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Arab League Chief in Syria over Lebanon Crisis

January 24, 2008 by  


Reuters (Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Beirut)

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – The Arab League has made progress toward solving the political crisis in Lebanon, although it has yet to achieve a breakthrough, the league’s Secretary General Amr Moussa said on Saturday.

“We’re advancing step by step, but I cannot say at this stage whether I am optimistic or pessimistic, and prefer to keep details away from the media,” Moussa said after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“My talks in Damascus were totally positive … It is important that I go to Riyadh,” he said.

Moussa is seeking agreement on implementing an Arab plan to set up a power-sharing government which would balance the competing demands of military and political group Hezbollah and those of the anti-Syrian majority group led by Saad al-Hariri.

Hezbollah is backed by Iran and Syria, while Hariri has the support of the United States and its ally, Saudi Arabia. The rival Lebanese sides have been at loggerheads for more than a year, creating the worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The plan is based on electing Lebanese army commander General Michel Suleiman as a compromise president, a position which has remained empty since November.

Moussa said he would then favour a power-sharing coalition which would give Hariri’s group more than half the ministers while not giving the Hezbollah-led group enough ministers to have veto power.

The balance would be held by ministers named by Suleiman.

But the opposition has said it wants either an equal three way division of cabinet seats — between themselves, the majority and Suleiman — or veto power in a new government.

The Arab states’ plan also calls for the drafting of a new law for a parliamentary election due next year.

Parliament has been called for a 13th time on Monday to elect Suleiman but the vote cannot succeed without a political deal between the sides that would secure a two-thirds quorum in the chamber.

Addressing his Shi’ite followers at the religious Ashura ceremony in southern Beirut, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said he welcomed the Arab initiative but warned “if the mediations and initiatives fail, the opposition will not allow itself to be left at a dead end.”

“If you are betting on the opposition’s weakness, or the opposition’s retreat, or the opposition relinquishing its rights and goals, then you are delusional,” Nasrallah said, directing his comment to his political foes.

The wrangling over the Lebanese presidency reflects the regional conflict between the United States and its allies on one side and a Syria, Iran and Hezbollah alliance on the other.

“We will not leave Lebanon for the American plan or the American administration,” Nasrallah vowed.

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