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French Version

UN will handle Lebanese crisis if Arab plan fails - Kouchner

Riyadh urges damascus to lean on opposition

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that Lebanon's political crisis would have to be taken to the United Nations if an Arab League effort to end the impasse failed.

"If it's not working with our friends of the Arab League, we will come back to the UN," Kouchner, who was accompanying French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Riyadh, told reporters. "But we hope strongly that it will work," he added without elaborating on the possible resort to the UN.

Sarkozy told the Saudi Shura Council on Monday that France "unreservedly supports" the Arab League plan, describing it as "fully compatible" with proposals made by France.

"Like Saudi Arabia, France will spare no effort to enable the Lebanese Parliament to elect as soon as possible a president which the diverse components of the Lebanese nation will deem representative," he said.

Also Monday, Saudi Arabia urged Syria to use its influence on the Lebanese opposition to persuade it to accept the Arab League plan.

"Syria should convince those who listen to it in Lebanon to endorse this plan, which Damascus approved," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters in Riyadh.

"There is still hope that the Lebanese sides will accept the Arab League plan," which provides a "fair solution," he added.

Syria has said it backs Arab League chief Amr Moussa's efforts to forge a deal in Beirut. The plan calls for the election of army chief General Michel Suleiman as president, a national unity government, and the adoption of a new electoral law.

Suleiman on Monday praised his troops during a visit to the Special Forces training camp in Roumieh, saying that the army is gaining strength "after its baptism by the blood of its martyrs."

"The army is secure against sectarian tension and division and is still committed to liberating Lebanese soil that is still occupied and supporting the Palestinians' right to return," he said.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since former president Emile Lahoud ended his term on November 23 with no elected successor.

Moussa left Lebanon on Saturday without clinching a deal but vowed to return on Wednesday to continue negotiations.

The Central News Agency quoted anonymous sources on Monday saying that Moussa will strongly urge Lebanese leaders to implement the Arab plan as soon as possible, beginning by electing a president "so to avoid circumstances that might be overwhelming." He will also try to encourage politicians to resume national dialogue sessions.

Speaker Nabih Berri said that he supports a serious and fruitful dialogue, added that the previous sessions had achieved important results.

But "any dialogue without the presence of the five-party Arab Ministerial Committee and Amr Moussa would be seen as a substitute to the Arab initiative, and this is not acceptable at all," he said.

Moussa is also scheduled to visit Syria on Friday for talks with Syrian officials on the Lebanese crisis.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem is planning a visit to Berlin for talks on the fresh drive for a Middle East peace accord and stability in Lebanon, the German Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

MP Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, said in a news conference after his Change and Reform bloc's weekly meeting that attempts at dialogue in Lebanon have been resulting in disasters.

"The first national dialogue roundtable brought the July [2006] war [with Israel], the second roundtable brought the Special Tribunal [to try suspects in the assassinations that have rocked Lebanon since 2005], and God knows what a third one will bring," he said.

He said the opposition is dealing with politicians who change their positions routinely and that he was no longer eager to meet the parliamentary majority leader, MP Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 , who reportedly had refused to negotiate with him.

He also reiterated calls for a constitutional amendment to have the presidency filled by direct popular vote

Resigned Electricity and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish of Hizbullah warned that there will be no solution unless the government shares power.

"Lebanon's crisis will not be resolved unless the opposition becomes a partner in the decision-making process," he said. "If the pro-government team does not respond to the partnership demand, this means it is deviating from the democratic rules of the game to leave the country in vacuum."

The opposition has called repeatedly for a national unity government in which it has veto power but the ruling majority has refused this demand.

In a fresh attack on Syria, Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, pointed to similarity between the "Israeli occupation, which has been implementing settlements and racist segregation policies, and the Syrian dictatorship, which is seizing the rights of the Syrian people and pursuing intellectuals."

He said grief and exasperation are a common factor between the Palestinian people deprived of their land and the Syrian people deprived of their will.

Jumblatt also issued veiled criticism of Lebanese singer Fairouz for planning to perform her play, "Sah Nom," in Damascus at the end of this month as part of events to inaugurate the city's status as the Arab Cultural Capital for 2008. "Do the Syrian intelligence services understand culture?" Jumblatt asked.

Beirut 15-01-2008
The Daily Star

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