Turkish diplomats act to mediate Beirut crisis

FULYA ÖZERKAN
ANKARA
Turkey is closely following developments in Lebanon, where the government collapsed after Hezbollah walked out in protest of a UN panel investigating the death of former PM Rafiq al-Hariri. Turkish diplomatic sources say the collapse was not a surprise see as how the government had actually not convened since November. ‘This shows the death of
Syrian-Saudi Arabian efforts that aimed at keeping the national unity government in power,’ one diplomat says
 In this February 2010 file photo, Saad al-Hariri delivers a speech  on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of his father, Rafiq  al-Hariri (picture). AFP photo
In this February 2010 file photo, Saad al-Hariri delivers a speech on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of his father, Rafiq al-Hariri (picture). AFP photo

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri will travel to Ankara on Thursday night to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Turkish media reported.
The news comes amid fears of renewed regional tensions following the collapse of the national unity government in Lebanon. Such concerns have prompted Turkey to heighten its diplomatic efforts to prevent a political crisis from erupting.
“We are trying to get a picture of what has happened, why the government established after a tough and painful process has collapsed and what we can do,” a Foreign Ministry diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Thursday. “The foreign minister is in contact with the Lebanese and the prime minister with the Syrians. We are closely following the developments.”

Diplomatic sources said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu spoke twice on the phone with al-Hariri late Wednesday and Thursday, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an talked to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The main concern in our contacts is if there is an opportunity to form a different government in Lebanon and how we can contribute to it,” the diplomat said.

Lebanon was pulled into political turmoil Wednesday after Hezbollah resigned from the government in protest of a U.N. panel investigating the 2005 assassination of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The hard-won unity government collapsed after months of wrangling between the current prime minister, the son of the slain leader, and Hezbollah over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The current situation has sparked fears of sectarian unrest between the country’s Shiites and Sunnis.

According to unconfirmed press reports, the tribunal is poised to indict some members of the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah in connection with the 2005 assassination. Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, has been pressing al-Hariri’s Western-backed Sunni camp to disavow the tribunal, claiming it is part of a U.S.-Israeli plot.

“We are in the middle of a crisis. Turkey does not want any conflict that may negatively impact Lebanon’s unity and stability and spread to the entire region,” said another Turkish diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat said, however, that the collapse of the government was not a surprise, because it had not convened since Nov. 10.

“The government was [already] virtually non-existent,” the diplomat said. “The biggest fear now is that Hezbollah or other opposition groups will take to the streets and resort to violence to make their demands accepted. But right now it appears there is dialogue, as in a normal democracy.”

Turkey supports UN tribunal

Foreign Ministry sources said Turkey had been supporting the U.N. tribunal since the beginning, and had expended intense efforts during the formation of the national unity government in Lebanon in November 2009. They said Turkey also gave its full support to the joint initiative recently launched by Syria and Saudi Arabia, two regional powers who have previously backed rival blocs in Lebanon.

“That initiative was significant and built trust contributing to stability for a few months because it was representing the two blocs – Shiite and Sunni. And Iran was also involved,” a diplomatic source said. The Syrian, Saudi and Iranian ambassadors to Lebanon met in November in a bid to control mounting tensions over the U.N.-backed investigation.

“A deadlock has occurred because Prime Minister al-Hariri defends the international U.N. tribunal while the opposition, led by Hezbollah, urged the al-Hariri government to make a decision that would bypass the U.N. tribunal’s verdict,” one diplomat said. “The negotiations eventually failed.”

The collapse of the government indicates that the efforts once seen as the best chance for avoiding unrest have failed, the Turkish diplomats said. “This shows the death of Syrian-Saudi Arabian efforts that aimed at keeping the national unity government in power.”

Asked if Turkey can play a mediator role, one diplomat said Ankara would continue its diplomatic contacts with the parties concerned and do its part to help avoid any crisis.

Speaking in Ankara before the Lebanese government collapsed, Foreign Minister Davuto?lu said: “We hope Lebanon continues to proceed on its path with a stable government. We will do our best for the conflict to be settled.” He discussed the crisis facing Lebanon with his visiting counterpart from Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud al-Faisal.


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