BEIRUT: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman held talks Friday with Lebanese officials on the nearly four-month standoff on government formation, and security on the Lebanon-Syria border.
Feltman, who arrived in Beirut overnight, kicked off talks in a meeting with President Michel Sleiman at the presidential palace in Baabda.
U.S. Embassy spokesperson Ryan Gliha told reporters that the purpose of Feltman’s visit was to convey the new U.S. policy in the Middle East as articulated by U.S. President Barack Obama in his Thursday speech, as well as to tackle the government formation and the issue of security on the Lebanon-Syria border.
The Sleiman-Feltman meeting came shortly after the president held talks with senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official Mohammad Riza Shibani.
Sources at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star that Shibani handed Sleiman a letter from Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The letter contained an invitation to attend a conference set for June 25-26 on combating terrorism in Tehran, the sources said.
They said Shibani conveyed his country's continued support to Lebanon and expressed hope for a speedy government formation.
The sources said that during his meeting with Shibani, Sleiman emphasized the need to “secure stability in the region and promote reform in all fields undertaken by these countries.”
He also urged Washington to play a “vital role” in pushing the peace process forward “in order to achieve a comprehensive and just peace in the Middle East.”
The sources said the Sleiman-Shibani meeting tackled “the situation and activities in the Middle East and the Arab world as well as Arab protests toward Israel,” a reference to demonstrators who marched Sunday to the Israeli borders with Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.
Immediately after his meeting with Sleiman, Feltman headed to Clemenceau, Beirut, for talks with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.
The PSP issued a statement Friday saying Jumblatt would receive Shibani later on in the day.
Officials accompanying Feltman said the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon would not make any statements to the press, adding that the U.S. Embassy will later issue a statement on the outcome of Feltman’s two-day visit to Lebanon.
Feltman also held talks with Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati. According to local media, he will also meet head of the Future Parliamentary Bloc Fouad Siniora and the adviser to caretaker Premier Saad Hariri, former Cabinet Minister Mohammed Shatah.
A statement from Mikati’s office said the PM-designate discussed Obama’s new peace initiative with Feltman and the accompanying delegation, which included U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly.
"The initiative needs some clarification, particularly in the points where Obama did not introduce a mechanism for its implementation,” the statement quotes Mikati as saying.
Mikati said a “serious intention toward a settlement” would be the most important thing Obama can provide.
Feltman’s visit comes a week after Connelly reiterated the U.S. position –after a meeting with Mikati – that the international community would assess its relationship with the new government based on its makeup, policy statement and the actions it takes concerning Lebanon’s international obligations, including the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
His trip also comes a day after U.S. President Barack Obama made a major speech on the Middle East in which he urged Syrian leader Bashar Assad to allow a political transition or step aside.