Lebanon's PM to meet Saudi King and Clinton

AFP, Friday 7 Jan 2011

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri is to visit New York to meet King Abdullah and Hillary Clinton

Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri headed to New York on Friday to meet with Saudi King Abdullah and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the political crisis in Lebanon, a government official said.

The official close to Hariri, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the talks would focus on the deadlock in Lebanon created by a UN probe into the 2005 murder of the prime minister's father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

In an interview published on Friday in the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, Hariri said he was travelling to New York to meet with the king for the second time in 10 days in a bid to boost Saudi-Syrian efforts to defuse the crisis.

"I am going there to discuss ways of boosting the mediation efforts that are a guarantee to Lebanon's stability," Hariri was quoted as saying.

He revealed that Saudi-Syrian mediation had led to an agreement months ago but accused the Shiite militant movement Hezbollah of not living up to its end of the deal.

Hariri said the agreement was struck before King Abdullah went to the United States in November for back surgery. The monarch is still recovering in New York.

"Any commitment on my part will not be carried out until the other party (Hezbollah) implements what they agreed to," the premier told Al-Hayat.

Lebanon for months has suffered a political paralysis over reports the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is presumably set to indict members of the powerful Hezbollah in connection with Rafiq Hariri's assassination.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has warned it would not accept such an outcome and accuses the STL of being part of a US-Israeli plot.

The group has been pressuring Hariri, who is backed by the West and Saudi Arabia, to disavow the tribunal and warned that Lebanon could be plunged into a full-blown crisis should any of its members be implicated by the STL.

The government official said the Syrian-Saudi deal calls for clear steps to ease tensions in Lebanon and reduce the rhetoric among the rival political parties.

"All of the steps centre on a single objective which is domestic stability and the ability of Lebanon to absorb the indictment," he said.

"The government has been paralysed for months and the political leaders should be able to discuss issues and that has not been happening," the official added.

"We hoped to see the process translating into tension-easing steps but that has not so far happened," he said. "The ball is in their (Hezbollah's) court."

Contacted by AFP, Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish, a member of Hezbollah, blamed the government paralysis on Hariri's camp.

He added that the deadlock could be resolved if the cabinet agreed to debate the issue of alleged fake witnesses in the Hariri case.

The government official brushed aside as "off the mark" persistent reports in Lebanese and other newspapers that the Saudi-Syrian mediation deal calls for Hariri to reject the tribunal.

"A pre-emptive rejection of the tribunal is unthinkable," he said. "The prime minister has not agreed to such a rejection.

"This is a tribunal requested by Lebanon, a tribunal requested to get the perpetrators (of Hariri's assassination), this is a national cause," the official stressed.

Washington has repeatedly underlined its commitment to Hariri's government and the STL, while emphasizing that any rapprochement between the US and Syria would not come at Lebanon's expense.

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