Lebanon News

Jumblatt, Assad agree on need for calm dialogue

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said after talks in Damascus with President Bashar Assad Sunday that he was in complete agreement with the Syrian leader over regional issues, particularly the need to adopt calm dialogue in Lebanon.

“Under the current circumstances when Arab and nationalist security is threatened, we are required to cooperate and coordinate with Syria,” Jumblatt told Hizbullah-affiliated Al-Manar TV upon his return from Damascus.

“Exactly like the past period, when we went through similar circumstances and triumphed, we will prevail again,” Jumblatt added.

A statement by Syrian state-run News Agency (SANA) said “discussions addressed the latest developments on the Lebanese arena and the importance of efforts to unite Lebanese parties to maintain calm, consolidate national unity and to promote Lebanon’s strong points against future challenges.”

Jumblatt’s visit to Syria followed Syrian Premier Mohammad Naji al-Otari description Friday of the March 14 coalition as a “house of cards.”

Otari’s comments drew sharp criticism Sunday from March 14 parties after a period of relative calm between the alliance and Damascus, amid Syrian-Saudi talks in a bid to put an end to the political standoff between Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition and Hizbullah.

Jumblatt, once a leading figure of the March 14 coalition, withdrew from the alliance following the 2009 parliamentary elections and undertook a ritual of apologies for accusing Damascus of involvement in former Premier Rafik Hariri’s murder, stances that brought him closer to Syria and its allies in Lebanon.

While the Druze leader’s position regarding the ongoing dispute remains ambiguous so far as he continues to urge rival parties to reach consensus over Special Tribunal-related controversies, pro-March 8 media outlets have reported on recent occasions that the Chouf MP was explicitly requested to take sides with Syria’s allies.

Prior to his visit to Damascus, Jumblatt said a solution for the dispute over the investigation of false witnesses, an issue which the parliamentary minority insists that the Cabinet refer to the Justice Council, could only be solved through a political agreement, rather than a vote in the Cabinet.

Contrary to the insistence by March 14 parties on the STL’s role as a guarantee of justice and consequently stability, by putting an end to political assassinations, Jumblatt said justice was tied to stability and could not be achieved on its own.

“I insist that justice is tied to stability … we cannot achieve justice separate from stability nor stability separate from justice, this is the message which I conveyed to US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman during his visit to Lebanon,” Jumblatt said.

“We do not want this tribunal to be a cause for strife or the destruction of Lebanon; the court has no value if it leads to strife and destruction,” he added.

Feltman who briefly visited Beirut on October 17 coming from Riyadh, said the US was supportive of the UN-backed tribunal to put an end to political assassinations and achieve stability, a stance that was echoed by France as well.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly conveyed Saturday to President Michel Sleiman France’s support of the STL and his country’s readiness to receive Lebanese political leaders to help put an end to the political deadlock, the daily An-Nahar reported in remarks published Sunday.

The paper reported that Sarkozy expressed concern over tensions in Lebanon as well as the repercussions feared following the release of the STL indictment by the stand adopted by Hizbullah.

Hizbullah has condemned the STL as an Israeli plot aimed against the resistance, saying the Western-backed tribunal was fabricating an indictment set to falsely implicate Hizbullah members in Hariri’s assassination.

Hizbullah officials have also warned that they would regard those backing an indictment against Hizbullah as “Zionist agents.”

While it was rumored that the indictment would be released by the end of 2010, Jumblatt said “he heard and read that the indictment was delayed to March 2011.”

“This means we delayed the problem to March but we cannot wait until March to resume discussions so we should resolve the issue calmly,” he added.

However, Minyeh lawmaker Ahmad Fatfat, a Future Movement official, said Hariri would not bow to pressure to make additional concessions.

“Pressure on Premier Saad Hariri will fail because he will not make additional compromises that he does not enjoy when it comes to the STL,” Fatfat said.

Fatfat’s colleague, Chouf MP Mohammad Hajjar, said the STL indictment would eventually be released whereas the tense discourse adopted by the March 8 coalition would “lead nowhere.”

The Future Movement said in a statement released over the weekend that Otari’s remarks were inappropriate since they were aimed against a large popular movement, of which the Future Movement considers itself an inseparable part.

The statement added that the comments were also an intervention in Lebanese internal affairs.

Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara said objections against Otari’s description of the March 14 coalition as a house of cards shook Damascus’ image as a solid power since it was the March 14 movement that drove Syria’s army out of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Zahle MP and Phalange Party official Elie Marouni said Otari’s statement was a violation of diplomatic norms, adding that Syria was still unconvinced of its withdrawal from Lebanon.

 

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