Outsiders pull strings

The failure of the latest Arab League mission to get Lebanon’s Western-backed government and the Iran- and Syria-supported opposition to talk together shows that outsiders control the country’s destiny, analysts said on Saturday.“Last-minute hardening of their positions, especially by the opposition, ensured that the Arab League mission would fail,” an Arab diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.”The solution is no longer in the hands of the Lebanese themselves, but with foreign powers that support one or other camp.” The league delegation headed by Secretary General Amr Musa left Beirut empty-handed on Friday after four days of trying to persuade the feuding camps to talk and end seven months of political paralysis.

While Musa’s proposal for new dialogue “made some headway, the opposition demanded the unconditional formation of a national unity government”, the Arab source said.

“It refused to give guarantees demanded by those in power on the continuity of this government and the holding of presidential election” scheduled in September to elect a successor to pro-Damascus President Emile Lahoud.

The source, who took part in the talks, said the Arab League had hoped to achieve a breakthrough that would limit foreign intervention in Lebanese affairs.

“This failure means that Lebanon has now become no more than a currency to be bartered between regional interests.” Musa admitted failure on Friday but said some progress had been made towards dialogue with a view to forming a unity government and holding presidential election in September.

He added that he was ready to resume the mediation mission “if things progress.”

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the opposition negotiator, underlined in the talks that Syria’s role cannot be ignored, the Arab diplomat said, quoting him as saying that “a solution lies in talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria”.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh called the mediation breakdown “a Syrian slap in the face to Arabs, and a warning.

“Damascus wants it known that without Syria there will be no stability in Lebanon.” On Thursday, Syrian Vice President Farouq Sharaa said “our allies in Lebanon are stronger than the other parties”, referring to the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Syria has so far closed three border crossings with its tiny neighbour to the west, leaving open only the Jdeidet Yabus frontier post on the main Beirut to Damascus highway.

“All eyes will now turn to Saudi Arabia and France through talks with Iran which could result in a softening of Hizbollah’s position,” analyst Ghassan Ezzeh said.

Paris plans to host an informal meeting of Lebanese leaders in mid-July in an initiative supported by both Riyadh and Tehran.

“Iran, which has good relations with Saudi Arabia because of fears of mounting tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, is more disposed than Syria to help towards a solution in Lebanon,” Ezzeh said.

Talal Selman, owner of the As-Safir daily which is close to the opposition, in a front-page editorial blamed the United States for the mediation’s failure.

“From the beginning, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman [in Beirut] did not support the Arab initiative, saying that Amr Musa was persona non grata and was interfering in matters which did not concern him.”

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