Western, Arab powers urge end to Lebanon crisis




Lebanon’s parliament did not hold a scheduled session to elect a president on Tuesday — the 18th time the chamber has failed to vote due to a political crisis that has paralysed government and left the presidency vacant since November.

The dispute has poisoned ties between Saudi Arabia and Syria, which back opposing sides in the conflict.

France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the Arab League met to discuss Lebanon on the sidelines of a meeting on Iraqi security.

Syria was not officially invited.

"We call on all parties inside and outside Lebanon to respect Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty," the group, calling itself Friends of Lebanon, said in a statement.

"Three years after Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon, the time has come for Syria and Lebanon to redefine and normalise ties between these two historically close neighbours in mutual respect for their sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence."

It also urged them not to use their respective territories to destabilise each other, to agree a shared border and to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with these issues.

Ties between Syria, some Lebanese and Western powers soured after the killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005. An international probe has implicated Syrian officials.

Syria denies involvement but withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005, ending a 29-year sojourn in its smaller neighbour, amid mass protests by Lebanese over the killing.


Riyadh supports the Beirut governing coalition, along with Western countries including the United States and France. Syria and its ally Iran back the opposition alliance led by Hezbollah.

Lebanese rivals have agreed that army chief General Michel Suleiman should fill the presidency, vacant since the term of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud expired five months ago.

But Suleiman’s confirmation by parliament has been derailed by a dispute over the make-up of a cabinet to be formed after his election and a parliamentary election law. The house cannot hold the vote unless a deal is reached to secure a quorum.

"We call for the immediate election of the consensual candidate General Suleiman as president without prior conditions, the establishment of a national unity government and the holding of a general election," the group statement said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem slammed the meeting, saying it served only to complicate a difficult crisis.

"We will not be a party to this internationalisation. Internationalisation means the complication of the crisis as the interests of the superpowers play a role in stalling the political process in Lebanon," Moualem told reporters.

"Syria … should have been invited since Syria is the direct neighbour of Lebanon."

Earlier in the day, he met French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who stressed the need for a solution to the crisis.

"The French want solution on Lebanon and we want a solution on Lebanon. They back the Arab initiative," Moualem said.

Syria pledged at an Arab summit last month to cooperate on ending the crisis but made it clear that it would not push its allies in Lebanon to allow a vote unless their demands are met.



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