Hariri, German chancellor discuss Israeli threats, regional conditions

Lebanese PM: We won’t be able to protect Lebanon if splits and language of mistrust go on

March 14 Powers stress defense of Lebanon is the exclusive responsibility of the nation

Seniora rejects arguments over security forces outside Lebanon’s institutions

Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed Monday that no progress had been made on the Middle East peace process but said he still believed in diplomacy, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel played down the odds of another Israeli attack on Lebanon.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Merkel in Berlin, the Lebanese premier said extremist regional parties were responsible for blocking any progress in the peace negotiations, a reference to Israel.

Hariri also praised Germany’s support for Lebanon and its role in restoring stability in the region.

For her part, Merkel played down the odds of an Israeli war on Lebanon, saying that developments “point in the direction of stability from Israel toward Lebanon and vice versa.”

But Merkel said the international community was close to imposing sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

“I do not fear at all an Israeli strike against Lebanon,” Merkel told reporters, adding that her country “worked on guaranteeing stability through the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).”

Merkel also denied claims that Germany would withdraw its troops from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) while voicing hope for promoting economic ties with the Mediterranean country.

Hariri also held talks at his residence in Berlin with German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

On Sunday, Hariri stressed the need for unity among the Lebanese away from sectarian tensions, foreign allegiances and involvement in regional axes power struggles in order to face Israeli threats.

“We will not be able to survive if we continue to fight over power in Lebanon as sectarian tribes; we will not be able to face foreign threats and particularly Israeli aggression if division and accusations of treason continue to exist among the Lebanese,” Hariri said.

“As a premier, I will not allow any sectarian or national strife to break our national unity wall,” he added, addressing Lebanese expatriates at his residence in Berlin.

Hariri also called on the Lebanese to hold on to national coexistence as well as parity between Christians and Muslims.

On another note, Hariri urged the Lebanese community in Germany to integrate in the country’s society and express their appreciation to Germany which provided them with job opportunities and shelter at times of crisis in Lebanon.

Hariri also praised Germany’s participation in UNIFIL as well as its contribution to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Resolution 1701 ended a 33 day Israeli war against Lebanon, which witnessed heavy clashes between Hezbollah and the Israeli army, and led to a ceasefire and the spread of the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL. It also called and called for the establishment of a weapons-free area south of Litani River and Israel’s full withdrawal from Lebanese territory.

Germany commands the naval component of the UNIFIL, whose role is to assist the Lebanese Army in securing the Lebanese coast and prevent arms smuggling.

Tackling Iran’s disputed nuclear program, Merkel said the time was nearing for sanctions on Iran as Tehran has rejected Western efforts to find a negotiated solution.

“I made clear that we are coming to the phase where there should be sanctions against Iran,” Merkel said.

“Iran has not accepted the constructive offers we have made and has even rejected them,” she added.

Merkel’s comments came a day after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the European Union was ready to impose unilateral sanctions as Western powers struggle to forge a consensus within the UN Security Council.

Lebanon was elected recently to hold a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council for the upcoming two years.

Germany is one of six powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, together with permanent, veto-wielding Security Council members the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France. China, which recently replaced Germany to become Iran’s biggest trading partner as a big buyer of its oil, is seen as less keen on fresh sanctions, while Russia has also expressed misgivings.

The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge rejected by Tehran, which says its atomic program is purely for civilian energy purposes.

In other remarks, Merkel sharply criticized Israel’s decision to build new settler homes in East Jerusalem, calling it a “serious step back” in efforts to forge peace in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's March 14 alliance has proposed a plan urging Lebanese and other Arab nations to defend the country at a time of regional and international turbulence.

The seven-point plan entitled “The protection of Lebanon is a national, Arab and international responsibility,” was announced by March 14 Secretariat General Coordinator Fares Soueid on Sunday.

Soueid called on the Arab League to assume its responsibilities in defending Lebanon, Lebanon's Daily Star reported.

The plan also urged the international community to defend Lebanon by implementing UN Security Council resolution 1701.

The resolution, which put an end to the 33-day Israeli aggression on Lebanon in 2006, calls for an arms-free region south of the Litani River as well as the spread of Lebanese Army and United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon in the area.

The alliance held its fifth annual meeting in Beirut on Sunday. Its first meeting took place five years ago after the death of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Soueid told Press TV correspondent in Beirut that the "full implementation of the UN Resolution 1701 and the Lebanese constitution" were the focal points of the plan.

He also highlighted the need for the Arab world to have the same vision concerning the conflict with Israel.

Former Premier MP Fouad Seniora said Sunday that discussions over a security agreement with the United States to train Internal Security Forces (ISF) should be restricted to the concerned Lebanese establishments and not be subject to allegations of betrayal.

What took place wasn’t an agreement but an accord by which the US offered a grant that included delivering aid to the ISF and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), the Sidon MP told visitors to his office in the town of Hlaliyeh, east of Sidon.

“It is as if the campaign against the ISF was prepared in advance to undermine the Lebanese establishments and especially the ISF,” he said, adding that all sides should support the ISF for its efforts to combat crime, terrorism, drugs and Israeli espionage networks. “The works of such Lebanese institutions should be endorsed rather than obstructed.”

Seniora urged all sides responsible for launching the campaigns against the ISF to refrain from such acts, highlighting the need for a united Lebanese voice to overcome continuous Israeli threats.

When asked about allegations made by Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad that Seniora had tried to remove the word “resistance” from the recent National Dialogue session’s report, the Sidon MP refused to comment on the claim, saying he would remain silent for the sake of “maintaining a suitable atmosphere for discussing the issue at the dialogue table.”

Last week, the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir published information about a security accord signed between then-US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, and head of ISF, Major-General Ashraf Rifi, in May 2007. As-Safir claimed the agreement, which granted $50 million to the ISF, was approved by Seniora’s government in a step that “breached constitutional standards and the hierarchy of authorities.”

The newspaper also said that that Rifi and the current US ambassador to Lebanon, Michele Sisson, had agreed on amending the security accord on February 2009, whereby support was increased to $80 million.

According to the agreement, the US government delivers training and support to the ISF, including equipment, the newspaper said.

In return, Lebanon provides the American employees and personnel at the US Embassy in Lebanon with diplomatic immunity and other privileges that protect them from facing legal action. Verifying that no ISF employee was connected to “terrorist organizations” and granting US officials complete access to the hardware donated was also part of the accord, the paper said.

News of the accord provoked uproar and prompted the Information and Telecommunications parliamentary committee to launch investigations into the details of the alleged agreement.

On the other hand, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed British Judge Robin Vincent at Lebanon’s Special Tribunal, which will try those responsible for the assassination of ex-Premier Rafiq Hariri.

“Judge Vincent will start his duties at a later date,” a statement from Ban’s office read. Vincent served as a judge at the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone between 2002 and 2005 and as a vice judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

The statement noted that Vincent’s appointment reflects progress in the establishment of Lebanon’s Special Tribunal.