Monday, March 05, 2007

All sides see imminent solution to Lebanese crisis

All sides see imminent solution to Lebanese crisis
Summit between ahmadinejad and king abdullah credited with breaking logjam

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Rays of hope emerged in Lebanon's political crisis over the weekend, with key politicians saying that a "solution" had been agreed upon by all sides. The positive signs followed a meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz. Ahmadinejad made his first official visit to the kingdom on Saturday. Lebanon was one of the main issues on the agenda of the Saudi-Iranian summit. The predominantly Sunni kingdom and the Shiite-ruled Islamic Republic agreed to fight the spread of sectarian strife throughout the region. Information Minister Ghazi Aridi hailed the Saudi-Iranian summit as an event that would "help reopen doors of dialogue" in Lebanon. "What comes out of the meetings will have an immediate impact on internal affairs as it will generate a better environment for dialogue," said Aridi. Like other politicians from the March 14 camp, Aridi said a solution had been reached. He declined to say whether the breakthrough entailed the expansion of Cabinet to 30 members for a so-called "19 + 11" setup, with the opposition holding 11 seats.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, a strong critic of the opposition who has been repeatedly accused of hampering efforts to end the deadlock, confirmed on Sunday that there was "indeed an effective solution." "The solution is based on two things, on forming a joint committee that will oversee the modifications to the international court [to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri] and the formation of a national consensus government of 19 + 10 + 1," Geagea told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. The unaffiliated Cabinet minister in Geagea's formulation would belong neither to the majority or the opposition but would serve as an independent. Geagea's version of the agreement was confirmed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who earlier had called for a "joint judicial committee" to work on a final draft of the international tribunal.

This announcement by Geagea came a day after Berri told the pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat that a deal to end the country's worst political crisis since the Civil War could emerge "within 48 hours." Like other politicians over the weekend, Berri said that the chances for a solution were greater than at any other point in the crisis, which spilled over into lethal street violence in late January. "The chances of success this time are greater than at any previous time," said Berri. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat said the settlement would include a deal on a unity government as well as an agreement on the international tribunal.

The opposition says it agrees with the idea of setting up a tribunal but wants to discuss the details and has said that it fears the court will be used as a political tool. Justice Minister Charles Rizk called on the two sides Sunday to study the details of the court "before making any accusations about its guarantees." "It was never an issue of poor formation of the court, but rather an issue of ill treatment of the issue politically," Rizk told an Abu Dubai television station on Sunday.

Former President Amin Gemayel left Sunday for Egypt, where he is scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday to discuss the Lebanese situation. "Lebanon is now at an important point because of all the Arab and regional initiatives that focus on helping Lebanon find a solution," Gemayel said before his departure. While the former president expressed optimism over the negotiations, he warned against "temporary fixes." "It is not enough for the solution to be limited to the international tribunal and to the formation of government," said Gemayel. "It should be more encompassing and long-term."

Hizbullah officials, meanwhile, insisted on a 19 + 11 solution. Hizbullah Politburo member Mahmoud Qmati, accompanied by Hizbullah MP Amin Cherri, met with former Premier Salim Hoss on Saturday. "The Arab initiatives and the Saudi-Iranian efforts have arrived at the 19 + 11 deal and at allowing certain modifications to be made to the international court," Qmati said afterward. "The Saudi-Iranian summit will have repercussions far beyond Lebanon, where it will help unite the region against strife and will hinder the US administration's projects on the Middle East," said Qmati. Amal MP Hassan Ali Khalil said the opposition does not want a solution that would constitute a "loss" by either side. "We refuse to accept a solution that would lead to a side being defeated, as we want to work together and participate in governing the country as equals," he said Saturday. "We want to work hand-in-hand with the international community in prosecuting the criminals who have plagued Lebanon for years," he added.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun said Saturday that he is waiting for a date to be set for his trip to Saudi Arabia. "I was invited ... 24 hours before the [November] assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel and so I had to postpone it," Aoun told the Okaz newspaper. "But things have settled down now and so we asked ... to set a date for a visit." He warned that if a solution does not materialize soon, the opposition "has no choice but to launch civil disobedience." "We don't want to cause a civil war, but if it happens, we will defend ourselves if necessary," the MP added. "But the democratic way remains our main way of dealing with problems." - With agencies

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