Lebanon News

No firm plans for Sleiman to visit Damascus

BEIRUT: A visit by President Michel Sleiman to Damascus to hold talks with his Syrian counterpart remains undecided, a minister close to the president told The Daily Star Monday.

Minister of State Mona Ofeish said contacts between Sleiman and Syrian President Bashar Assad were ongoing to address the latest developments on the Lebanese scene in line with Syrian-Saudi talks held Sunday in Riyadh.

“We are not aware of a visit by President Sleiman to Syria. The visit might take place or might not, but the president and his Syrian counterpart are not awaiting such a visit to discuss ongoing developments since they are in permanent contact,” Ofeish said.

Informed political sources told The Daily Star Monday that discussions between Assad and King Abdullah in Riyadh on Friday to broker a compromise among the Lebanese over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) ended with a positive note on the importance of preserving stability in Lebanon.

But the sources said talks failed to reach a breakthrough over the issue of the STL.

The regional talks to ease mounting tensions between Premier Saad Hariri’s coalition and Hizbullah were accompanied Sunday night by inter-Lebanese contacts brokered by Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Jumblatt.

Jumblatt was accompanied by Transportation and Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, who has been traveling of late between Damascus and Riyadh, during a meeting with Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and the party’s security official, Wafiq Safa.

Aridi said the meeting was to coordinate stances with regard to the latest developments, particularly the pressing issue of the STL, which is tasked with trying those responsible for the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

“There is no alternative but to reach an understanding between the Lebanese. The basis and the foundation of such an understanding is communication between Premier Saad Hariri and Hizbullah,” Aridi said.

Informed parliamentary sources close to the March 8 coalition said Jumblatt informed Nasrallah that he would stand with Hizbullah and reject any indictment by the STL accusing Hizbullah members of involvement in Hariri’s murder.

A statement by Hizbullah’s press office said Jumblatt discussed with Nasrallah ongoing efforts, particularly the Syrian-Saudi talks, to contain any crisis and confront challenges. It added that attendees agreed to pursue coordination between both parties on all levels.

The sources said Jumblatt similarly informed US Assistant

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Jeffry Feltman, during a meeting in Lebanon Sunday, that any indictment against Hizbullah was rejected.

Feltman who arrived in Beirut in a surprise visit, held separate talks with Sleiman and Jumblatt. Feltman said he reiterated Washington’s support for the STL while denying the possibility of any deal at the expense of the court or Lebanon.

An informed political source told The Daily Star that Feltman stressed the US’ support for stability in Lebanon as well as the need to preserve the current balance of power while warning of dangers that could result from bringing down the Cabinet.

In his weekly editorial to Al-Anbaa magazine, Jumblatt described the meeting with Feltman as honest and friendly, particularly over disputed issues on the Lebanese and regional scene.

Jumblatt said he expressed to the US envoy his concern and his position vis-a-vis the Israeli-Arab conflict and the recent developments in Lebanon.

Asked to comment on Feltman’s visit, Jumblatt’s ally Aridi said it was in line with discussions the latter held in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. But Aridi slammed the US for seeking dialogue with Syria and an agreement with Iran while provoking the Lebanese against Tehran and Damascus.

“The game is an obvious and clear one and we should all know how to act to protect our Lebanese national interests,” Aridi added.

Aridi said Nasrallah has delegated his aide Hassan Khalil to meet with Hariri. “I think the meeting will take place in the upcoming hours,” Aridi added.

Echoing Feltman, the British ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy, said Monday the tribunal was an independent organization, while denying that her country was informed of the timing of the release of the STL’s indictment. Guy added that the controversy over the STL was not in Lebanon’s interest, as she urged to distance the court from debate.

Separately, Assad praised Monday “efforts assumed by nationalist Lebanese parties” to preserve Lebanon’s stability and security.

Assad made his remarks following a meeting with head of the Lebanese Democratic Party Talal Arslan in Damascus, the Syrian state-run News Agency (SANA) said.

SANA said Assad discussed with Arslan efforts to revive a calm atmosphere on the Lebanese scene, in order to distance Lebanon from danger.





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