Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hariri says he has evidence of Syrian assassination plots

Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff (Arab media)
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

BEIRUT: The head of the parliamentary majority MP Saad Hariri was due to meet Free Patriotic leader Michel Aoun in Paris on Wednesday, after Hariri announced on Tuesday that he had evidence of Syrian assassination plots against himself and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Hariri made the accusation after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Tuesday in response to a question about alleged assassination plots by Syrian President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law and head of intelligence Assef Shawkat.
"We have intelligence about this and we are following it up," Hariri told reporters on Tuesday.
"The intelligence is correct and our security services are working on it," Hariri said.
Shawkat is among 10 Syrian officials and Lebanese politicians Washington accuses of undermining the Lebanese government, and who are banned from entering the United States.
"There is cooperation between Lebanese security services and Arab security services to avoid such assassinations," Hariri added, without specifying which countries were helping in the investigations.
Just hours after Hariri's announcement, Aoun's office in Lebanon told the media that the FPM leader was on his way to Paris to meet with Hariri.
Sources close to the FPM told The Daily Star that Aoun will meet with Hariri on Wednesday.
Hariri left for Paris on Tuesday night after concluding his meetings in Egypt, where he briefly met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Hariri said his talks with Mubarak in Cairo focused on the upcoming presidential vote and "the interference of certain states to prevent the holding of these elections."
Hariri said that Mubarak had promised to help prevent "any interference in the Lebanese presidential election or anything that might prejudice the stability of Lebanon."
"We feel that this is a way of undermining Lebanese dialogue and Lebanese consensus," he said, after pointing out that most recent political assassination of a March 14 lawmaker came just a few days after Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri had appealed for dialogue.
Six people were killed in September in a Beirut car bombing, including MP Antoine Ghanem, just days before Parliament was scheduled to convene to choose a new president.
Hariri also met with Palestinian President Mahmmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials in Cairo, where they discussed the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Hariri expressed his support for the Palestinian cause.
Earlier this month, Hariri was at the forefront of Lebanese efforts to push for the international court to try those behind his father killing, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others, as he appealed for increased international pressure to set up a court as soon as possible.
"We asked for a harder position from the United Nations in the face of those assassinations," Hariri said told UN chief Ban Ki-moon in New York on October 9.
There was no response from Egyptian or Syrian officials to Hariri's statements.
The US State Department said Tuesday it cannot confirm Hariri's claims that Syria plotted his and Siniora's assassination.
"Without commenting on the specifics on those allegations, it's clear that there is a pattern of threat, intimidation and use of violence against those who are trying to further the process of political reform in Lebanon," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The State Department's top diplomat for the Middle East was meeting in Paris with French diplomats who are also worried about the upcoming election and the fate of the fragile Lebanon government.
US and French diplomats plan to hold a strategy session to help Lebanon's paralyzed democratic government ahead of crucial elections.
In meetings set for Wednesday in Paris, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch will meet French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran as well as officials from the French president's office. The two sides will "emphasize our strong view that the next president must be chosen in accordance with the Constitution and repeat our strong view that this process needs to happen free of foreign interference," a State Department official said Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Siniora held a joint news conference in Beirut with Saudi Ambassador Abdel-Aziz Khoja, during which the premier was asked about Hariri's comments, to which he responded: "It is true and we have been informed about it."
Siniora also stressed his government's commitment to the Lebanese Constitution and to holding presidential elections on time. "The government has always respected the Constitution and it will continue to do so," Siniora told reporters, adding that he never said he is against "amending it."
Hariri also mentioned in Cairo that there is possibility of an amendment, "only if there is agreement and consensus on amending the Constitution."
Concerning the letter sent to the UN, Siniora said that is a "position paper" in which the Lebanese government outlined the latest developments regarding the UN Resolution 1701, including the latest violations by Israel of Lebanon's sovereignty.
Siniora also thanked Saudi Arabia for offering $20 million to pay registration fees for all public school students.
For his part, Khoja told reporters that Saudi Arabia "will not bother with any stray comments made against Saudi Arabia from either the majority or the opposition camp."
Khoja also stressed that the Lebanese presidential election is an "internal Lebanese matter" and does not involve Saudi Arabia. "I have great faith that the various Lebanese leaders are making progress and that the elections will take place peacefully," he said.
Khoja also met with Berri, after which the Saudi ambassador informed the media that the speaker is "optimistic that the presidential election will happen on time."
"We have no opinion on any of the candidates, and it is up to the Lebanese to agree on one candidate," Khoja said on Tuesday after meeting Berri.
However, the head of the Democratic Gathering bloc, MP Walid Jumblatt, declared during an interview with Al-Jazeera television that he had called on the US to support a president elected by a "half plus one" formula.
"There is no other choice at this point ... but for the US and regional forces to support a president elected by half plus one," he said, as he called for sanctions on Syria.
Jumblatt also dismissed any possibility of an amendment to the Constitution.
"We are not going to change the Constitution to allow the head of the army to become president," Jumblatt said on Tuesday, referring to General Michel Suleiman, who has been named as a possible interim president if the Lebanese cannot reach a consensus.
"Suleiman can become president when he is not longer the commander of the army," Jumblatt said.
Jumblatt also called on Suleiman to preserve the army's role in maintaining stability by standing against any attempts to spread chaos.
Away from the barrage of statements made by senior Lebanese leaders, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir received the recommendations of the Bkirki quartet committee.
Sfeir made a brief comment to the media after receiving the committee report, saying he will "study it" before making any further announcements.
Member of Hizbullah's politburo Sayyed Hussein Mousawai warned the Lebanese against handing over the decision on the presidency to the United States.
"Our disagreements are not about the [presidential] seat itself ... but rather about independence and dignity, where we refuse to hand over Lebanon to the US," Mousawai said during a ceremony in Baalbek.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has agreed to hold talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid Moallem in Istanbul this week, the French Foreign Ministry announced late Monday.
The announcement followed a visit to Syria by Kouchner's envoy, Jean-Claude Cousseran.
The upcoming Kouchner-Moallem meeting, the first since the French official refused to meet his Syrian counterpart during the UN General Assembly deliberations in September, will be held on the sidelines of a three-day conference on Iraq opening in Istanbul on Thursday.
Kouchner had cancelled a September meeting with Moallem in New York in response to the assassination of the Lebanese lawmaker Ghanem. - With agencies

No comments: