BEIRUT: The Syrian-Saudi rapprochement remains a guarantee for stability in Lebanon but necessitates inter-Lebanese cooperation to preserve unity, Speaker Nabih Berri said in Damascus following a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad Wednesday.
The two-hour talks between Assad and Berri at the Presidential Palace tackled the Lebanese political crisis over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) as well as the Iraqi and Palestinian situation.
The talks followed Sunday’s Saudi-Syrian summit in Riyadh, where Assad and the Saudi monarch discussed the Lebanese crisis, efforts to form an Iraqi government and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“Despite the sensitivity of the situation on all those fronts and the delicacy of the crises due to designs that cover the region, the Arab and regional rapprochement and support for the Syrian-Saudi bridge remains the pillar of salvation, particularly with regard to the Lebanese situation,” Berri said.
“President Bashar Assad reviewed Wednesday with Speaker Nabih Berri the efforts exerted to find solutions to problems threatening Lebanon’s security and stability,” the Syrian state-run News Agency (SANA) reported.
A source close to Berri told The Daily Star that “the speaker returned more assured on the state of Syrian-Saudi ties than on the way they stood during the tripartite Syrian-Saudi-Lebanese summit in July.”
“But what is required from us is to step up our inter-Lebanese talks and act quickly on settling our devises,” the source added.
Berri’s spokesman Ali Hamdan told The Daily Star that Assad informed the speaker that Syrian-Saudi ties were “very solid” in their insistence of preserving stability in Lebanon.
Hamdan added that the Syrian president encouraged Berri to continue to mediate a rapprochement between Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
While efforts to mediate a meeting between Hariri and Hizbullah’s secretary general are ongoing, another political source told The Daily Star no indication of a meeting between both leaders had surfaced yet, but added that rival parties had agreed to preserve calm under the present circumstances.
Hariri held talks Tuesday night with Nasrallah’s top political aide Hassan Khalil after an earlier meeting between the premier and Berri.
“The meeting tackled the ongoing issues. It is not the first and will not be the last,” Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said in reference to Hariri’s discussions with Khalil.
“The meeting between Hariri and Sayyed Nasrallah should be prepared beforehand since the circumstances surrounding it should be ripe,” Houri added.
Following a meeting with Hariri at the Grand Serail, French Ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton reiterated his country’s support for the “independent work” of the STL as well as stability in Lebanon.
Asked whether he feared that the STL indictment could lead to instability in Lebanon, Pietton said: “I cannot anticipate developments on that level.”
“We should not only focus on the issue of the STL, since the court is working and we do not know when it will conclude its work or when the indictment will be released, and the country cannot remain tense in anticipation of an indictment which no one is aware of its time frame,” Pietton said.
The efforts to ease tensions over the STL have led the Cabinet to postpone Wednesday, after brief discussions, the issue of false witnesses to an unspecified date next week.
While Hariri’s coalition insists that the issue can not be addressed before the STL indictment is released and testimonies are made public by the UN court, March 8 groups have repeatedly called for tackling the issue on the assumption that it could pave the road for a new course of investigations.
Fears that Sunni-Shiite tensions could escalate into armed clashes have increased after Hizbullah condemned the STL as an “Israeli project,” accusing the court of fabricating an indictment to implicate its members in the murder in an attempt to deal a blow to the resistance in Lebanon.