Lebanon News

Ice forms again between rival factions as Lebanese leaders await Cousseran

BEIRUT: Following the brief thaw among Lebanese leaders returning from the Saint Cloud meeting in France, ice between rival factions appears to have formed again as the Lebanese await the return of the French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran this week. "Things are back to what they were before once we all came back to Lebanon," Minister of Youth and Sports Ahmad Fatfat told The Daily Star in a telephone interview Tuesday.

After the 31 representatives from the main feuding parties met in France and returned to Lebanon with a general message of optimism among the politicians, there hasn't been much progress made locally as Lebanese officials returned to their corners.

"We are waiting for Cousseran, and then we will see what happens," said Fatfat.

A Hizbullah official contacted by The Daily Star also voiced the same position as Fatfat, saying: "Let us wait for the French, and then we will make an official statement."

Other opposition figures also refrained from commenting, awaiting Cousseran's return to jump start talks in Lebanon.

During the talks, the opposition had stuck to its demands for the formation of a national-unity government before the presidential elections, as that would pave the way for putting into effect a new electoral law.

"We didn't reach any concrete solutions at the talks," added Fatfat.

Other politicians who attended the Saint Cloud meeting, like Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kenaan, believed that despite the way things appear now, "we are not where we started, but are on the first step toward breaking the impasse."

For the "first time in Lebanon's history everyone from all the parties is involved in discussing Lebanon's future," Kenaan told The Daily Star.

Kenaan also believed that it was "Lebanese politicians' positive attitude" that encouraged French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to come to Lebanon on July 28, a previously unplanned venture.

There were unconfirmed reports that prior to his visit to Beirut, Cousseran might meet Syrian leaders in Damascus in the first such contact between a high-ranking French official from the Sarkozy administration and the Syrian regime.

Citing diplomatic sources in Paris, the As-Safir daily said Cousseran's visit to Syria would focus on the Lebanese crisis.

The sources said Cousseran, who will reportedly arrive in Damascus Tuesday night, will meet Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa as well as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.

The reported trip to Damascus comes after Cousseran's visit last week to Tehran ahead of the Saint Cloud talks.

Cousseran will head to Beirut later this week for meetings with Lebanese politicians in preparation for the French foreign minister's scheduled trip to the Lebanese capital.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa was also invited to attend the new round of talks and was quoted as saying in An-Nahar newspaper that France was keen to a "great extent" to coordinate with the Arab League in efforts aimed at easing nine months of political deadlock since opposition ministers quit the Cabinet.

An-Nahar said the French foreign minister called Prime Minister Fouad Siniora Monday evening to inform him of the outcome of the Lebanese talks and discussed the ideas proposed regarding the follow-up meetings to be held by the rival parties in Beirut.

At the same time, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said he supports "any step" that would help stabilize Lebanon, and that would include "support for the Syrian regime."

However, Geagea rejected any Syrian attempt to "tamper" with Lebanon's sovereignty.

"The French know what they are doing, and won't get lost in the game of the Middle East game, especially that between Lebanon and Syria," Geagea said Tuesday, vowing that his group would attend any parliamentary session Speaker Nabih Berri calls for.

Berri has been receiving urging messages from leaders in the March 14 camp to call for a session for the presidential elections on time on September 25.

Attempts to reach Berri's representative on this matter were unsuccessful.





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