Lebanese PM Hariri pays fruitful visit to Britain

Cameron expresses British government’s support to STL

UK agrees to offer Lebanon military assistance

Hariri from Kuwait: Lebanon’s stability is Arab responsibility

Saudi ambassador in Lebanon visits Tripoli, urges Lebanese people to be awake for any doctrinal threats

British Prime Minister David Cameron became the latest world leader to lend his country’s support for the UN-backed probe into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s murder as he met with counterpart Saad Hariri at the end of his official two-day visit to the UK.

Sources close to Hariri said the Cabinet meeting, in which the premier previously confirmed the issue of the “false witnesses” was due to be discussed, will be postponed due to an “urgent change” to scheduled meetings in London. Hariri had been due to return to Beirut.

Cameron told Hariri the UK wished to develop ties with Lebanon. “We want to do everything we can to support the stability and security of Lebanon. We think that this is absolutely vital,” Cameron told Hariri during talks at 10 Downing Street.

“We fully support the Special Tribunal [for Lebanon] (STL) process. We want to see that properly completed and we want to do everything we can to help you with the work you are doing in your country.

“I admire your leadership and I want to strengthen the relationship between Britain and Lebanon. We have a very strong relationship but we can make that relationship stronger still,” he added.

Hariri said the talks have been positive and touched on the situation in the Middle East and Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

“We spoke about ways to strengthen cooperation and the prime minister stressed the support from the UK for the STL,” Hariri told reporters after the meeting. “I also asked for military help for the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces. There was good responsiveness from the UK regarding this.

“We also spoke about the peace process which is witnessing regression and we asked for a stronger British role in order to activate the peace process,” the prime minister said.

The show of support for the beleaguered UN-backed court will encourage Hariri and those who support the probe into his father’s assassination. The prime minister faces a Cabinet divided over the legitimacy of the STL and last week saw international investigators attacked by a crowd of women at a gynecology clinic in south Beirut. Hezbollah has warned of the consequences should anticipated tribunal indictments against party members materialize.

Mohammad Chattah, the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, said that meetings with senior British officials had been constructive.

“We are encouraged. We have a lot in common with the British government on a lot of critical issues including the peace process, which has been high on meetings’ agendas,” Chattah told The Daily Star.

“Lebanon is intimately involved in this and has been for the prospects of Lebanon and as a country and as an economy.”

Regarding the STL, Chattah said Britain’s support was both welcome and expected. “As a member of the Security Council, which established the Tribunal, we expect [Britain’s] support. That is particularly important during this period [when] the tribunal is under attack,” he said.

Hariri also held meetings with a host of London-based Arab ambassadors and a delegation of bankers; part of the aim of the prime minister’s first official UK visit was to promote economic partnership between Beirut and London. Talks between Hariri and British Commonwealth Minister Lord Howell of Guilford discussed regional developments, the prime minister’s office said.

Hariri addressed students at the London School of Economics, receiving a warm welcome from the crowd.

He will return to the domestic STL maelstrom later this week in the knowledge that another key player on the international scene has backed the court.

Chattah dismissed the idea that the STL could cease to function, but warned that intimidation and threats against the court needed to stop. “Of course we have a problem. There are those in Lebanon who are calling against cooperation in the STL and that’s a problem given that state institutions continue to reaffirm their readiness to cooperate,” he said.

“The STL has continuity and the fact is that the Tribunal can go on without [Lebanese] cooperation. Pressure will not stop it; it may make it harder for it. It’s important to stop intimidation and it is difficult to imagine the international community withdrawing its support.”

Hariri has renewed his backing for a UN-backed investigation into the murder of his father, despite warnings by Hezbollah the probe could plunge the country into crisis.

"The work of the tribunal is ongoing and there are many investigators in Lebanon, and they are doing their own work," Hariri told the BBC in an interview during an official visit to Britain.

Asked whether he gave 100-percent backing to the tribunal set up after former prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005, Hariri replied: "Yes."

Hariri confirmed he would not cut links with investigators despite demands to that effect from Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite militant group.

Tensions have been rising in Beirut amid unconfirmed reports the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon is set to indict members of Hezbollah in connection with Hariri's murder.

The Iranian- and Syrian-backed movement has made clear it would not accept such an outcome.

Sheikh Naim Qassem, the Shiite militant group's second-in-command, this week warned any charges against Hezbollah members would be "equivalent to lighting the fuse, to igniting the wick for an explosion."

In his interview with the BBC, Saad Hariri insisted dialogue was the best way out of the current standoff with Hezbollah and downplayed the risk of unrest.

"I think what is dangerous is not to (hold) dialogue about the issues that are really difficult in the country, and I think this is one of the difficult issues in Lebanon," the premier said.

Hariri held talks with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah and his Kuwaiti counterpart Nasser al-Mohammad al-Jaber al-Sabah at the Bayan palace in the city of Kuwait.

Hariri discussed with the two the situation in Iraq and in the Palestinian occupied territories along with Israeli violations.

