Lebanon News

France rejects scrapping STL irrespective of Lebanese stance

BEIRUT: France will not support the abolition of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) irrespective of whether the Lebanese reach consensus over the issue, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday following talks with Speaker Nabih Berri in Paris.

However, Kouchner said France was ready to host Lebanese parties in a bid to break the political deadlock over the UN-backed tribunal.

In 2007, France hosted rival Lebanese politicians in La Celle Saint-Cloud to broker a compromise between then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government and the Hizbullah-led opposition after Shiite ministers withdrew from the Cabinet following the 2006 summer war.

Kouchner said Paris was supportive of international justice but lacked any influence over the UN-backed tribunal.

“No country can influence the court and no one has any details about the indictment,” Kouchner said, while denying that President Nicolas Sarkozy conveyed to his Lebanese counterpart that France was supportive of “any Lebanese agreement even one to abolish the STL.”

“I participated in the meeting between presidents Sarkozy and Sleiman in Switzerland and he [Sarkozy] did not say such a thing,” Kouchner said.

Berri’s visit to France comes in the wake of Syrian-Saudi talks to preserve stability in Lebanon and inter-Lebanese contacts to bridge the gap between Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s March 14 alliance and Hizbullah.

The regional efforts to break the deadlock were met by French and US stances reiterating that no regional deal would occur at the expense of the STL.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea told The Daily Star Arab contacts could help preserve stability in Lebanon but could not lead to any compromise with regard to the STL.

In a rare visit by a Saudi diplomat to the Iranian Embassy, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Osseiri met Tuesday with Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi to discuss developments in Lebanon among other regional issues.

“Both sides stressed during the meeting the need to preserve unity among Lebanese parties and express

ed their readiness to promote security and stability in Lebanon,” said a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.

Tensions rose in Lebanon after Hizbullah condemned the STL as an Israeli plot aimed against the resistance, accusing the court of seeking to wrongly involve Hizbullah members in the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Kouchner said the recent visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Lebanon did not favor an atmosphere of calm given the latter’s provocative and peace-discouraging statements voiced in south Lebanon against Israel.

Kouchner, who acknowledged that Lebanon was witnessing a phase of relative tension, voiced hope that Hariri’s government would not collapse. “Speaker Nabih Berri believes as well that it [Cabinet] is not threatened,” he said.

Analysts fear divisions over “false witnesses” could threaten te Cabinet’s stability if no consensus is reached on whether to refer the issue to the Justice Council, as demanded by March 8 parties.

Kouchner said the case is a separate one from the STL and fell within the prerogatives of the Lebanese judiciary.

Ministerial discussions over the issue are likely to take place next Wednesday upon Hariri’s return from Britain as efforts to avoid a Cabinet vote continue with ministers loyal to March 14 parties insisting that witnesses who gave false testimonies should be turned over to the Lebanese judiciary. Hariri will travel Monday to Britain to hold talks with his British counterpart, Hariri’s office said.

Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said Hariri’s assassination case was referred to the Justice Council in 2005 and consequently the council has jurisdiction to investigate the “affiliated issue of false witnesses.”

But Geagea said the Cabinet could not again refer to the Justice Council “a case that is already present” there.

 

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