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French Version

Arab foreign ministers send Moussa back to Lebanon

Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo on Sunday to try to find a solution to nudge feuding Lebanese politicians to elect a new president and put an end to the almost 14-month-old political standoff which has crippled the country.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa held bilateral talks with several Arab diplomats ahead of the meeting, including with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit, who told reporters on Saturday the meeting would help shed light on a proposed Arab initiative to end the stalemate in Lebanon.

The foreign ministers "will issue a statement that will clarify the more obscure parts of the Arab initiative," Gheit had said without elaborating.

Shortly before The Daily Star went to press, the foreign ministers released a statement reiterating their confidence in the Arab League plan and indicating that Moussa would be retuning to Beirut in yet another bid to broker consensus

Moussa has held several rounds of talks with feuding political leaders in Lebanon to spur them to elect a new president and end the crisis which has left the country without a president since November 23.

On January 5 Moussa proposed a three-point Arab initiative calling for army chief General Michel Suleiman to be elected president, the formation of a national unity government, and the adoption of a new electoral law.

Lebanon's ruling parliamentary majority has accepted the plan but the Hizbullah-led opposition is demanding a third of the seats in a new government, giving them veto power.

In a report presented to the foreign ministers, Moussa called on Arab countries to continue diplomatic efforts to resolve the political crisis and heal deep mistrust in Lebanon.

Moussa also urged the foreign ministers to "continue efforts to provide the appropriate atmosphere on the Arab, regional and international fronts to aid the Arab League in its efforts with the Lebanese parties in a positive manner.

"The efforts should take into account the political and security fears and suspicions of the two sides, and their place in Lebanese politics, with its Arab, regional and international dimensions. The differences between the two sides on the formation of the Cabinet reflect the extent of the lack of trust between them, and have implications that go beyond just numbers," he said.

In a separate development, US President George W. Bush late on Saturday told Syria and Iran to "stop meddling" in Lebanon's internal affairs.

Iran, which supports the opposition in its power struggle with Beirut's Western-allied government, came under criticism along with Syria for allegedly working to undermine Lebanese institutions.

"We demand that Syria, Iran and their allies end their interference in and obstruction of Lebanon's political process," Bush said on Saturday.

"We will not falter in our support" for Sinora, Bush said. "We renew our call for the immediate selection of a new president in accordance with Lebanon's Constitution."

Bush said he appreciated UN efforts on a special tribunal for Lebanon that, the president said, "will hold accountable those who are responsible for the systematic campaign of murder and intimidation."

"I urge Lebanon's friends and allies to commit immediately the remaining funds required for the tribunal to commence its work," Bush said.

Echoing Bush's stance, head of the Democratic Gathering MP Walid Jumblatt warned the Arab foreign ministers against standing helpless before Syria and Iran and called on them to save Lebanon from falling prey to Damascus. He also was skeptical about partnership with the Hizbullah-led opposition.

"We always call for partnership. We have reached out to the opposition and called time and again for partnership," Jumblatt told Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Saturday. "But is partnership possible with a party that doesn't believe in it?"

In a separate interview on Future television Jumblatt said that as long as "some" Arab states remained fearful of condemning Syria, Lebanon will not survive being torn apart by the "claws of the Syrian regime."

He urged the Arab foreign ministers, as well as Moussa, to denounce Syria.

Jumblatt arrived in Moscow on Sunday for consultations with Russian leaders on the situation in that Arab country.

He plans to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov next week, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

According to Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, Russia advocates "an accord between Lebanese people without outside interference and the earliest election of General Michel Suleiman" to the presidency.

The deputy minister noted in an interview with Itar-Tass that serious differences persist between the political sides on such a problem as formation of a national unity government.

"We hope that the knot of problems will be unravelled thanks to efforts of the Arab League," Saltanov said. "Russia backs the Arab initiative and seeks, using all its possibilities, to promote the mission of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa."

Beirut 28-01-2008
The Daily Star

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