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Riyadh and Tehran in contact over Lebanon

  • File - Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

Contacts are underway between Riyadh and Tehran, which will seek in part to address issues pertaining to Lebanon and the region, according to a diplomatic report in Beirut. The meetings between Saudi Arabia and Iran will take place before the scheduled visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the beginning of August. Putin will travel to Iran to congratulate President-elect Hassan Rouhani, who will assume power on Aug. 4. Other regional leaders, including President Michel Sleiman, are expected to make the trip to Iran for the inauguration ceremony.

The diplomatic report also added that Putin would use his visit to Tehran as a message to Western forces that he holds important trump cards relating to conflicts in the region – namely, the stalled negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group over its nuclear file and the war in Syria.

Information received by Washington, Paris and other Western capitals said that Iran would have the biggest role in any future settlement in Syria. This became especially apparent given the collapse of American efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad and pass the torch to Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa.

The report also said that the Russian efforts in Iran come on the eve of the meeting between Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama in one of the European capitals in September, and another anticipated meeting between the two men on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting at the end of that month.

Diplomatic and political sources in Lebanon said they expected the regional meetings to seek solutions to the security vacuum in Lebanon if the mandate of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi was not extended. They will also discuss the failure of the formation of a Cabinet under Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam.

The tense political situation in the country has all but severed communication among the country’s parties, which are now clinging to their alliances and political stances, political sources said.

They added that the return of Sleiman from his medical visit to the United States, where he underwent surgery on his left eye, may reignite efforts to discuss the dire political situation. Discussions will address specific challenges and how to deal with them in the coming months with the least possible losses. For example, sources said, political parties will try and address the social and economic threats spilling over from the war in Syria.

The Daily Star also learned that officials at the presidential palace have finalized the agenda that will guide the upcoming meetings of the Higher Defense Council. The council is expected to discuss security and economic developments, such as the European Union’s official listing of Hezbollah’s “military wing” as a terrorist organization. Other topics to be discussed include the growing population of Syrian refugees in the country, which has exhausted the local economy and consumer market.

Sources also told The Daily Star that the council had invited relevant government ministers from outside the council membership to join select meetings, a move which aims to deepen the discussion of security issues.

Other issues on the agenda of the Higher Defense Council include plans adopted by the international community to launch a credit fund for those countries around the region most affected by the mass migration of Syrians to neighboring countries.

The Daily Star also learned that Lebanese authorities had received European advice to prepare for an upcoming wave of refugees, as the crisis in Syria further deteriorates.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 29, 2013, on page 2.
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