ARAB AFFAIRS - Feb 5 - Arab League Ambassador Arrives To Lay Groundwork For Expected Moussa Visit.
Arab League Ambassador Hisham Youssef arrives in Beirut to
"gauge the opinions" of Lebanon's opposing political
camps prior to the as-yet-unscheduled arrival of league chief Moussa.
"You won't like what I have to say", Youssef told the
media after a meeting with Amal Movement MP Ali Hassan Khalil.
"Leave us alone to do our talks in private and reach some sort of
solution for the difficult time Lebanon is passing through",
Youssef told reporters following the meeting. Youssef, one of
Moussa's top aides, arrived in Lebanon after a weekend that saw no
break in verbal sparring between opposition leaders and government
figures, despite outbreaks of street violence a week earlier. Youssef,
who is to remain in Lebanon until Feb 7, has scheduled meetings with
officials from both sides of the political divide in order to pave the
way for the resumption of mediation efforts by Moussa. "We hope he
comes here soon, and we are doing what we can so that [Moussa's]
return will succeed in solving the crisis", Youssef said.
Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said last week that Moussa
would resume his mediation on Feb 8. Other media reports said that
Moussa will return prior to Feb 14, the two-year anniversary of the
assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri. Moussa is expected to visit
Russia this week. He is expected to ask Russia to influence its ally,
Syria, to co-operate more on the international tribunal to try those
involved in killing Hariri and others. The head of the Arab League is
also trying to mend fences between Riyadh and Damascus. He is expected
to visit both capitals before or immediately after he comes to Beirut.
When asked whether there were any positive signs in the political
deadlock, Youssef asked: What do you think"? Observers argued
that Moussa's decision to send Youssef to head the second round of
mediation efforts in Lebanon is an attempt to sideline the Sudanese
initiative led by presidential envoy Mustafa Ismail. The Arab League
chief began mediating between the Hizbullah-led opposition and the
Western-backed government of PM Fouad Siniora in mid-December, after the
opposition camp began an open-ended sit-in outside the Grand Serail in
Downtown Beirut on December 1 to demand a greater say in government.
Khalil, the Amal MP, told reporters that the opposition had explained
its demands "more clearly" this time around to the Arab League
envoy. "It was a chance to clarify our position and to be informed
of the outcome of the talks between the Arab League and the other
politicians", said Khalil. Khalil said that the opposition
"will not back off" from its demands, but will remain
"careful" not to drag the country into another civil war.
Youssef also met with Siniora for an hour and a half, but declined
comment afterward, saying: Let us work behind the curtains for
once". Earlier in the day, Siniora, along with Culture Minister
Tarek Mitri, met with US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. The officials
discussed Israeli cluster bombs in the South and Youssef's visit to
Lebanon. Mitri said that the Arab League envoy had come to Lebanon
"based on an agreement between the Lebanese government and
Moussa". "Siniora and Moussa are in constant communication
with each other", said Mitri. Youssef was also scheduled to meet
Monday with Hizbullah representative Hussein Khalil. Meanwhile, Arab
diplomats were scheduled to hold talks abroad this week to try to defuse Lebanon's political crisis, diplomats and Lebanese political
sources told Reuters on Feb 5. Ongoing talks between senior Iranian and
Saudi officials have helped to keep the peace in Beirut after seven
people were killed and 400 wounded in street clashes late last month.
"There has been little progress toward a deal", a Lebanese
political source said. "But at least the diplomatic activity helped
calm the situation before it got out of hand". The source said
Saudi and Iranian influence with their respective allies in Lebanon had
gone some way toward dampening street tensions. Over the past two weeks,
senior Saudi diplomat Prince Bandar bin Sultan has visited Tehran,
Washington, Moscow and Paris for talks on the Lebanese crisis and other
regional issues. In other developments, former Pres Amin Gemayel said
the opposition's determination to bring pressure Siniora's
government is a "coup d'etat". He added that the move was
unconstitutional. "In my opinion, what's going on in Lebanon
is really a coup d'etat ... It's a coup d'etat against
the Lebanese Constitution", he said on CNN television on Feb 4.
Gemayel, who is in Washington to meet with US Pres Bush and other top
officials, also said that Lebanon cannot afford a new civil war, which
some fear could break out if political leaders and diplomats do not
succeed in reaching across a perceived deepening of sectarian fault
lines in the country. "This coup d'etat is to block the
constitutional process ... to endorse the international tribunal.
Because Syria is really afraid, because it's the first suspect in
the ... crimes", Gemayel said, referring in part to Hariri's