife and measures that would harm stability.

News of a meeting between Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri was refuted by Hariri's press office Friday. A source close to Berri told The Daily Star that "contacts have dried up" between Berri and Hariri, but denied there was any boycott..

Berri told the daily An-Nahar Thursday that he welcomes inter-Arab meetings, adding that given a choice between internationalizing the Lebanese problem and Arabizing it, the later is preferred.

"We would have wished that matters move ahead on a purely Lebanese track and it is what I have sought to achieve many times. But given a choice between Arabizing and internationalizing [the Lebanese crisis], we reject the latter as it brings only ruin and destruction to Lebanon," Berri told the paper.

Berri sent a verbal message to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak via Egyptian Ambassador Ahmad al-Bidyawi on Thursday in which he welcomed the efforts of Egypt and Saudi Arabia to mend fences between Fatah and Hamas, and convene the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun met at his home in Rabieh on Friday with Berri's political envoy Development and Liberation Bloc MP Ali Hassan Khalil. FPM official Gebran Bassil, who attended the meeting, said the talks were "within the framework of consultations among members of the opposition on the steps it will take in case efforts to end the crisis fail."

Bassil told The Daily Star Friday that the FPM was looking for a "balanced" stance to come out from Cairo Sunday. "We hope for a balanced position by the Arab foreign ministers," he said. "Any position supportive of the government of Premier Fouad Siniora will be rejected by us. We hope the meeting calls for dialogue and compromise and for the Lebanese to shoulder their responsibilities."

Arab League chief Amr Moussa expressed optimism that the meeting in Cairo will reach an "Arab understanding" over the Lebanese presidential crisis towards resolving the deadlocked political crisis.

Moussa told Al-Arabiyya television Thursday that solving Lebanon's problem was a Lebanese, an Arab, a regional and an international responsibility. "While we acknowledge there are conflicting interests and foreign [involvement], Lebanese politicians bear the responsibility first [for their country] before Arab, regional and international politicians," Moussa said.

Beirut 06-01-2008
The Daily Star

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