Lebanon urged to elect president immediately
The Western and Arab states calls for immediate election of a president in Lebanon and the redefining of Beirut's relations with Damascus.23 April 2008
KUWAIT CITY - Western and Arab states on Tuesday called for the immediate election of a president in Lebanon and the redefining of Beirut's relations with Damascus.
The call was made at a meeting in Kuwait that Syria did not attend, drawing warnings from its foreign minister that the participants were creating the risk of an "internationalisation" of the crisis in Lebanon, which has been without a president for five months.
"We call for the immediate election of the consensual candidate General
(Michel) Sleiman as president without prior conditions," a statement said, referring to the Lebanese army chief.
The participants called for "establishment of a national unity government, and the holding of general elections in conformity with an electoral law agreed by all parties," in line with an Arab League plan to break the deadlock.
They also voiced support for "the legitimate Lebanese government".
The meeting, which was orchestrated by France, was held on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq.
It was attended by representatives of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, as well as the United Nations, the Arab League and the European Union.
"Three years after Syria's military withdrawal from Lebanon, time has come for Syria and Lebanon to redefine and normalise ties ... in mutual respect for their sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence," the statement said.
The participants called for "the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria" and "the delineation of their shared border".
Foreign Minister Walid Muallem of Syria, which has been blamed by several Arab and Western states for the deadlock in Beirut, said the meeting might result in "internationalising" the crisis in Lebanon.
"We fear that given the way in which the meeting is being held, it is aimed at taking the Lebanese crisis out of the hands of the Arab League secretary general (with the aim of) internationalisation," he told a news conference.
"This meeting complicates the crisis because the interests of major powers will play a role in derailing the solution in Lebanon," Muallem said, claiming the United States was "the only country which did not support the Arab initiative" on Lebanon.
Election of a president was postponed on Tuesday for the 18th time amid an ongoing rift between the Western-backed cabinet and the Syrian- and Iranian-backed opposition.
Muallem met with French counterpart Bernard Kouchner earlier on Tuesday for the first time since Paris suspended high-level contacts with Damascus in December, accusing it of failing to match with deeds its words about wanting a settlement.
Kouchner told reporters that Syria chose to stay away from the international meeting. "I invited Mr Muallem, but he did not want to come."
However, Muallem said Kouchner had only invited him on Tuesday, adding that Syria "should have been consulted before the meeting was called, since it is Lebanon's neighbour".
Kouchner criticised Syria's stand on Lebanon, saying that while he thought Damascus "wants a solution, it is not the kind of solution sought by the majority of Lebanese."
But he said relations with Damascus will resume and become "normal and even more than that" once a president is elected.
The French foreign ministry said Kouchner's meeting with Muallem enabled them to take stock of "a number of regional issues," including Lebanon, "in a spirit of candour."
Muallem described that meeting as "cordial".
[AFP / Expatica]