03/08/2006, 00.00
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Opposite pressures end national dialogue

by Youssef Hourany
Pressures from Damascus, which fears exclusion, mount as Jumblatt from Washington joins Rice calling for Lahoud's resignation and Hezbollah's disarmament. Geagea says he'll support any initiative by Patriarch Sfeir.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanon's national dialogue conference is suspended but not cancelled. According to National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri, "some of the participants said they want to consult their parties and leaderships before taking decisions, and hopefully on Monday they will announce their final decision".

Influential daily L'Orient Le Jour reported instead that the decision to take time out stems from Hezbollah's desire to have Jumblatt (who is currently in the US) in Beirut, and from "strong pressures from Syria".

If Walid Jumblatt and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from Washington demand the implementation of UN Resolution 1559 on the disarmament of militias and US Vice President Dick Cheney warns Syria against interfering in Lebanese affairs, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warns from Damascus that any national dialogue in Lebanon cannot reach its goals without Syria. Likewise Mr Assad reiterated his "full support for President Lahoud, who remains the only point of reference for all Lebanese, who are going through difficult moments."

The Syrian President called on Arab countries not to let Lebanon fall into the hands of Israel and repeated that he was still interested in finding the truth about the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, "murdered by the enemies of Lebanon and Syria".

Assad spoke as he met Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos who began a visit to Syria today to clear up, according to well informed sources, some issues that still cloud relations between the European Union and the Middle Eastern country.

The organising committee of the Arab Parties Congress, which ended today its meeting in the Syrian capital, sent a letter to Arab leaders ahead of their annual summit scheduled to take place on March 18-30 in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. In the letter, the committee urges Arab leaders to help Syria in its pro-Arab position resist international pressures and Israel's plans and greed, and oppose UN Resolution 1559 which would marginalise Arabs.

President Assad's statement, which came a few hours after Lebanon's national dialogue conference was adjourned, was followed by a statement by General Michel Aoun who criticised Jumblatt. The Druze leader in his meeting with Secretary Rice said Hezbollah was a militia that should be disarmed and repeated his criticism of President Lahoud. He said the US backed wholeheartedly the March 14 movement which calls for the removal of the Lebanese president and the implementation of UN Resolution 1559, i.e. the disarmament of Hezbollah and Palestinian militias.

Samir Geagea, one of the 14 leaders attending the national dialogue conference, told AsiaNews, after it was adjourned, that "we were unable to achieve what we hoped for before the summit began".

Geagea seems pessimistic about the conference's chances of success and slammed Syria and pro-Syrian President Lahoud. The head of the Lebanese Forces said that "we must abide by the demands of the Lebanese people to remove President Lahoud from office and elect a new president to help us overcome this crisis".

He said he was confident that Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir would be able to judge events. He also asserted his support for the March 14 movement and trust in any initiative the patriarch might undertake.

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Schools and universities closed as Sfeir calls on parties to get back to talks
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