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French Version

Larsen says national dialogue will help implementation of 1559

Lebanon's national dialogue will resume Monday amid unrelenting political divisions over the fate of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, ownership of the occupied Shebaa Farms and Hizbullah's weapons.

Day one of round two kicks off as UN secretary general's special envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, started his tour of major cities to discuss the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 before reportedly visiting Damascus and Beirut.

Larsen, currently in Moscow, will be meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem Tuesday in the Russian capital.

Speaking after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris Saturday, Larsen welcomed the talks, saying this dialogue is currently "one of the few signs of conflict resolution through peaceful means in the Middle East."

Traveling on behalf of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to review the latest developments in Lebanon and their regional context with Chirac, Larsen stressed he believed the talks would contribute to the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559.

"The UN remains committed to the full restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty and political independence ... I will continue to work relentlessly with all relevant parties toward this end," Larsen said.

Chirac also welcomed Lebanon's national dialogue, and reasserted "France's determination to work on fully implementing Resolution 1559," according to a spokesman at the Elysee Palace.

Meanwhile, Premier Fouad Siniora said it is "essential to continue these talks until we reach solutions for all issues."

"The importance of these talks is that they gather the Lebanese top leaders for the first time in the country's history without foreign interference or sponsorship to tackle issues of extreme sensitivity and delicacy," Siniora said.

"The participants are fully aware of the sensitivity of the situation and realize that national initiatives are needed," he added.

"If we had taken these initiatives earlier we would have secured a better future and spared the Lebanese a heavy moral and financial price," said Siniora.

But the potential for compromise on the hot issues seems elusive. Lahoud has refused to resign despite immense pressure on him to step down and Hizbullah has refused to lay down its weapons although Resolution 1559 stipulates all "Lebanon and non-Lebanese militias should disarm."

Furthermore Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt's vocal insistence that Syria holds sovereignty over the Shebaa Farms flies in the face of firm opposition to the idea from the Hizbullah-Amal coalition.

Speaker Nabih Berri and Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah held a meeting Saturday night, which reaffirmed this position, according to reports.

Jumblatt who returned to Lebanon Saturday after a one- week visit to the U.S., had said during a televised interview with Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel that he would be back at the political roundtable Monday, to face his "political opponent."

He said once leaders reach a common position on the status of Shebaa, "as a natural result, Hizbullah should drop its arms after Shebaa is liberated."

Jumblatt also said that the next president should either be chosen by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir or at least approved by the prelate.

"Lahoud is the extension of the Syrian era in Lebanon, and he must leave," he said. "We have not agreed on his successor yet, but we [the March 14 Forces] have agreed that the name should be blessed by the prelate," Jumblatt said. He also said the U.S. will present Lebanon with "moral and political support and provide weapons and help to the Lebanese Army."

And as calls were still being made to arrange a meeting between Jumblatt and Parliament majority leader MP Saad Hariri, Hizbullah deputy secretary general Sheikh Naim Qassem indirectly criticized Jumblatt for shifting his position regarding Shebaa and accused him of intending to transform Lebanon into an American tool.

"Politicians who change their positions from Shebaa after having spent years in defending its Lebanese identity ... have made a political decision," said Qassem.

Despite these deep divisions among Lebanon's political elite, all 14 leaders will be present when talks will resume, as Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil, described by politicians as the "dynamo" behind the dialogue, said Sunday.

"Until recently all political indications showed there is a chance to reach a common stance, at least regarding the agenda of talks," said Khalil.

Meanwhile, Lahoud reasserted his position on freeing Shebaa, adding two other towns within Israeli territory were also Lebanese.

A statement issued by sources close to the president said foreign countries supporting Israel wanted him out of the way because he supported the resistance. Lahoud said not only Shebaa but also the Israeli border towns of Metullah and Miskaf Am, are Lebanese.

Hizbullah has never said it wants to liberate Metullah and Misgav Am.

Beirut 13-03-2006
Majdoline Hatoum
The Daily Star

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