He agreed with the Kuwaiti leaders to soon hold a meeting for the Lebanese-Kuwaiti High Commission in Beirut.

Hariri detailed a number of investment projects in which Kuwait could take part.

Kuwaiti Crown Prince Nawwaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, Kuwaiti Prime Minister and a number of Kuwaiti officials participated in the meeting.

A Lebanese delegation composed of the Minister of the Displaced Akram Shehayeb, former MP Bassem Sabaa, Lebanese Ambassador to Kuwait Bassam Naamani, Hariri’s aide Nader Hariri and advisers Hani Hammoud and Fadi Fawwaz also took part in the talks.

Hariri held separate talks with his Kuwaiti counterpart at the Emiri Diwan.

Delivering a speech at the opening session of the “Second Kuwait Financial Reform 2010” in the city of Kuwait, Hariri said Lebanon “looked forward to approaching its political crises with awareness and responsibility.”

“We look forward to … avoiding drifting into what could harm the national stability and hinder the will of dialogue and communication among the Lebanese,” he said.

The event was organized under the patronage of the Kuwaiti prime minister.

“The experiences of the past years are enough to draw lessons from and make sure that we have no choice but solidarity in order to strengthen our national unity and start the work to continue rebuilding Lebanon, and give the national unity government a chance to invest in the stability so that it can be able to play its role in the economic and social investment,” Hariri said.

Lebanon has plunged into its worst political crisis in two years with rumors that an impending indictment by a UN-backed tribunal probing the murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, – Saad Hariri’s father – would indict members from Hezbollah.

The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition said the court aimed at targeting the resistance, while rival March 14 forces headed by Hariri considered the tribunal the only chance to punish murderers.

Hariri said Lebanon’s chance would not be lost “and I am totally confident that time will not go backward and that this country in which you placed high hopes in the past will always be a place of trust in the future.”

He urged Iraqi political factions not to waste the “golden opportunity” of meeting in Riyadh on the invitation of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz to resolve differences over the formation of a government.

Separately, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Hariri during which the two discussed the incident two investigators from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) experienced last week in the Beirut southern suburbs.

The two investigators were prevented from carrying out their investigations at a gynecology clinic in Beirut’s southern suburbs when they were accosted by an angry crowd of women.

Ban and Hariri stressed Lebanon’s commitment to respect the international legitimacy in order to serve the proper conduct of the investigation and the imperatives of justice.

Meanwhile, Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Osseiri called on the Lebanese over the weekend to “immunize” their country against any surprises.

“Saudi Arabia plays a positive role in Lebanon and is keen on preserving the country’s unity,” he said.

Syria’s Ambassador Ali Abdulkarim Ali, meanwhile, said the unity of the Lebanese will safeguard their country.

Speaking to politicians and crowds in the rural north Lebanon district of Akkar, Osseiri said his country was “closely following up” on developments on the Lebanese political scene.

Asked about the repercussions of the indictment to be issued by the UN-backed tribunal probing the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Osseiri said he was confident that the Lebanese would work for the best interest of their country.

“We call on all the Lebanese to immunize their country against any surprises,” said the Saudi ambassador.

The country has been caught in a standoff over the indictment to be pronounced by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

Hezbollah announced that the court was moving toward indicting “rogue” members of the party and slammed the STL as an Israeli project.

Last week, the party’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called on the Lebanese to boycott the tribunal, adding that anyone who cooperated with the STL would be considered an agent.

Osseiri said the Saudi monarch devoted time to ensure that Lebanese ranks are kept united, adding that King Abdullah considered the “Lebanese internal front to be strong.”

“[King Abdullah] sees that the Lebanese should adopt dialogue as a means to solve all their problems so that Lebanon can be strong and safeguarded against attempts to weaken the country or sow divisions among the Lebanese,” said Osseiri.

The Saudi ambassador had started a tour of north Lebanon by visiting the coastal city of Tripoli, where he met prominent political and religious leaders there.

Osseiri headed to Akkar, one of Lebanon’s most impoverished regions, where he met the lawmakers of the district and residents.

“I am planning to visit the four corners of Lebanon to get to know the people of this country,” he said.

Osseiri said his visit to various Lebanese regions aimed to spread a “message of unity.” “[Saudi Arabia] hopes that the next [Lebanese] generations will not inherit animosity and hatred and move away from divisions,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and Syria are considered Lebanon’s main powerbrokers. A tension in ties, or conversely a rapprochement between the two Arab countries clearly reflects on the situation in Lebanon.

Also speaking over the weekend, the Syrian Ambassador said Lebanon and Syria were united by the same challenges and goals. “National entente and dialogue are the guarantee to unity, civil peace, sovereignty, independence, and freedom,” Ali told a luncheon in the Iqlim al-Kharoub town of Jieh.

Ali highlighted that inter-Lebanese dialogue was key to protecting Lebanon, “that we cherish and hope will remain strong and healthy.”

The Syrian ambassador said Israel should not be allowed the opportunity to boast that it has intercepted Lebanon’s telecommunications network in a bid to target Lebanon’s steadfastness and resistance.