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French Version

No more visits by Moussa until Arab foreign ministers meet - Fatfat

Aoun says opposition has made more than its share of concessions

Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Fatfat told The Daily Star on Monday that the Arab League's efforts in the coming weeks will focus on holding an emergency session for Arab foreign ministers to discuss the strained relations between Beirut and Damascus.

Premier Fouad Siniora on Friday had urged Arab foreign ministers to hold such a meeting.

"I don't think that Arab League chief Amr Moussa will return to Lebanon any soon," Fatfat said.

"There is nothing much to be said or done before Arab foreign ministers meet to address the issue of Lebanese-Syrian relations," he added.

But Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's media adviser, Ali Hamdan, told The Daily Star on Monday that Berri has started initiating contacts and making consultations to prepare for a possible national dialogue that will group the feuding parties.

"Berri promised he will pursue such dialogue in the light of the outcome of the Arab summit, whose final statement urged Lebanese parties to reach consensus on the disputed issues," Hamdan said.

"Consensus can only be pursued through national dialogue and this is what Berri is looking for," he added.

Well-informed governmental sources on Monday said the presidential vacuum was likely to persist until 2009, "unless some miracle occurs."

"Electing a president by simple majority is no longer an option and so is the restoration of the government," one of the sources told The Daily Star.

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak insisted in talks with his Algerian counterpart, Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika, on Monday that a solution in Lebanon would ease strained ties between Arab states, his spokesman said.

"Inter-Arab relations ... are not passing through the best of times ... Lebanon is the stepping stone to improving these ties," spokesman Suleiman Awad quoted Mubarak as saying.

Mubarak was among several heavyweight US-allied Arab leaders, including Saudi King Abdullah, who boycotted the summit in Damascus, which they blame for blocking a presidential election in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun Monday criticized Saudi Arabia for blaming the Lebanese political crisis on the opposition.

"I don't understand the Saudi position, especially since the opposition has openly agreed on implementing the Arab initiative," Aoun told reporters at the end of a weekly meeting for his Reform and Change parliamentary bloc.

Saudi Arabia recently blamed the opposition for Lebanon's protracted crisis.

Aoun said the opposition has already made many concessions and cannot afford to eliminate itself.

He criticized Siniora for "adopting double standards."

"Siniora justified his boycotting of the Damascus summit by saying that such a summit should only be attended by a Lebanese president."

"What about the Islamic summit in Dakar? Why didn't he boycott this summit too?" Aoun asked.

The retired general also argued that no foreign party is capable of exerting pressure on the Lebanese opposition: "We are ready to talk to everybody, but no party can force us to act against our national interests."

Commenting on the nonparticipation of MP Michel Murr in the bloc's meeting, Aoun said that neither Murr nor any other bloc member was invited to take part in the meeting.

The meeting is scheduled every week. We don't issue invitations unless there is an extraordinary meeting."

This is the second bloc meeting that Murr has not attended.

The Metn MP appears to be at odds with the bloc's position on the presidential election.

Meanwhile, Siniora on Monday received a call from Moussa and later met with the Saudi and Russian ambassadors.

Siniora discussed with Moussa the outcome of the Arab summit, which was boycotted by the Lebanese government.

The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Abdel-Aziz Khojah, said after meeting Siniora that Moussa is likely to return to Lebanon to pursue the implementation of the Arab initiative to end Lebanon's crisis.

"I am quite sure that Lebanese politicians will sit together and overcome their differences," he said.

Russia's ambassador to Lebanon, Sergey Bukin, warned against foreign meddling in Lebanese affairs, echoing an earlier statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There is a need to elect a new president for Lebanon as soon as possible," he said. "The Arab ini-tiative on Lebanon is still there and it is backed by the Arab and international community."

"We hope that Moussa continues his efforts to reach a settlement in Lebanon," he added.

"I don't think that Syria is committed to implementing the Arab initiative to end Lebanon's crisis," Jumblatt said.

In comments to his party's Al-Anbaa weekly newspaper, Jumblatt criticized Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem for saying that the solution to Lebanon's political crisis should be made in Lebanon.

"Moallem's statement sounds good, but does not reflect the reality," he said. "Everybody knows that the Syrian regime is responsible for blocking solutions in Lebanon."

Jumblatt accused Damascus and its allies in Lebanon of blocking all initiatives to end the country's protracted crisis.

"They did their best to obstruct the formation of the international tribunal to try suspects in the murder of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri," he said.

Jumblatt praised what he called Saudi Arabia's balanced and moderate role in Lebanon.

"Saudi Arabia has always stood side by side with the Lebanese people in the face of many challenges," he said.

Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil said on Sunday that Berri would continue his efforts to help Lebanon end its political crisis. "The Lebanese are more responsible than ever for tackling the crisis by themselves."

He said the Lebanese should not wait for external powers to help them end the crisis. He added, however, that regional and international crises may hamper a settlement.

"The opposition's discourse and policies will remain the same before and after the Arab summit," Khalil said.

He criticized the ruling majority for "not taking advantage of the Arab summit to establish good ties with Arab states, and especially Syria."

Beirut 01-04-2008
The Daily Star

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