Russia says Hizbullah should play role in Lebanese politics
By Nayla Assaf, Daily Star, March 12, 2005 (Thanks to Paul at War in Context for articles.)
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Hizbullah should be allowed a role in the country's politics. His statements came at a time when sources close to the party told The Daily Star that they were holding ongoing meetings with representatives of Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir to defuse the mounting political tension in the country.
Lavrov's comments came one day after unprecedented statements by Washington that it would reluctantly acknowledge Hizbullah's political role if the party disarms.
Also on Friday, Hizbullah's number two official told reporters that the party intends to "become more active in entering internal political life," without, however, surrendering its arms.After meeting with leading Lebanese opposition member, Walid Jumblatt, Lavrov said: "It is in the interests of Lebanon, and the whole Middle East, for Hizbullah's political role to be taken into account." [complete article]
U.S. would accept Hizbollah role if it disarms
Reuters, March 10, 2005
The Bush administration would accept a political role for the Lebanese group Hizbollah if it disarmed, U.S. officials said on Thursday, a stance they said was not new but reflected recognition of the political clout of the militant Shi'ite Muslim organization.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice carefully avoided the stock U.S. phrase that Hizbollah is a terrorist organization in remarks to reporters, two days after Hizbollah showed its political power by drawing hundreds of thousands of people to central Beirut for a pro-Syria rally. [...]
"Obviously we'd like to see them disarmed as U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 requires. Once disarmed they could undertake any political role in Lebanon that they can win democratically at the polls. This doesn't constitute any change in the U.S. position," a senior Bush administration official said.
A State Department official, who asked not to be identified, said there was a recognition among U.S. officials of Hizbollah's political power but denied any policy change.
"We do have to live in the real world and unfortunately in that world people we really don't like do sometimes get into elected office. Hizbollah -- just like Hamas in the Palestinian territories -- is a political force. But just because we recognize -- as we always have -- that reality does not mean we have changed our policy toward them," the official said. [complete article]
Top U.N. envoy to present Syria with ultimatum
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 11, 2005
A top U.N. envoy will tell President Bashar Assad that Syria will face political and economic isolation if he does not completely and quickly withdraw from Lebanon, U.N. and U.S. officials said yesterday.In a meeting set for tomorrow, Terje Roed-Larsen plans to inform Syria that the international community is united in insisting that Damascus comply with U.N. Resolution 1559 -- and is prepared to impose wide punitive sanctions if it does not act quickly, the officials said."If he doesn't deliver, there will be total political and economic isolation of his country. There is a steel-hard consensus in the international community," a senior U.N. official said. [complete article]
Which way will Lebanon go next?
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2005
Since Hariri's assassination, the Central Bank has spent some $4 to $5 billion of its $13.8 billion in foreign currency reserves to help prop up the Lebanese pound at its current rate of 1,500 to the US dollar. But in another month, the Central Bank will have to stop spending and the Lebanese pound will go into freefall, says Nicholas Photiades, a financial consultant in Beirut.
"This is the most serious crisis since the end of the civil war," he says. "If the current crisis continues and there is no solution in sight, it could be a similar situation to the civil war in the 1980s when the currency collapsed. You could see the 3,000 pounds to the dollar pretty quickly.". [complete article]
David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post what he believes "Lebanon's Next Steps" should be:
Wednesday brought one of those absurd rent-a-crowd demonstrations in Damascus, like the ones Saddam Hussein used to stage in Baghdad. A crowd of Syrians "spontaneously" marched on the president's palace and called on the beloved leader to speak. To me, it only underlined Assad's weakness. Another sign of Assad's weak hand was his restoration of the Lebanese puppet government of Prime Minister Omar Karami. That government was deeply unpopular, and trying to push it back into power is just "the old, old, old Syrian game of trying to buy time," as a Lebanese democracy leader put it to me.Yes, Syria has been weakened by having its regional stature reduced and by isolating itself so completely. All the same, Bashar is suprisingly strong internally. The oppositon is very weak, causing many to cling to the president in the absence of any better alternative. Stability remains at a high premium for many Syrians even if they understand that it comes at the price of economic stagnation and continued poverty. Syrians feel stuck, but they do not see a way out of their present dilemma. If the Lebanese economy takes a nose dive, as Nicholas Blanford suggests it might, the Syrians will cling even more to the stability Bashar promises.
So here's a simple agenda for Lebanese democrats and their supporters around the world: First, Syrian troops must leave Lebanon, and Assad must set a clear and unambiguous timetable for their withdrawal. Second, negotiations should begin on finding ways to adapt the Lebanese political formula to the reality of Hezbollah's power. That agenda puts the issue squarely to Nasrallah: Is he a Lebanese patriot or a Syrian stooge? Is he a man of the future or the past? It's time to find out.