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July 14, 2007
Lebanese Dialogue Underway In Paris
Naharnet is reporting on talks between Lebanese factions being hosted by President Nicolas Sarkozy's government outside of Paris:
Lebanon's political factions including the pro-Syrian opposition Hizbullah on Saturday began two days of talks in France to try ease the deadlock paralyzing the nation. The talks at the chateau of La Celle Saint Cloud, on the western fringe of Paris, opened as Lebanese government troops were locked in fierce fighting with Islamists around a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner opened the meeting between leaders of the 14 political groups including members of the pro-western government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora. France hopes to encourage the Lebanese leaders to renew a dialogue that was shattered during the conflict with Israel last year and the resignation in November of opposition ministers. The meeting will focus on the theme of "strengthening the Lebanese state", eight months after six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet, triggering the worst crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. Fears are running high that the situation could deteriorate further if no deal is struck before the election by parliament in late September of a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. "There is an urgent need for a dialogue between the various political players in Lebanon and France is able to facilitate this dialogue," Lebanese Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri said from Beirut.The talks almost didn't come off after Sarkozy made the dreadful faux pas earlier in the week of mentioning to the families of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezb'allah during last summer's war that his "goal was that Hezb'allah renounces the use of terrorism and becomes once again a political party like the others and part of parliamentary democracy." For obvious reasons, Hezb'allah warlord Hassan Nasrallah didn't find the reference to terrorism to his liking and threatened to pull out of the talks.
That's when the French Foriegn Ministry came to the rescue when it remembered that only silly Americans believed that organizations who blow things up and kill innocent civilians can actually be called "terrorist" groups. The ministry "clarified" President Sarkozy's remarks saying that France had no plans to officially designate Hezb'allah a terrorist group, that they were just another "important political player" in the rough and tumble of Lebanese politics. From terrorists to "political players." I'm sure that pleased Nasrallah to no end.
As for the talks themselves, no one in Lebanon is expecting any movement in the crisis that has gripped the country for 8 long months. Nasrallah still insists on enough opposition ministers in the cabinet to give him veto power over any decisions made by the majority. Prime Minister Siniora doesn't feel he should have to nullify the elections of two summers ago that made he and his coalition the clear majority in Lebanon. Neither side is budging. Neither side appears ready to deal. It will be a long, hot, summer in Beirut.