Thu Mar 8, 2007 6:18pm ET25

Two rival Lebanese leaders held late-night talks on Thursday, the first such meeting in four months, to discuss ways to end a political crisis that has raised fears of a civil war.

Anti-Syrian majority leader Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, met Shi’ite Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a key opposition leader, at Berri’s headquarters amid heavy security

While the meeting was not expected to yield a definitive solution, it marks an easing of tensions that have spilled over into sporadic lethal sectarian clashes.

The two leaders made no statement after meeting for two and a half hours, but a political source close to Berri said: "The problem still needs more work, but the direction is positive."

Berri, who leads the Amal Movement, Christian leader Michel Aoun and the Shi’ite group, Hezbollah, have been engaged in a campaign to topple Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government after the prime minister, a Sunni, refused to give them veto power in his cabinet.

While he did not give details of the ideas he planned to discuss, he said any solution should not be at the expense of one side or the other.

In November, all the Shi’ite ministers resigned from the cabinet to protest at Siniora’s refusal to meet their demands.

The opposition, including Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, is also demanding early parliamentary elections. Siniora, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States, has refused to give in.


A key demand for the ruling coalition is a tribunal to try suspects in the assassination in 2005 of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The tribunal has yet to be ratified by parliament and the opposition fears it may be used as a political tool in its current form.

A U.N. inquiry has implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the killing, though Syria denies involvement

Saad is the son and political heir of the assassinated Hariri and he leads the Sunni Muslim "Future" bloc, to which Siniora belongs.

Several scenarios have emerged as possible solutions to the power struggle, but no compromise has yet been considered feasible.

Hariri, who returned from Saudi Arabia earlier in the day, accused Syria of blocking an international tribunal and a national unity government.

"The Syrian regime is the one obstructing a solution in Lebanon," Hariri said after earlier meeting the influential Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir.

Intense regional diplomatic efforts by main backers of the rival factions have produced little more than rhetoric over the past months, but Hariri said last week’s meeting between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran had a positive outcome