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October 1, 2004

Lebanonwire

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Hariri fails to change Chirac's mind over resolution 1559

Prime Minister Rafik Hariri spent more than one hour discussing Lebanon, Syria and regional developments with French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday, but failed to twist his arm and make him take a more lenient and flexible stance over the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1559, which calls on Syria without naming it to pull out its estimated 15,000 troops from Lebanon and stop interfering in this country's domestic affairs, Beirut's leading daily An Nahar reported Friday. France, which inspired and drafted the resolution with the United States, appears adamant on implementing it fully.

Speaking after his meeting with Chirac at the Elysees Palace, Hariri said the talks were "very frank" and admitted "we are passing through very difficult moments these days." "I met Mr. Chirac for a whole hour and we talked about all subjects... And the president is a friend of Lebanon and the (Middle East) region," Hariri said. "As you expected we discussed the situation in the region, especially in Lebanon and Syria... And I am sure that the president and France are always friends of Lebanon and I am also sure that they will remain as such," he added. Asked to comment on Chirac's stance regarding 1559, the billionaire prime minister said: "I cannot talk much about that, but one thing is for sure and that is we are passing though a difficult and very sensitive phase and we hope for the better."

On his part, Chirac's Spokesman Jerome Bonnafont, read out a statement in which he stressed that "President Chirac reiterated to the Prime Minister of Lebanon France's attachment to Lebanon's independence, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity... He also reiterated France wish to see resolution 1559 implemented." "France is always on Lebanon's side and ready to cooperate with the Lebanese government for the interest of Lebanon," he added.

The Hariri-Chirac meeting took place on the eve of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's report on the implementation of 1559, which is said to be tough and firm. An Nahar reported that Annan completed the report Thursday night and will distribute it on Friday to members of the Security Council only for studying. Arab League delegate at the United Nations Yahya Mahmassani told the paper that he did not expect the council to meet to discuss the report before October 7, due to the consultations that need to be done before the discussion.

The paper quoted sources in New York as saying the report included a detailed description of developments in Lebanon since 1559 was passed and that it bluntly named things, especially the concerned parties, notably Lebanon and Syria, stressing that they have failed to implement the resolution and that the U.N. secretariat general is ready to help them implement it.

In Paris, An Nahar quoted "well-informed political sources" as saying that France "is ready to offer a helping hand to the Lebanese government but always on condition that it is aimed to serve Lebanon's interest, notably independence, sovereignty and free decision-making." They said Chirac expressed to Hariri his unhappiness with the extension of President Emile Lahoud's mandate by three years, which the Lebanese premier voted for under Syrian pressure. Although Hariri opposed the extension, his bloc in parliament voted for the amendment of the constitution to allow Lahoud's extended term in office at Syria's behest.

The sources said Paris proposed to Annan and his special Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen to adopt in the report one of two formulas for implementing 1559: A firm one, which stipulates the formation of an international monitoring group to overlook and watch closely the mechanism and implementation of resolution 1559 and which would meet regularly to assess the implementation by Lebanon and Syria according to a definite timetable. A more lenient one, under which a consultative liaison committee would monitor field developments with regard to implementing the resolution.

Exaggerated

In a related development, pro-Syrian Lebanon Speaker Nabih Berri charged Thursday that certain local political forces were exaggerating the impact of 1559 and manipulating it for personal and domestic posturing and considerations, AS SAFIR reported Friday. Speaking in Geneva, where he is attending an international parliamentary conference, Berri said: "Exaggerating the pressures and using 1559 for intimidation by certain political forces and groups is motivated by internal considerations, and aimed at improving their posturing and standing in the next government."

"Just like an internal situation was exploited to pass resolution 1559, now an external one is being exploited to serve local and internal interests," Berri added. He was quoted by the National News Agency (ANI) as saying "On the eve of the report by U.N. secretary general on 1559, we note that there is a campaign of exaggeration and intimidation against Lebanon and Syria... I believe that the Lebanese are not fools after having passed through more dangerous and more serious situations, when the Israeli face and role were more obvious than now." "We were able, through solidarity with Syria, to overcome more difficult times," he added.

In the meantime, the broad-based Christian opposition Qornet Shahwan Gathering approved implicitly the role of the Security Council in dealing with the Lebanese issue. The group said in a statement after a meeting Thursday, "The amendment of the constitution and extending the mandate of the president of the republic in contradiction with the constitution and upon Syrian dictations, prompted the Security Council to pass 1559 in its capacity as the legitimate highest authority entrusted with maintaining good relations between states and safeguarding their sovereignty, independence, and democratic norms."

The statement recalled that the group had warned against the dangerous consequences of amending the constitution. It reiterated calls for correcting the mistake which have placed the Lebanese state in confrontation with international legitimacy. The group also announced that it will send a delegation to meet with Premier Hariri upon the latter's request.

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