All eyes are turning to Paris today as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad will meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of expected controversial indictments by an international tribunal charged to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri. The fallout of these indictments could lead to renewed political crisis in Lebanon.
Diplomats said that Al-Assad would inform Sarkozy of Syrian-Saudi efforts aimed at helping Lebanon's politicians manage the post-indictment stage. The indictments are expected to name members of Hizbullah and Syrian citizens alleged to be involved in the assassination. Already Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been warning that he will not allow the arrest of any member of his party.
In Paris, Sarkozy will encourage Al-Assad to put intensive pressure on his ally in Lebanon, Hizbullah, not to use the "violence option" if the indictments reveal the involvement of senior member within that party. Syria and Saudi Arabia, setting aside their rivalry, have worked together on trying to calm political tensions and avert violence if Hizbullah members are indicted.
Al-Hayat columnist Dawood Shorian said Wednesday that Sarkozy has suggested that the Future Movement led by Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri would give written assurances to Hizbullah that if the indictments name Hizbullah members it will not use the charges to press for its disarmament, and also that any charges would only be directed to the person named, not the party.
According to Shorian, Hizbullah will have to give written assurance not to use arms and not to take to the street.
Media sources in Damascus and Beirut expect the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in the Netherlands, to issue draft indictments as early as this week. Their content will not be made public, tribunal spokesman Crispin Thorold said in a press statement, and a pre-trial judge will take around two months to decide whether to approve them, at which point they may or may not be published.