By Mirella Hodeib and Hassan Lakiss
Thursday, January 20, 2011
BEIRUT: Qatari and Turkish mediators appeared to have made progress Wednesday night in their efforts to forge a compromise among rival Lebanese groups, opening a “window of hope” despite recognizing that major difficulties still lay ahead, Arab diplomatic and Lebanese political sources said.
The news came hours after Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, announced that Riyadh was no longer involved in a Saudi-Syrian initiative to mediate in the Lebanese crisis.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pursued their endeavors in the Lebanese capital for a second day away from the spotlight and without talking to the media.
But several sources close to the talks said the two men were working feverishly to come up with a working draft.
“Some progress seems to be achieved even though the two ministers are keeping mum over the content of talks,” an Arab diplomatic source told The Daily Star. “However,” the source added, “there seems to be general consensus that the situation in Lebanon will degenerate to the worst if an agreement is not forged as soon as possible.”
The visiting foreign ministers raced against the clock to find common ground among Lebanese groups, deadlocked over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“The ministers have come up with a classified draft agreement they began circulating among various Lebanese groups for feedback,” said the Arab diplomatic source.
Late Wednesday evening, a senior figure from caretaker Prime Minister Saad’s Hariri’s Future Movement was spotted revising the draft agreement with the Qatari Foreign Minister at one of Beirut’s hotels.
The diplomatic source said the result of talks between the Qatari foreign minister and the Future Movement figure will be relayed to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his ally Speaker Nabih Berri.
“There is something serious going on but is still needs much mulling over,” said a senior source from the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, adding that a “window is definitely open.”
The source said the March 8’s response to the Qatari-Turkish draft agreement “will not finalize it, but rather start the debate.”
The source added that the Qatari foreign minister was pressuring various Lebanese groups to react swiftly to the draft agreement to avoid the worst.
The Arab diplomatic source said a negative response from the March 8 coalition would mean that the Qatari-Turkish mediation is doomed.
While Davutoglu left Beirut due to commitments in Ankara, Hamad extended his stay in the capital to follow up the efforts. One day earlier, the two ministers held extensive separate talks with Hariri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Earlier this month, March 8 ministers and Minister of State Adnan Sayyed Hussein resigned from Hariri’s 14-month old national unity Cabinet, bringing it down after the latter declined to take part in a Cabinet meeting that would sever ties with the U.N.-backed STL, which is looking into his father’s assassination.
The court is widely expected to point the finger at Hezbollah members sparking fears of violence erupting among rival camps.
One day after the STL prosecutor submitted the indictments for review by the court’s pre-trial judge, groups of black-clad Hezbollah members deployed in several neighborhoods of West Beirut, creating a state of panic among residents and forcing parents to pick up their children from schools.
A source from the opposition said Nasrallah had informed the two foreign ministers that new givens surfaced following the submission of indictments and asked for more time to respond to their proposal.
Several sources confirmed that Hamad and Davutoglu’s proposal was largely based on an agreement previously reached by Saudi Arabia and Syria.
“The ministers proposed to Nasrallah suggestions to reformulate some of the clauses included in the initial Syrian-Saudi agreement as well as a new timetable to implement them,” said the opposition source. “[Their proposal] needs lots of work if we are to agree on it,” said the source.
Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it abandoned joint mediation efforts with Syria to solve the crisis in Lebanon, while warning that the situation in the country has become dangerous.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud said Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz and Syrian President Bashar Assad had committed to find a comprehensive solution to Lebanon’s crisis. “When that did not happen, the [king] said he has washed his hands of [the bid],” he told Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al-Arabiya.
Lebanon’s two main power brokers Saudi Arabia and Syria have worked since September to mend fences between Hezbollah and Hariri over STL indictments.
Prince Saud, meanwhile, described the situation on Lebanon as “dangerous” and expressed fears about the country’s future.
“If the situation reaches separation or division of Lebanon, this would mean the end of Lebanon as a model of peaceful coexistence between religions, ethnicities and different groups,” he said. “It would be a loss for the Arab nation.”
Lebanese political sources said Saud’s pessimistic remarks to Al-Arabiya came directly after a quarrel with Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad during the Arab League Second Economic Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Speaker Berri, who said he was surprised by Saud’s comments, told lawmakers that the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar did not travel to Beirut to mediate a deal before they were given a green light from Saudi Arabia.
The Arab diplomatic source also confirmed that Sheikh Hamad and Davutoglu were continuously briefing concerned officials in Saudi Arabia and Syria on the progress of talks in Beirut.
The Saudi foreign minister, however, was more lenient during a telephone conversation with Hariri, to whom he stressed that Saudi Arabia supported any effort to preserve Lebanon’s stability. For his part, Hariri briefed Saud about efforts undertaken by various regional players to defuse mounting tension in Lebanon.
The Arab diplomatic source said rival camps in Lebanon were pressuring each other using various means.
“The deployment of Hezbollah members in the streets of Beirut yesterday (Tuesday) and the Saudi Foreign Minister’s comments today (Wednesday) are a blatant example,” said the source. “Lebanese players ought to react fast otherwise things will run out of hand.”
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt urged local factions to give a chance to the Turkish-Qatari mediation effort, which he said complemented Arab contacts to break the impasse. “The situation is very delicate and various groups ought to act responsibly,” he said, adding that calm dialogue ought to be favored.
But Jumblatt’s former allies in the March 14 Forces lashed out at the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance saying the resignation of the coalition’s ministers was “sheer blackmail.”
“The March 8 coalition renounced all their internal commitment to fulfill their own interests and the interests of their regional patrons,” said the March 14 Forces following a meeting of their General Secretariat.