Lebanon News

Syria ‘opens up’ to Jumblatt

Walid Jumblatt said Monday that he was welcome again in Syria, a few months after Damascus revoked the Druze leader’s VIP status following his outspoken comments about the need to correct Lebanese-Syrian relations.

The Chouf MP and Progressive Socialist Party leader said he was happy about the move, which he learned of two days earlier. But he remained unapologetic and said he doubted that top Lebanese officials could do much to achieve serious dialogue on the issue.

In November, Jumblatt’s allies were informed that they and their  standard-bearer were no longer welcome in the country as official guests after he called for a serious re-appraisal of bilateral relations during a televised debate in Parliament on the government’s policy statement.

Jumblatt told The Daily Star that “(Syrian) Major General Ghazi Kenaan called me Saturday, saying that Syria is my country, and that we are friends and belong to the same family.”

Jumblatt described the phone call, the first from a Syrian official since his VIP status was revoked, as “paving the way for an objective dialogue.”

“It was a good sign after the whole row that erupted,” he said. “I maintain my position; it was clear enough. I didn’t ask for a Syrian withdrawal, but mentioned specific things.”

Jumblatt said he had no firm plans to visit Syria, but added he had no objections to meeting with Kenaan or Syrian President Bashar Assad in the near future.

Jumblatt was less kind about official performance on the issue, since initiatives by figures such as Speaker Nabih Berri and former Foreign Minister Fouad Butros have grabbed the headlines and made headway.

“I triggered a chain reaction concerning Syria’s presence here. This means that something is wrong. Something on this issue should be elaborated in a more, if I can use the slogan, ‘transparent’ and objective way.

“I don’t believe that President Lahoud is able or willing (conduct such a dialogue). Berri made a good step, but it’s not his job. It’s the government’s.”

Jumblatt also argued that he was singled out for criticism for addressing an issue that others were also taking up. “In any case, I was the only one accused of being a traitor. The Maronite patriarch was as well, but by those fake ulama from Akkar.”

Also on Monday, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, a leading PSP member and a senior Jumblatt aide, held talks with Kenaan, dealing with the general situation, political developments in Lebanon, and bilateral relations.





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