01/19/2011, 00.00
LEBANON
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Mediators busy in Beirut but prospects very dim

Turkish and Qatari envoys are meeting Lebanese political leaders, but deal appears a very distant possibility. US and Syria back Sarkozy’s proposal for a contact group, but Damascus does not want Washington in it. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia warns it would “pull its hand out” from the effort.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani are still involved in talks with Lebanese officials in Beirut, trying to mediate between the parties to the country’s crisis. Thus far, they have met President Michel Sleiman, caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri and Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Meetings with other Lebanese political leaders are scheduled today.

A statement released by the Lebanese President’s Office after the mediators met the president, simply noted that talks were “useful and wide-ranging”. Source close to the Office cited by L’Orient Le Jour said the goal of the mediation is to salvage the Syrian-Saudi plan, just altering some of its points.

In reality, chances for success are slim. Most believe the odds are against the Turkish-Qatari mediation effort. Instead, a new ‘contact group” (including Lebanon, France, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar) has been suggested by French President Nicolas Sarkozy against a backdrop in which caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri might be given a chance to succeed himself. In both cases, the result will be months of political wrangling.

The United States endorsed Sarkozy’s proposal today, but Damascus does not Washington to join the contact group. In fact, “Syria … has an interest in Lebanon,” US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley acknowledged. However, the United States is “encouraging Syria and other countries to respect the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon."

The fact remains that the proposals made so far by the Turkish and Qatari mediators run up against the conditions laid down by the Hizbollah-led opposition, An-Nahar reports. These conditions are closely tied to the possible indictment of some of Hizbollah’s top officials by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the Rafik Hariri assassination. Nevertheless, Nabih Berri, head of Amal, a Hizbollah ally, yesterday said that the opposition’s position could change if the names of the accused were made official.

A surprise move, one perhaps designed to pressure on the parties, came from Saudi Arabia today when Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal quoted Saudi King Abdullah who described the situation as “dangerous”.

For the saudi monarch, matters are such that “full separation and (regional) partition” of the country is a distinct possibility. If it were to pass, it would bring to an end “Lebanon as a state” and as a “model of peaceful cohabitation between (different) religions and ethnicities”.

Under the circumstances, the Saudis warned they might wash their hands of the joint mediation effort with Syria.

In the meantime, another player to the drama, but one that is far from the negotiating table, made its presence felt this morning. Israeli jets in fact flew over south Lebanese towns like Nabatiyeh, Iqlim al-Tuffah, Kfarkila and Khiam. (PD)

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