Saudi Arabia says won’t comment on WikiLeaks papers, unsure of their authenticity

Clinton embarks on world tour to alleviate expose effects

Asian Parliamentary Assembly urges Israel to end occupation, bring its nuclear facilities under international monitoring

Lebanese President Sleiman embarks on consultations to revive dialogue

French President Sarkozy stresses support for STL, Lebanon’s stability

The Saudi Arabian government said that it was not interested in diplomatic cables released by the website WikiLeaks, asserting it is not sure of their credibility.

"These documents do not concern the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, nor does the kingdom have any role in producing them, nor is it aware of their authenticity," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ossama al-Naqli said in a press statement.

"The kingdom's policies and positions have always been clear," he added, without elaborating. He said he could not comment further.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN chief Ban Ki-moon discussed "complications" caused by the WikiLeaks revelations which detailed alleged US spying on the UN leader, a spokesman said.

The two met on the sidelines of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Kazakhstan, a UN spokesman said in a statement.

They discussed "the complications caused by the recent massive leak of US diplomatic cables," said the statement, which gave no details of the comments by either official.

While in Kazakhstan, however, Ban told reporters: "I do not believe that anybody would be happy when somebody knows that he or she is under watch by somebody."

Ban was a target of State Department requests for information from its diplomats, according to reports of diplomatic cables released by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Britain's Guardian newspaper said a State Department directive sent in July sought intelligence on Ban's "management and decision-making style".

The US government also asked for credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flyer account numbers for UN leaders, the daily added.

Ban and Clinton also discussed Haiti, North Korea, Sudan and Somalia during their talks, the spokesman said.

Clinton has done a lot of explaining to foreign leaders after the embarrassing Wikileaks release of U.S. embassy cables -- but few needed as much placating as Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.

Clinton took the opportunity of a meeting at a Kazakhstan summit to personally reassure the Italian prime minister, whose feathers were clearly ruffled by U.S. cables which called him "feckless" and a hard-partyer.

"We have no better friend, we have no one who supports the American policies as consistently as Prime Minister Berlusconi has," Clinton told the news cameras as the two met.

"The United States, Republican and Democratic administrations like, know that they can count on the prime minister to support the policies and values that Italy and the United States share in common," Clinton said.

Berlusconi has publicly laughed off the WikiLeaks cables, which focused on the 74-year-old prime minister's private life and described him as "feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader."

But it appears they hit a nerve nonetheless. U.S. officials said Berlusconi brought the matter up with Clinton in their discussions in Astana, Kazakhstan's futuristic capital.

"He noted that this had stimulated a lot of discussion in Italy and that was, not surprisingly, a problem," one senior State Department official said, speaking on background.

Clinton decided to make the public comments for the media to set the record straight, the official said.

"She wanted to tell the world, the press, what she told him, and what America thinks," he said.

Clinton has sharply criticized the leaks, which revealed a huge cache of classified U.S. diplomatic communication, underscoring that they do not reflect official U.S. policy and vowing that important U.S. alliances will not be shaken by the revelations.

In Kazakhstan, where she was attending a summit of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Clinton fielded questions about the WikiLeaks release from a number of leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, officials said.

Clegg issued a statement saying the WikiLeaks dump would not affect Britain's "uniquely strong" ties with the United States while Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev appeared sanguine despite leaks discussing high-living officials in his own government.

"We will live through this," he said.

At a news conference, Clinton appeared buoyed by the notion that her apology tour was working -- although it may not be over yet.

"I have not had any concerns expressed about whether any nation will not continue to work with and discuss matters of importance to us both going forward," Clinton said.

"I anticipate that there will be a lot of questions that people will have every right and reason to ask and we stand ready to discuss them at any time."

She may not have long to wait.

The next batch of WikiLeaks questions will likely surface, when Clinton attends a security conference in Bahrain along with officials from many of the Arab nations which WikiLeaks documents said were privately pressing for a tough U.S. line on Iran.

Meanwhile, the Iranian parliament (Majlis) speaker says the Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA) in Syria enjoys "good political potential and dynamism to face Palestine challenges."

