Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lahoud releases 'official' Arab summit roster

BEIRUT: President Emile Lahoud on Monday announced the roster of the "official" delegation he will lead to the Arab League summit in Riyadh this week, as Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said there was "a chance" of breaking Lebanon’s political deadlock and urged rival groups to talk.

Lahoud will be accompanied in Riyadh by resigned Foreign Affairs Minister Fawzi Salloukh and resigned Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf.

Members of a separate summit delegation to be headed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora already have left for Saudi Arabia. Siniora plans to leave for the kingdom on Tuesday.

Sources close to Siniora said arrangements are being made to allow the premier to sit at the main table with other leaders, including Lahoud.

At the summit, Arab foreign ministers are expected to adopt for official consideration a paper submitted by Siniora outlining topics from Lebanon’s national dialogue last spring and a reform plan presented by the government at the Paris III donor conference in January.

On Monday Lahoud criticized the document known as the "Paper of Solidarity with the Lebanese Government," as "needing modification because it contradicts certain views of the Lebanese state."

A key change requested by Lahoud was that the phrase "government of Lebanon" be made "state of Lebanon."

Lahoud and Siniora have headed separate delegations to major international roundtables in the past, including last year’s Arab summit in Sudan and the most recent UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

The ruling coalition considers Lahoud an illegitimate president on the grounds that a three-year extension by a previous majority of the president’s term under Syrian pressure was "unconstitutional."

At the same time, Lahoud considers Siniora’s government illegitimate following the resignation of six Cabinet ministers in November 2006, a move that triggered the most serious political fallout in the country since the end of the Civil War.

Saudi Arabia urged further talks between the Lebanese political camps to avert a clash at the summit.

"We see a chance that the Lebanese parties will put their country’s interests above all else," Saud told Arab League counterparts meeting in Riyadh ahead of the commencement of the summit on Wednesday.

"We urge [the Lebanese] to sit down for a dialogue," he said.

Saud warned against turning the summit into a "source of conflict," saying "the summit is a place to find solutions, not create problems."

Arab League chief said Monday that the "situation in Lebanon has not changed," adding: "The political division in Lebanon continues."

Saudi Arabia has been one of the main regional players in efforts to end the four-month-long political crisis in Lebanon.

Efforts to end the stalemate intensified after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the crisis with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz during a landmark visit to Saudi Arabia on March 3.

But six meetings in Beirut between Speaker Nabih Berri, an opposition leader, and MP Saad Hariri, the head of the parliamentary majority, failed to yield a breakthrough.

After meeting Berri on Monday, Egyptian Ambassador Hussein Darar confined himself to one statement, saying he hoped "there will be a continuation of reconciliation attempts until the last minute before the actual Arab summit."

Meanwhile, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt called Lahoud a "Syrian-Iranian agent" Monday in an interview with Al-Anba newspaper.

"Lebanon will be present at the summit through its official representative, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and not through the president who is a Syrian-Iranian agent," Jumblatt said.

He called on all Arab leaders at the summit to stand by Lebanon as "Lebanon remains a target of the Syrian-Iranian allies who are attempting a coup against the democratic nation."

A statement released by the Free Patriotic Movement after its weekly meeting said sending separate delegations to the summit "shows Lebanon is incapable of sending a united front to the summit, and added: "It is a dangerous move to send two delegations as it will not help in resolving the division within the county."

Former President Amin Gemayel said "it is regrettable that Lebanon is sending two groups after all the great regional and international efforts that have been made to help Lebanon with its political crisis."

Gemayel also expressed regret over the suspension of meetings between Berri and Hariri. "It is important for them to begin again for the sake of Lebanon," he said