by Salim Yassine
BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanese leaders have adjourned the latest round of reconciliation talks, still unable to find a consensus on the future of embattled pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

The leaders, following nearly four hours of roundtable talks at parliament house amid tight security measures, set the next round of negotiations for June 8 to continue discussions on the arms of the anti-Israeli Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah.

"Participants did not reach an agreement on the presidency, so they moved on to the remaining item on the table: the strategic defense policy" against potential Israeli dangers on Lebanon, parliament speaker Nabih Berri said Tuesday.

Berri told reporters that the next round of talks will take place on June 8 "because some colleagues have trips abroad and there are some holidays."

Lahoud’s fate has been a key sticking point at the roundtable talks, with the Damascus protege at loggerheads with the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority which considers him a continuation of Syrian domination.

"When we fail in a subject, we said that we will come out and say it. We are not ashamed of it," said Berri, referring to the discussions on the fate of Lahoud, who still has a year and a half in office.

The seventh round of talks was taking place amid global pressure on Damascus to stop interfering in its smaller neighbor’s internal affairs.

Lebanon has been in political turmoil since the February 2005 murder of five-time prime minister Rafiq Hariri, an attack widely blamed on Syria which was later forced to withdraw troops after 29 years on Lebanese soil.

The initial euphoria that followed the pullout quickly died out as the country sank into political wrangling, including the issue of Lahoud’s term which had been extended by three years in late 2004 under Syrian pressure.

The latest round of negotiations comes four days after France, the United States and Britain formally submitted a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for establishment of diplomatic ties and a demarcation of common borders between the two neighbours.

Members of the anti-Damascus parliamentary majority have been accusing Syria of continued interference in Lebanese affairs, while pro-Syrian figures warn their political adversaries not to resort to Western help.

Berri has warned against maintaining an atmosphere of hostility with Damascus, and threatened to "uncover the identity of those who are opposing a normalisation of relations with Syria."

The rift among the Lebanese politicians has led Berri’s Amal movement and allies to stage a demonstration against government reforms on May 10, although some of them are members of the government.

On Tuesday, the leading An Nahar daily said Lebanese leaders have only continued to meet at the roundtable talks because none of them wanted to carry the responsibility of a failure which could eventually lead matters to be resolved on the street.

Lebanese leaders are also divided over the disarmament of the military wing of Hezbollah, whose fighters were widely credited in Lebanon for bringing about Israel’s withdrawal from the south of the country in 2000 after 22 years of occupation.

The group has vowed to carry on a guerrilla war over the disputed Shebaa Farms border area, which Israel seized from Syria along with the Golan Heights in 1967 but is claimed by Lebanon with Damascus’s approval.

In six rounds of national talks since March 2, leaders reached agreement on the establishment of an international court to judge those responsible for Hariri’s killing.

They have also agreed to dismantle Palestinian military bases in Lebanon, to work to normalise relations with the former powerbroker Syria and to define borders between the two countries.

But the last three points have yet to be implemented as they require the cooperation of Damascus, which has rejected calls to define the border in the Shebaa Farms area before Israel pulls out of the territory.