Ali Larijani made the remarks in a joint press conference with Speaker of the Syrian People's Assembly Mahmoud al-Abrash upon his arrival in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

"There are important challenges regarding Palestine which have previously been discussed at the APA…, which indicates the assembly has good political potential and dynamism to confront such challenges," Fars news agency quoted Larijani as saying last week.

The top parliamentarian said Asian countries have always been hindered by challenges, expressing hope that al-Abrash's presidency will pave the way for tackling Asia's setbacks.

He further said Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri's current visit to Tehran is a positive development proving close relations between Iran and Lebanon.

Saad Hariri paid his first visit ever to the country as premier, aiming to expand relations with Tehran.

During his three-day visit to Tehran, Hariri held meetings with Iranian high ranking officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi.

Hariri's trip to Tehran comes one month after President Ahmadinejad's landmark visit to Lebanon.

The Iranian parliament speaker is in Syria to take part in the 5th Plenary Session of the APA.

On the other hand, President Michel Sleiman launched a new round of consultations with rival leaders aimed at ending the state of paralysis in the country and resuming sessions of the Cabinet which has not met since November 10.

Sleiman’s move coincided with a flurry of political activity aimed at breaking the stalemate over an impending indictment into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri which is threatening to plunge the country into renewed sectarian strife.

Sleiman began a series of political meetings aimed at consolidating calm and stability and finding solutions for the current situation in agreement among the parties in order to pull the country out of the prevailing stagnation, according to a statement from the president’s office.

It said that the meetings are aimed at creating a favorable climate for reactivating the work of state institutions and departments to run the people’s affairs and also to resume the stalled meetings of the National Dialogue Committee. Sleiman will meet with more leaders. The 19 leaders and politicians Sleiman is consulting are members of the Dialogue Committee.

Sleiman’s move also came amid reports that the indictment, which is widely expected to implicate some Hezbollah members in Hariri’s assassination, would be released this month, further heightening political tension in the country.

The indictment will be released by Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor general of the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is currently on an official visit to Paris, was due to meet with French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie after holding a working lunch the day before with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He will also have a working lunch with French Prime Minister François Fillon to be followed by a joint news conference.

Sleiman began his consultations by meeting separately with Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Minister of State Jean Ogassapian, Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Franjieh, and Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) leader MP Assaad Hardane, the statement said.

Sleiman asked the leaders questions and listened to their answers without proposing anything, the statement said. It added that while the pro-government politicians welcomed the resumption of the dialogue table, the rival March 8 camp voiced reservations over Sleiman’s invitation before the issue of the “false witnesses” linked to the UN probe into Hariri’s assassination is settled.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea welcomed Sleiman’s bid to revive the Cabinet’s work and resume dialogue among rival factions. “The only solution for the Lebanese crisis lies in commitment to civil peace and a return to constitutional institutions,” he told reporters. Geagea said he opposed any international guardianship of Lebanon.

In a direct swipe at Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who said that the pre-indictment phase will not be the same as the post-indictment phase, Geagea said: “The post-indictment phase will be better than before because we will then have in our hands documents that can be counted on for discussion.”

Responding to Nasrallah’s statement that an indictment based on the telecommunications evidence is worthless, Geagea said: “This is a technical issue. It is known that there has been an [Israeli] infiltration in the [telecoms] network for a long time. It is not new.” He added that verifying the Israeli infiltration should be left to technical experts. Sleiman’s consultations came as the March 8 and March 14 camps are sharply divided over the STL’s indictment, raising fears of sectarian strife, especially if some Hezbollah members are implicated in Hariri’s assassination. The split has paralyzed the national unity Cabinet, which has not met since November 10 due to a dispute over the issue of “false witnesses” who allegedly misled the UN probe into Hariri’s killing.

Sleiman last month deferred a Cabinet discussion of the issue of “false witnesses” – a major demand of the March 8 camp – in order to avert a further split among the ministers. Similarly, a meeting of the National Dialogue Committee to discuss in principle a defense strategy to protect Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack has also been shelved indefinitely, pending a settlement of the issue.

