Lebanon News

Feltman makes the rounds

It was not accidental at all for the visit of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Beirut to coincide with President Barack Obama’s speech Thursday on the fast-moving developments in the Middle East.

The two events serve to push forward efforts aimed at arranging the region’s affairs according to an old-new American agenda, which focuses on weakening some regional powers at the expense of others. This is intended to establish a balance of power that can help the United States impose its conditions and demands without having to encounter Iranian and/or Syrian rejection.

Feltman discussed with Lebanese officials he met Friday the chaotic situation in Syria, the reverberations of which have hit neighboring countries like Lebanon and have led to tension in relations between Syria and Lebanon, informed sources told The Daily Star.

Lebanese-Syrian ties were already tense amid a political feud between the March 14 parties and Damascus that materialized on more than one occasion. The latest incident saw Syrian accusations that senior officials in caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement were involved in anti-regime protests in the Syrian town of Daraa and the city of Homs. The two sides have used all types of media strategies to defend their viewpoints.

The visit of Feltman, who arrived in Beirut Thursday, came hours after a U.S. Embassy delegation made an inspection tour of a number of border crossings on the Lebanese-Syrian frontier used by refugees from Syria. This has raised questions as to whether there was a clear intention to send coded political messages beyond the border that the northern territory is under surveillance by the international community and that external parties will not be allowed to influence the Lebanese crisis from this territory.

Diplomatic sources close to Feltman’s meetings with Lebanese officials Friday said that the U.S. official stressed that “the makeup of the Lebanese government is a purely internal Lebanese decision that belongs to the political parties represented in it. But it should be taken into account that a government controlled by Hezbollah [and behind it Syria] will affect in one way or another the course of security, judicial and financial assistance to the Lebanese state.”

Feltman called on the next government to meet its obligations toward the Security Council resolutions, including refraining from attempts to stop the work of the international tribunal assigned to probe the assassinations that targeted some of the country’s best men.

Feltman’s talks with Lebanese officials came in the form of advice rather than conditions imposed on his interlocutors. This is an American tactic that has been adopted to dispel suspicions that U.S. diplomats are putting forward dictates in their talks in Arab countries.

Meanwhile, sources close to the presidency said that President Michel Sleiman reiterated to Feltman his rejection of signing a decree to form a Cabinet that contradicts the realities of Lebanese pluralism, which cannot tolerate a government of confrontation in and outside the country. Sleiman said that Lebanon is not waiting for advice from anyone and that its leaders’ only concern is to mull over a solution to the current crisis.

The president declined to go into details of the consultations led by Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati to form a new government with the help of some mediators, at the forefront of whom is Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, who also met with Feltman.

Sources close to Jumblatt were silent on the PSP leader’s meeting with Feltman, saying only that discussions dealt with the prospects of the Arab and regional situation.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2011, on page 2.

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