Monday, March 12, 2007

Berri, Hariri agree on need for speedy solution

Speaker Nabih Berri and parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri, who are preparing for a third round of talks, agreed over the weekend to "fast and serious" consultations to find a solution to Lebanon’s enduring political crisis. Meanwhile, Hizbullah officials on Sunday renewed their vow that the opposition would step up its campaign against the government if a "compromise" solution was not reached soon.

"We could have reached a solution a while back if it wasn’t for hampering efforts by the US, France and some officials in the March 14 camp," Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said during a commemoration of the passing of 40 days of mourning for Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.

In other comments, government sources told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation Sunday that the Cabinet would meet Tuesday to appoint a delegation to the Arab summit to be held in Saudi Arabia at the end of the month.

The sources added that talks between Hariri and Berri were going slowly because, in addition to discussing the formation of a national unity government, the functions and protocol of the new body was also on the table.

The Kuwait-based Al-Rai newspaper quoted Berri Sunday as saying he wanted to solve the crisis before the summit.

"The desire to preserve Lebanon is the main motivation for me and for Saad Hariri," Berri said, adding that one of the hardest aspects of reaching a solution was securing "guarantees" from all parties concerned.

"We want guarantees from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria … from the whole world it seems," the speaker said.

A joint statement issued Saturday after the second round of talks between Berri, a senior member of the opposition, and Hariri in his capacity as representative of the ruling March 14 coalition, said the two agreed to continue their "serious talks, but at a swift pace."

The statement said the second meeting had been marked by a "positive atmosphere," despite a failure to agree on the formation of a new government.

Talks between the two officials Thursday had been their first meeting since the crisis erupted in November, when six opposition ministers quit their posts to demand a larger say in the government, which is dominated by the March 14 Forces.

The talks were put on hold Sunday as Hariri paid a visit to Abu Dhabi for two days of meetings with officials in the United Arab Emirates on regional developments and bilateral ties.

No date has been announced for the third round of meetings.

Hizbullah-affiliated Al-Manar television said that no agreement has yet been reached on a new government.

The opposition has repeatedly demanded a "vetoing third" in any new Cabinet.

Al-Manar said that Iranian national security chief Ali

Larijani and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, were no longer responsible for "the Lebanon file."

The station added that the Lebanese crisis had been transferred to the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran, Prince Saud al-Faisal and Manouchehr Mottaki respectively.

Al-Manar said Mottaki, who had been expected in Beirut last week, would arrive "soon."

The heads of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria are also expected to hold a summit in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in the near future, the station added, suggesting the tripartite talks would be held ahead of an Arab summit in Riyadh set for March 28-29.