BEIRUT: Kouchner: ‘Pressure is needed’ to reach Lebanon deal

Daily Star – Lebanon
July 30 2007

Kouchner: ‘Pressure is needed’ to reach Lebanon deal

Foreign minister warns of civil war if standoff between rival camps
is not resolved

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Monday, July 30, 2007

BEIRUT: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Sunday in
Cairo that pressure had to be exerted on Syria and Iran to avoid a
new war breaking out in Lebanon. "Pressure is needed on the
environment [of Lebanon], meaning that Syria and Iran must not
exercise influence that could lead to war," he said in a joint news
conference with his Egyptian counterpart Ahmad Abu al-Gheit.

"Lebanon is difficult and complicated and with exterior influences,
it has become one of the most difficult problems in the world," he
said during a visit to Egypt to brief other Arab foreign ministers
about his Lebanon trip.

Kouchner arrived in Cairo Sunday to garner further regional backing
for the French initiative which has so far failed to break the
ongoing political deadlock that he warned might lead to "war" if not

Kouchner told reporters at a news conference at Rafik Hariri
International Airport before leaving for Egypt that his trip here had
been "just a step," but nonetheless succeeded in bringing together
rival leaders to sit face to face, if only for lunch.

"This is a triumph, because we succeeded in gathering all first-class
leaders to at least sit together for lunch," he said.

Kouchner said he would be coming back to Lebanon before the end of
August and reiterated France’s support for Lebanon.

"We are hopeful that there will be progress. It is not a lost cause,"
he said.

At the same time, Kouchner warned the Lebanese to accept that this
country is "prone to war" and war might break out if the
nine-month-old standoff between Lebanon’s political parties is not
solved through talks.

"Don’t appear innocent – I know and you know a war can start in
Lebanon at any time," said Kouchner for the second time since his
arrival in Lebanon.

Kouchner also said his trip faced "difficulties," as it was
overshadowed by the hotly contested by-election in Metn. "I didn’t
want to postpone my trip, as I promised to come on July 28 even
though I knew I would be facing difficulties – and I did face
difficulties," he said.

Prior to his departure, Kouchner invited various Lebanese leaders for
lunch at the French ambassador’s residence before the minister ended
his two-day bid to make a breakthrough in the political impasse.

MP Michel Skaff, Hizbullah official Nawaf Moussawi, Transportation
Minister Mohammad Safadi, MP Samir Azar representing Parliament
Speaker Nabih Berri, MP Michel Murr, Free Patriotic Movement leader
MP Michel Aoun, former President Amin Gemayel, parliamentary majority
leader Saad Hariri, MP Ghassan Tueni, Armenian MP Hagob Pakradounian,
MP Boutros Harb, MP Walid Jumblatt, Mohammad Shatah representing
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and
French Ambassador Bernard Emie attended the lunch.

While the prime minister was not at the lunch, nearly all other
leaders of the ruling majority were present, while opposition leader
Aoun attended the event and the leaders of Hizbullah and Amal sent

The lunch also brought together Gemayel and Aoun, whose FPM MP
Camille Khoury will face off against Gemayel in the August 5 Metn
by-election, for the first time since the election campaign began.

Kouchner left for Cairo after meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister
Miguel Angel Moratinos at the airport, while Kouchner is expected to
meet Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and Abu al-Gheit and Arab
League Secretary General Amr Moussa in Cairo.

"We are interested in helping out to end this crisis," Moratinos told
reporters after Kouchner left Lebanon.

Kouchner’s visit is a follow-up to the conference France hosted July
14-15 in the Paris suburb of Saint Cloud to bring 14 of Lebanon’s
feuding factions to the negotiating table.

The foreign minister said at the time that the conference "broke the
ice" but failed to produce any breakthrough.

Kouchner also said that Lebanon’s future is "tied" to neighboring
countries such as Syria and Iran. "There is some outside influence
that is affecting the pace of the political sphere," said Kouchner.

The government and opposition are feuding foremost over the
legitimacy of the government and the upcoming presidential elections.
The opposition demands a national unity government, while the ruling
coalition insists such a government can only be formed if the
opposition agrees on a candidate to replace President Emile Lahoud.

"The Lebanese need to discuss the how and when to form the government
of national unity," Kouchner said, adding that the presidential
elections are of "great" importance to France. "What is really
lacking between the Lebanese leaders is trust."

On Saturday, Kouchner met with Berri and Siniora for the second time
in two days. He also met separately with Aoun, Geagea, civil-society
representatives, and Hizbullah’s resigned Energy Minister Mohammad
Fneish and foreign relations chief Nawaf Moussawi.

The talks did not yield concrete results, but Kouchner stressed on
Saturday that the process was ongoing. "This is not a moment of
despair, nor is it a moment of joy," he said. "We will continue. I am
available, France is available." – With agencies