jeudi 13 janvier 2011

U.S. meddling topples Hariri government

Tehran Times Political Desk

TEHRAN - Ministers of the March 8 Alliance, whose main parties are Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement, have resigned from the Lebanese cabinet, which has toppled the government. 
The March 8 Alliance ministers made the decision after the Saudi-Syrian efforts to settle the crisis over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) reached a deadlock, with all signs pointing to strong U.S. interference to block efforts to resolve the situation. 

Since the government had fallen, Saad Hariri was no longer officially the prime minister of Lebanon when he met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, backed by the United States and Israel, and its impending indictment have caused many divisions and problems at the national level in Lebanon, and the Saudi-Syrian effort was a great step to settle the crisis, but months of give-and-take were in vain, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a clear message to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri saying that the U.S. would reject and would not allow any settlement at the expense of the UN tribunal. 

The announcement of the collapse of the Saudi-Syrian initiative followed high-level talks in Washington and New York on the Lebanese crisis involving U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Lebanese crisis was one of the topics discussed by Obama and Sarkozy at the White House on Monday. Sarkozy later traveled to New York where he met separately with the Saudi king and Hariri. 

The Lebanese cabinet has been paralyzed for months over political tension over the STL’s impending indictment and the rival factions’ dispute over the issue of witnesses who allegedly misled the UN investigation with false testimony. The cabinet has met only once since November 10, and in its last meeting on December 15, it failed to settle the issue of false witnesses when the March 8 Alliance ministers demanded a vote on referring the issue to the Judicial Council, the country’s highest court, prompting Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to delay the discussions. 

State Minister for Administrative Development Mohamad Fneish expressed deep regret Tuesday night over the deadlock the Saudi-Syrian effort has reached “as a result of U.S. pressure.” Fneish was speaking to reporters in Rabieh at the residence of MP Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, following consultations with the opposition. “There was an Arab effort which we dealt with positively. We even bargained on it. However, as a result of U.S. interference and the inability of the other side to deal with it, this effort reached a deadlock,” Fneish said. 

Hariri himself told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat last Friday that the settlement had been finalized. It is still not clear what Clinton told Hariri, who met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday. According to the Al-Jazeera network, “Reliable sources have said that Clinton openly informed Hariri and King Abdullah that the United States will not accept any solution in Lebanon before the STL indictment is released.” 

Saudi Arabia and Syria, the main power brokers in Lebanon backing rival political factions, have been coordinating their efforts since late July to find a solution acceptable to the March 8 and March 14 alliances for Lebanon’s months-long political stalemate over the STL’s impending indictment on the Rafiq Hariri assassination. The indictment is widely expected to implicate some Hezbollah members in the Hariri assassination, heightening concerns about a return to sectarian strife. 

U.S. intervention undermined Lebanon’s stability 

Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, has also commented on the reasons behind the failure of the international efforts to help Lebanon establish stability. 

“U.S. intervention has resulted in the failure of efforts made to bring peace and stability to Lebanon,” Ambassador Roknabadi told the Mehr News Agency on Wednesday. 

He made the remarks in response to reports that the Syria-Saudi Arabia initiative meant to help Lebanon establish stability had failed. 

According to Bloomberg, Lebanese MP Michel Aoun sad on Tuesday that the Saudi-Syrian effort to resolve the controversy over the United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri had failed. 

In the wake of this development, ministers of the March 8 Alliance, representing Hezbollah and its allies, quit the cabinet, toppling the government of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri and again throwing the country into disarray. 

Roknabadi said that the U.S. government does not want to see the establishment of peace and stability in Lebanon, so it has tried to obstruct the measures meant to help Lebanon establish stability. 

“The Americans and Israelis have always sought to undermine regional peace, and since the time this plan (the Saudi-Syrian initiative) was proposed for Lebanon’s stability, have made efforts to sabotage the plan and apparently have been successful,” he stated. 

Time line of recent developments 

Following is a time line of some of the recent major developments in the crisis over the indictments related to the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri: 

July 16, 2010: Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah sparks debate over a pending tribunal indictment by labeling the court an “Israeli project” which sought to exploit Israel’s penetration of Lebanon’s communications network. Nasrallah claims that the tribunal will indict “rogue” Hezbollah members. 

July 30: Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad arrive in Beirut aboard the same plane for an unprecedented joint visit meant to calm tensions. The leaders are joined by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. All three stress the need to maintain stability. 

Aug. 8: Nasrallah accuses Israel of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, claiming Hezbollah has intercepted Israeli surveillance drone data that shows Israeli spy footage of large parts of Lebanon, including the route Hariri took before his death. 

Sept. 6: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in a newspaper interview, says that he was wrong to blame Syria for killing his father, calling the charge a “political accusation.” Hariri also acknowledges that false witnesses may have misled investigators. 

Sept. 18: Former Lebanese General Jamil al-Sayyed, who was detained for four years in connection with the Hariri assassination, returns to Beirut from Paris. Hezbollah sends a security team to escort Sayyed from the airport. The former general demands that false witnesses stand trial. 

Oct. 3: Syria issues 33 arrest warrants for Lebanese and international officials for allegedly misleading United Nations investigators. Arrest warrants are issued for the commander of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, Major Genral Ashraf Rifi, and German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who led the initial UN investigation team. The warrants sour the Lebanese prime minister’s relationship with Damascus. 

Nov. 10: The Lebanese cabinet meets to discuss false witnesses, but the session is adjourned by President Michel Suleiman, essentially paralyzing Lebanon’s administration. March 8 Alliance ministers ask for false witnesses to be referred to the Judicial Council. Ministers of Hariri’s March 14 Alliance say they believe that trial by the regular judiciary is preferable. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voices Washington’s support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. 

Oct. 16: Assad holds talks with Saudi King Abdullah at Riyadh airport. Reports say the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and ways to maintain stability in Lebanon are among the topics discussed. 

Nov. 22: King Abdullah flies to New York for surgery after herniating a disc in his back, delaying ongoing negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Syria. 

Dec. 15: Five weeks after its last session, the Lebanese cabinet is again adjourned without making headway on the issue of false witnesses. More than 300 agenda items are left unaddressed. 

Dec. 21: Saudi King Abdullah leaves hospital. 

Dec. 26: Abdullah contacts Assad to discuss Lebanese developments as the 86-year-old king recuperates in his New York hotel room. 

Dec. 27: Hariri meets with King Abdullah in New York. 

Jan. 6, 2011: Hariri tells a newspaper that a Syrian-Saudi agreement is in place. However, he says he is waiting for the other side to implement its commitments. 

Jan. 7: Hariri meets with Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York to address growing unrest in Beirut. Clinton also meets with Saudi King Abdullah and expresses Washington’s “ongoing support for the special tribunal.” 

Jan. 9: Hariri meets again with King Abdullah in New York. 

Jan. 10: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who earlier in the day held talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, also meets with King Abdullah as a March 8 Alliance source voices concern that U.S. pressure could derail the Saudi-Syrian effort to diffuse Lebanon’s months-long crisis. 

Jan. 11: Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun says the Saudi-Syrian initiative has failed. March 8 MPs demand a cabinet meeting in which ways to confront the tribunal would be discussed, setting Hariri a decision deadline the next morning. 

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