BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri begins a two-day official visit to Moscow Monday to discuss Russian military assistance to the Lebanese Army and controversies over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon among other regional and international issues.
On the eve of his visit to hold talks with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Hariri said he would not succumb to threats in Lebanese politics but added that he was ready to participate in a sober dialogue to dispel concerns over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
“No one can threaten me into meeting his demands. I disapprove of such logic and I do not give in to threats, but if calm and constructive dialogue is adopted, I am ready to debate,” Hariri said in an interview with Russia Today TV.
Hizbullah has called on the government to boycott investigations by the UN-backed tribunal and continues to pressure Hariri to renounce support for the court.
The prime minister added that the STL was a guarantee against the resumption of political assassinations.
Asked whether he was concerned about repercussions from the STL’s indictment, Hariri said he was more troubled by the presence of weapons throughout Lebanon.
Some analysts fear an indictment accusing Hizbullah individuals of involvement in the assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri could spark Sunni-Shiite tension that could lead to violence.
Hizbullah’s Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc leader MP Mohammad Raad said Sunday his party would take “decisive and swift action” to protect the resistance and contain Sunni-Shiite tension or attempts to instigate conflict between the resistance and the Lebanese Army.
In some of sharpest remarks to come from a tribunal official yet, STL President Antonio Cassese described Hizbullah’s boycott of the tribunal as “a dangerous precedent” in obstructing justice and said such action would be addressed by the UN Security Council.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said justice should be served irrespective of the repercussions. Criticizing Hizbullah, Sfeir said some parties sought to abolish the UN-backed tribunal.
The patriarch voiced concern over the possibility of renewed sectarian clashes similar to the May 7, 2008 events which pitted pro-Hizbullah militants against pro-government gunmen.
Cassese said only he, in cooperation with Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, would decide upon the timing of the release of the indictment.
Hizbullah has accused the US of applying pressure for the swift release of the indictment and has called on Hariri’s government to refer the issue of “false witnesses” – witnesses it says gave false testimony – to the Judicial Council to correct the course of investigations by the STL prior to the release of the indictment.
Hariri said Hizbullah’s accusations that Lebanese officials have stood behind witnesses who gave false statements to international investigators was impeding the course of Lebanese judicial investigations into the issue.
“We hope that discussions reach a solution that satisfies all parties as we all agreed to evaluate this issue in the Cabinet. In the meantime let the judiciary take its course and put false witnesses on trial,” Hariri said in reference to the March 8 coalition’s demand to refer the issue to the Judicial Council.
Hariri rejected the notion of stepping down, while highlighting “excellent Lebanese ties with Damascus.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said over the weekend Syrian-Saudi cooperation was continuing to preserve stability in Lebanon, and called on parties interested in the country’s security to support Damascus and Riyadh’s efforts.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, who watered down the possibility of a comprehensive regional settlement under the current circumstances, said Saudi-Syrian contacts did not exempt the Lebanese from assuming their responsibilities to preserve stability in Lebanon.
“There is no doubt that the situation in Lebanon is very sensitive and all political forces must be aware of the magnitude of dangers surrounding Lebanon and the region,” he told the Iranian News Agency.
Raad said Hizbullah have provided an opportunity for Saudi-Syrian contacts on the basis of protecting the resistance and rejecting any accusation against it. However, Raad said Hizbullah would not relinquish its commitment to the resistance and would challenge attempts to frame the party.