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French Version

Future, Hizbullah pave way toward Nasrallah-Hariri meeting

Rice pledges continued US support for Lebanon

A director encounter between Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri seemed to be in the offing following reports about a possible meeting on Wednesday between a Hizbullah delegation and Hariri at his residence in Beirut.

The delegation will be headed by Loyalty to the Resistance MP Mohammad Raad.

Veteran political analyst Nuhad Mashnouq, known for his close ties to the Future leader, told The Daily Star on Wednesday that the Hizbullah delegation will include Raad, MP Amin Cherri, and senior official Wafiq Safa.

Other reports said the delegation will also include MPs Hussein Hajj Hassan and Hassan Fadlallah.

Mashnouq described Hariri's imminent meeting with the delegation as a "preparatory meeting" ahead of the Hariri-Nasrallah summit, which is likely to take place toward the end of September.

However, Mashnouq said that such a meeting did not necessarily imply that either Nasrallah or Hariri had changed any of their political positions. "Differences still exist ... The meeting aims at discussing the differences, thus taking the debate out of the streets," he added.

Future MP Ahmad Fatfat was less optimistic about the Hizbullah-Future reconciliation. Fatfat told The Daily Star on Tuesday that the meeting between Hariri and Hizbullah delegation would not necessarily lead to a Nasrallah-Hariri summit. "As far as I know, it is not yet confirmed that the meeting will be taking place tomorrow."

"Anyway, let us wait and see how things turn out," Fatfat said.

Also on Tuesday, Hizbullah politburo member Mahmoud Qomati said that any meeting between Hizbullah and the Future Movement would create a "good atmosphere" ahead of the second round of national dialogue, scheduled for November 5. The first round was launched and chaired by President Michel Sleiman at the Presidential Palace on September 16.

"The Hizbullah-Future meeting will facilitate the success of the national talks and will ease political and sectarian tensions ahead of next year's parliamentary elections," Qomati told LBC television.

Meanwhile, Hariri told an iftar banquet at his residence on Tuesday that "some parties" were seeking to ignite strife within Lebanon's Christian community. "The same parties that succeeded in igniting inter-Muslim strife are now trying to drag the Christians into a similar scenario," Hariri said.

"I simply don't understand some parties' unjustified reluctance to engage in reconciliation ... On the contrary, they insist on digging up the past," he added, hinting at Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh.

Both Aoun and Franjieh took hard positions in response to Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea's recent apology for mistakes that his party may have committed during the Civil War.

Meanwhile, a Presidential Palace statement on Tuesday said that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Sleiman that the US administration would maintain its support for Lebanon and help it boost its security and armed forces.

Rice's comments came on Monday during a meeting with Sleiman at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where the Lebanese head of state is staying for the UN General Assembly.

Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh also attended the talks.

The statement said that Sleiman and Rice discussed the situation in Lebanon in the aftermath of the national dialogue which grouped the 14 politicians who signed the Doha Accord this past May.

News reports on Tuesday said that Sleiman had raised the issue of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms during his meeting with Rice.

The reports said that Sleiman proposed putting the occupied territory under UN custody as a first step toward Lebanon reclaiming it.

The issue of Hizbullah's arsenal was among the topics that were discussed between Rice and the Lebanese president, the reports added.

Sleiman also reportedly told Rice that the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland would be a prerequisite for any comprehensive peace deal in the region.

Sleiman was due to address the UN General Assembly later on Tuesday.

The president's next stop during his US visit will be a trip to Washington DC, where he will meet with his counterpart George W. Bush on Thursday.

Prior to returning to Lebanon, Sleiman will make diplomatic stops in several European countries before visiting Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Meanwhile, commander of Lebanese Armed Forces General Jean Kahwaji said on Tuesday that Syria had informed Lebanon in advance of deploying troops off the northern borders that the deployment was being made with the aim of cracking down on smuggling.

The Lebanese Army said on Monday that Syria had boosted troop numbers along the border but that Damascus had stressed the move was linked to a crackdown against smugglers.

Nearly 10,000 Syrian special forces have been deployed in the Abbudiya region along the border between Lebanon and Syria. Kahwaji reportedly said the Syrians had informed him that the move had "no other aim but upgrading procedures to combat smuggling."

The army commander relayed the information to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora who returned home early on Tuesday from a visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met King Abdullah.

Beirut 24-09-2008
The Daily Star

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