05/17/2007, 00.00
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Welch leaves Beirut confirming US support for Siniora and international tribunal

by Youssef Hourani
US envoy met leaders from the majority coalition and the opposition as well as the prime minister and the speaker of the National Assembly. Envoy believes that objections by Lahoud and Hezbollah to trying suspects in Hariri murder can be surmounted. Russia’s attitude remains an open question.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch ended his mission to Lebanon today. During his two-day visit he met with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri and leaders from the majority coalition like Saad Hariri and the opposition like Michel Aoun but not President Emile Lahoud.

Lahoud’ succession, set for November 24, was one of the main issues discussed during Assistant Secretary’s stay in the country. The US administration backs a national consensus for the new occupant of Babda Palace, someone who must be Lebanese, and not imposed on the Lebanese.

Welch reiterated his government’s unconditional support for Fouad Siniora and his government and restating its opposition to any new cabinet, a possibility raised by President Lahoud, which it considers a real obstacle to the country’s pacification.

The United States also remains favourable to a UN-backed international tribunal to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on the basis of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter which calls for action to protect peace. Its support comes despite the refusal by President Lahoud and Speaker Berri (who heads Amal, a Shia party) to accept the agreement signed by the Lebanese government and the UN. To show its opposition Speaker Berri has refused to reconvene parliament to debate the issue.

The US envoy to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he will introduce tonight a draft resolution to the Security Council to set up the tribunal.

For his part President Lahoud wrote to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon asking for a delay in establishing the tribunal, arguing that the Siniora government does not represent the whole country because of the resignation of six ministers.

Hezbollah, which the leads the opposition, warned that if the UN approves the tribunal, it will cause “discord”.

Welch instead believes that all objections can be surmounted. However, Russia’s attitude remains an open question.

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