Lebanon News

Feltman makes surprise visit to Beirut, reiterates US support for STL

BEIRUT: US Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman reiterated Sunday his country’s support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, as well as stability in the country.

Feltman was speaking after previously unannounced talks with President Michel Sleiman.

Feltman’s arrival in Beirut from Saudi Arabia coincided with a visit by Syrian President Bashar Assad to Riyadh to discuss with the Saudi monarch the Lebanese political situation, among other regional issues.

Feltman told reporters at the Rafik Hariri international airport that he conveyed to Sleiman US President Barak Obama’s support for Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty and independence. “I joined [US] Ambassador [to Lebanon Maura] Connelly to deliver a message from President Obama that reaffirmed the steadfast support of the US to the development of a sovereign, independent Lebanon, with strong and effective state institutions,” he said.

The US envoy also reiterated support for the STL, stressing that the court, an independent non-political, organization would continue its work, to reveal the truth behind former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005.

“We believe that the tribunal should be allowed to complete its work on its own timeline and without outside interference until those responsible for the assassinations … are brought to justice,” Feltman said.

He also underscored that the US was neither aware of the timing of the release of the STL’s indictment nor in the process of brokering a deal at the expense of Lebanon and the UN-backed tribunal.

“President Obama firmly supports the work of the STL, as does the rest of the international community,” Feltman said.

“The Tribunal is a non-political, independent organization that was formed by an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Lebanon in order to end the era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon,” he added.

Feltman’s visit to Beirut comes on the heels of a two-day official visit by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Lebanon, during which the Iranian president stressed the Islamic Republic’s support to resistance movements, particularly Hizbullah, against Israel.

In a show of support for Hizbullah, which has condemned the STL as an Israeli project, Ahmadinejad during his visit defended his “friend” against “fabricated news” accusing it of the murder of a “friend and patriotic man,” a reference to Hariri.

Ahmadinejad’s visit drew criticism from the US, which described it as “concerning and destabilizing” while some internal parties accused Iran of seeking to establish an advanced base in the Mediterranean through Hizbullah as its proxy in a war against Israel.

“A strong, sovereign, and stable Lebanon is in the vital interests of the Lebanese people, the region, the United States and the international community, and we are concerned by any act that would undermine this sovereignty and stability,” Feltman said.

Asked to comment on Ahmadinejad’s visit, Feltman said it was a Lebanese affair.

Prior to his meeting with Sleiman at the president’s summer residence in Amshit, Feltman met with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and phoned Phalange Party head Amin Gemayel and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea.

Another meeting was supposed to take place between Speaker Nabih Berri and Feltman before he left Beirut, but sources close to the speaker said the meeting was cancelled due to a conflict in their schedules.

In line with regional efforts to sponsor a Lebanese agreement to preserve stability, media reports said Sunday a Syrian-Lebanese summit was in the making and is expected to take place as early as Monday.

Regional talks have intensified lately to broker a Lebanese agreement to uphold stability in Lebanon amid fears that Sunni-Shiite tensions could escalate if the STL’s indictment accuses Hizbullah members of involvement in the murder.

 

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