Hezbollah and its allies boycotted the dialogue committee’s last meeting on November 4 to protest the Cabinet’s failure to act on this issue. They insist that the key to reducing political tensions and reaching the truth behind Hariri’s killing lies in prosecuting witnesses who allegedly misled the UN probe with their false testimonies. They demand that the Justice Council, the country’s highest judicial body, handle the issue of “false witnesses.” But this demand was rejected by the March 14 camp which maintains that the regular judiciary can look into this case.

Sources in the March 8 Christian factions and those close to Hezbollah said that Sleiman’s initiative to break the political logjam and resume Cabinet sessions would not succeed unless the Cabinet acted on the issue of “false witnesses” either by a vote or some other means.

Aoun conveyed the March 8 camp’s position to Sleiman who discussed it with the leaders he met, the sources said. They added that Hezbollah and its allies have made preparations to cope with all eventualities arising from the indictment, whether or not the Saudi-Syrian efforts reached a compromise solution before the indictment. However, the sources ruled out the possibility of a military reaction to the indictment by Hezbollah and its allies, similar to what happened on May 7, 2008, when the group’s gunmen briefly took over West Beirut to protest a government decision to dismantle Hezbollah’s private telecommunications network.

Political tensions have been simmering for months between the March 8 and March 14 camps over the STL’s indictment.

Hezbollah and its allies refuse to recognize the STL, dismissing it as an “Israeli-American tool” designed to incite strife in Lebanon.

Hariri, son of the slain leader, and his March 14 allies have upheld support for the STL as the best means to reveal the truth behind his father’s assassination.

Hezbollah has denied involvement in Hariri’s killing and Nasrallah warned the March 14 camp that it might be too late to reach a solution for the crisis once an indictment is issued.

Meanwhile, the Council of Maronite Bishops criticized the paralysis in state institutions. “Paralysis in constitutional institutions and waiting for external solutions are signs of weakness in national will,” said a statement after the bishops’ monthly meeting.

The March 14 Secretariat General voiced support for Sleiman’s consultations with rival leaders, but also stressed the need for a return to the constitutional institutions – namely the Cabinet and Parliament – to resolve the political crisis over the indictment.

“We, of course, support anything taken by the president to remedy the situation. But we want to affirm that there are constitutional institutions in Lebanon and not merely the dialogue table,” Faris Soueid, coordinator of March 14 Secretariat General, told reporters after a meeting of the Secretariat.

“What is required is a return to constitutional institutions, namely to Lebanon’s government and the Lebanese Parliament,” he said.

Soueid rejected the March 8 camp’s argument that the release of the indictment is a step toward a civil war. “We insist on saying that the release of the indictment is a constituent step for a better Lebanon based on justice and the state of law,” he said.

France reiterated its commitment to the implementation of the Paris III convention and its support to the Special Tribunal (STL) for Lebanon, following talks between Prime Minister Saad Hariri and French officials on the second day of the prime minister’s official visit to Paris.

Hariri discussed the importance of the promotion of economic bilateral ties and the gradual implementation of the Paris III Accord with Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

Lagarde said she discussed with Hariri the legal requirements to suspend an appendix to the Paris III convention to allow time for Lebanon to fulfill the preconditions for the privatization of its telecommunications sector.

Lagarde added that France sought to facilitate the privatization of the telecommunications sector at Lebanon’s appropriate political pace while reiterating her country’s commitment to the Paris III agreement.

“The suspension of the appendix is the best judicial way to guarantee follow up,” Lagarde said.

At the Paris III conference in 2007, the international community pledged $7.6 billion in assistance to Lebanon.

On a political note, French Foreign Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie said France was committed to supporting Lebanon’s development and peace as a model of coexistence in the Middle East.

“I reminded the prime minister how much France is attached to the unity of Lebanon and its development, and especially to the fact that Lebanon can live in peace and reach again this development which makes it a symbol and a model for the region but also, for the world.”

Alliot-Marie said despite tension over the STL, the UN-backed tribunal probing the assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, would continue its work.

“There are a number of rules and these rules are applicable. It signals the magnitude of justice as well as its difficulties,” Alliot Marie said. French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Hariri Paris was firmly opposed to any threats to Lebanon’s stability and continues to support the STL.

Hariri is scheduled to hold talks with his French counterpart Francois Fillon before flying to the Sultanate of Oman.