Friday, March 30, 2007

Arab leaders make no moves on Lebanon

RIYADH: The Arab League summit in Riyadh failed to initiate any sort of Arab initiative – Saudi or otherwise – to help Lebanon solve its four-month-old political deadlock. Most speeches from various Arab leaders during the second and final day of talks overlooked the Lebanese crisis, with only Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah urging Arab leaders to work on solving the deadlock and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh warning that Lebanese divisions "could have negative repercussions on the country."

However, in the summit’s final statement, Arab leaders stressed their support for Lebanon "and its government" – veering from the agreed upon text for Lebanon by reinstating the word "government," which had been replaced with state. The statement called on various Lebanese groups to resort to dialogue in order to "resolve political conflicts and avoid potential ones."

"Dialogue ought to be launched from where it was interrupted in order to preserve past agreements and to avoid that any forces interfere in Lebanese domestic issues and work on inciting strife," it said.

The Arab leaders expressed their support for Lebanon’s political choices, "as long as they are practiced within constitutional institutions."

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had said on Wednesday that he rejected "the act of turning common streets into hotels," referring to an ongoing opposition sit-in in Downtown Beirut.

The summit also expressed support for the establishment of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, "while insisting on having all Lebanese agree on the tribunal’s final make-up, and while stressing that the tribunal not be used for any political or vengeance purposes."

The statement also saluted the efforts of the Lebanese Army "to exert its control over all Lebanese territory," and rejected the idea that resistance movements aiming at liberating Lebanese land "be labeled terrorist."

The final statement conveyed the "strict refusal" of Arab leaders of any formula aiming at having Palestinian refugees settled in Lebanon, "because this will lead to drastic repercussions on both the Lebanese and the Palestinians."

At a news conference following the closing session, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said there was a "true" crisis in Lebanon, adding that no solutions would be reached "while each of the two opposing parties feels it is threatened."

President Emile Lahoud stressed in his speech to the summit that the crisis was due to "a deepening schism threatening the very foundation of the state."

"Lebanon is once again paying dearly for its nationalistic stances, and as such is targeted in its unity and security," he added.

He said the stalemate could be "readily solved" if disagreements over the tribunal and the formation of a national unity government were settled.

"Needless, to say," Lahoud added, "the tribunal … is something that all Lebanese want so that perpetrators are punished."

"In addition, he said, "a government of national unity is something we all want, as the embodiment of a true partnership in the stewardship of the nation, where all segments of society have a share in national decision-making so that Lebanon’s stability is preserved."

Lahoud called on Arab leaders to help Lebanon.

"I am confident that through your brotherly support for Lebanon, you will promote a solution that is suitable to all Lebanese and a resolution of its endemic crises," he said.

Lahoud also called on the Lebanese to stand united. "Lebanon’s epic stands against Israel’s aggression and barbarism in July 2006 proved to the world that, when united, the Lebanese can withstand the intolerable."

"Through their support of the national resistance, the Lebanese can smash the myth of an Israel perpetually capable of subduing Lebanese and Arab will," he added. "Lebanon is no longer weak. It is strong because its people are strong and are attached to their land and always willing to protect it."

Israel wanted to gut "the essence" of a 2002 Saudi initiative for peace in the Middle East and rob it of "its essence" by denying the Palestinians’ right of return and promoting their settlement in host countries, most notably Lebanon, "whose very Constitution specifically states ‘no partition and no settlement,’" Lahoud said.

Separately, the head of a second Lebanese delegation to the summit, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, held a series of talks on Thursday with various Arab leaders and other political figures, including Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifah al-Thani and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov. Speaking after meeting with Sheikh Hamad, Siniora said he was satisfied with the outcome of the summit, "which revived the Arab peace initiative."

Asked whether the changes to the summit’s final statement concerning Lebanon signaled one Lebanese camp’s victory over the other, Siniora said that the most important thing was that "Lebanon as a whole wins and prospers. One Lebanese party winning over another is a trivial matter."

"It is quite clear, from what we witnessed during the two-day meeting, that the Lebanese government gained the support of all Arab states," he added.