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French Version

Beirut leans toward low-level role at Damascus summit

Government set to send ambassador - who would deliver speech and then leave

Government sources told The Daily Star on Tuesday that the Cabinet was likely to delegate one of three ambassadors to represent Lebanon at the upcoming Arab League summit, scheduled for March 29-30 in Damascus.

The sources said the ambassadors are Khaled Ziyadeh, Bassam Naamani, and William Habib, adding that the choice would most likely be Habib.

"If chosen, Habib is expected to deliver a speech before the summit and leave immediately," the sources said.

Earlier reports said Lebanon was not likely to attend the summit at all after three ministers affiliated with Progressive Socialist Party leader and MP Walid Jumblatt said they will vote for boycotting the summit in reaction to Syria's alleged blocking of the election of a new president in Lebanon.

Jumblatt told Kuwait's daily Al-Qabas newspaper on Tuesday that it was illogical for Lebanon to attend the summit while accusing Damascus of being behind the country's protracted political crisis.

Jumblatt added that his relations with the opposition's largest bloc, Hizbullah, have reached the point of no return "because Hizbullah receives orders from Iran and Syria."

He downplayed the possibility of the eruption of a civil war in Lebanon, but said "such a possibility is attached to the plans of Damascus and its Lebanese allies."

"I am wary that the opposition is preparing for a big battle after the 2009 parliamentary elections," he said.

In an earlier statement to his party's Al-Anbaa daily, Jumblatt called on Lebanese and Syrian intellectuals to unite in the face of the Syrian regime.

Jumblatt on Tuesday met a delegation of Arab MPs, headed by Arab Parliament Speaker Mohammad Jassem al-Saqr. The delegation also visited former President Amin Gemayel and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.

Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea said late Monday that he was against Lebanon taking part in the Arab summit, citing what he called Syria's "negative role" in the region.

Speaking to reporters after meeting UN chief Ban Ki-moon in New York, Geagea said: "I explained to him that the Arab summit in Damascus cannot be a source of hope, neither for Lebanon nor for the Middle East as a whole given the negative role that Syria is playing in the region."

"We cannot accept that Lebanon goes to this summit given the role that Syria is playing in Lebanon," he added.

The Arab summit has been mired in controversy, with some Arab states saying they will not attend if the Lebanese Parliament does not elect a president by then.

Regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt have blamed Syria - which was the dominant political and military force in Lebanon for almost three decades - for obstructing the election.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 25 to elect a new president. The March 25 session is Lebanon's last chance to elect a president ahead of the summit.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was quoted by the Central News Agency (CAN) as saying on Tuesday that Lebanon is not likely to elect a president before the summit.

Ban said he was extremely concerned about the constitutional vacuum, describing the situation as very dangerous.

He added that the international community is trying to help the Lebanese government resolve the current crisis.

Sources close to Geagea told local daily An-Nahar on Tuesday that the Lebanese Forces boss has handed over to Ban a four-point document, touching on the issues of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, Lebanese prisoners in Syria and Israel, border demarcation between Lebanon and Syria, and Lebanon's presidential election.

Also on Tuesday, Aoun told As-Safir newspaper that he was preparing to launch a fresh initiative on behalf of the opposition following the summit.

Asked what the opposition's reaction would be if Siniora decides to expand or restructure his Cabinet, Aoun argued that the existing lineup should not be changed.

"Expanding it or restructuring it will be a provocation to many Lebanese," he warned.

The FPM leader said he would discuss with his allies in the opposition the appropriate response to any measure the government takes.

Aoun also accused the parliamentary majority of not wanting to elect a new president because "they are satisfied with having Siniora run the country."

Beirut 19-03-2008
The Daily Star

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