High-level Lebanese talks in Qatar
Retrieved from AP on May 21, 2008
May 17, 2008
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon's ruling coalition demanded Saturday that talks to end the country's 18
-month-old political crisis tackle the issue of Hezbollah's weapons, a demand the militant group rejected.
Hezbollah insisted the group's arsenal remain untouched, saying it was necessary for fighting Israel,
Lebanese media reported on the first day of the negotiations in Qatar on forming a unity government
and electing a president after the country's worst violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The two sides flew to Qatar's capital, Doha, following a deal mediated by the Arab League that brought
an end to a week of violence. The deal included an agreement that the talks would lead to the election of
compromise candidate Army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.
President Bush said the country had reached a "defining moment."
The weapons demand was seen as an attempt by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's side to guarantee that
Hezbollah won't take to the streets again as it did when it overran Sunni Muslim West Beirut in clashes
left 67 people dead and wounded more than 200.
"This is a defining moment," Bush said after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in
Egypt. "It is a moment that requires us to stand strongly with the Saniora government and to support the
Lebanon's official National News Agency said the Qatar talks became tense when parliament majority
leader Saad Hariri, a Sunni, and hardline pro-government Christian politician Samir Geagea brought up
the issue of Hezbollah's weapons.
Geagea had warned Hezbollah that Doha talks would fail if the Shiite Islamist group sticks to keeping its
"We can no longer accept Hezbollah as it is," he told the Qatari Al-Jazeera TV.
The private LBC Television said the feuding sides engaged in "heated discussions" over the subject, which
took up most of the morning session.
Lawmaker Mohammed Raad, who heads Hezbollah's delegation in Qatar, defended the group keeping its
arsenal, saying the weapons were meant to fight against Israel and "must not be touched," according to
Lebanon has had no president since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud's term ended in November.
The violence last week was triggered by government measures to rein in Hezbollah. The violence
eventually forced the government to revoke the measures, giving Hezbollah an upper hand in its standoff
with the government.
Subsequently, Qatari host Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani asked the two sides to stick
for now to discussions on a national unity government. According to NNA, they set up a four-party
committee to draft a new election law.
Saniora struck an upbeat note, saying Saturday's session showed "all parties are eager to reach an
understanding that will lead to the beginning of a solution to this crisis," the private Voice of Lebanon
Washington and Saniora's faction have accused Iran and Syria of seeking to undermine the Lebanese
government and Middle East stability, while Hezbollah accuses the prime minister and his allies in the anti
-Syrian coalition of being America's servants.
The talks in Qatar are the first time top leaders from the Lebanese sides came face-to-face in the crisis.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who is in hiding fearing assassination by Israel, did not attend.
Associated Press Writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report from Beirut.
Lebanon's feuding factions reach agreement
By HUSSEIN DAKROUB, Associated Press Writer
May 21, 2008
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanon's feuding factions reached a breakthrough deal Wednesday that ends the
country's 18-month political stalemate, but also gives the militant Hezbollah group and its allies veto over
any government decision.
The deal, reached with the help of Arab mediators, was immediately praised by Iran and Syria, which
back Hezbollah. But it appears certain to accelerate fears in the West over Hezbollah's new power.
Pro-government politician and parliament majority leader, Saad Hariri, seemed to acknowledge his side
had largely caved in, spurred by a sharp outbreak of violence earlier this month after months of
"I know that the wounds are deep and my injury is deep, but we only have each other to build Lebanon,"
he said after the announcement of the deal, which was brokered after five days of talks in Qatar.
Hezbollah's chief negotiator, Mohammed Raad, downplayed the group's win.
"Neither side got all it demanded, but (the agreement) is a good balance between all parties' demands,"
The Bush administration seemed to be trying to put the best face on the deal even though it gave more
power to Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by Washington and Israel.
"We view this agreement as a positive step toward resolving the current crisis," Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. "We call upon all Lebanese leaders to implement this agreement in
The election of a compromise president — the head of Lebanon's mostly neutral army — was expected
Sunday, Lebanon's state news agency reported.
The Hezbollah-led opposition won both its demands with the deal: veto power in a new national unity
government, and an electoral law that divides Lebanon into smaller-sized districts, allowing for better
representation of the country's various sects.
A few bursts of celebratory gunfire broke out in Beirut after the announcement. Lebanese television
stations, which broadcast the Qatar ceremony live, showed Lebanese politicians and their Arab hosts
congratulating and hugging one another.
The talks in Qatar and the deal were a dramatic cap to Lebanon's worst internal fighting since the 1975
-90 civil war. At least 67 people were killed when clashes broke out between pro-government groups and
the opposition in the streets Beirut and elsewhere earlier this month.
As Lebanon came close to a new all-out war, Arab League mediators intervened and got the sides to
agree to hold last-ditch negotiations in the Qatari capital, Doha, to resolve the crisis.
But the resulting deal was a major victory for Hezbollah.
Opposition-allied Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri also spoke at the Doha ceremony, saying that
an opposition tent encampment across from the government building in downtown Beirut would be
Berri called such action a "gift" from the opposition, hailing the Doha agreement.
Within an hour, pickup trucks began hauling mattresses and supplies away from the encampment, which
has paralyzed the commercial heart of the Lebanese capital for more than a year. Opposition supporters
dismantled tents and took apart wooden boards used in the encampment.
In Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the Lebanese deal was an "example of
regional integration for achieving stability and tranquility."
Syria also promptly endorsed the deal, with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem saying "Lebanon's security
and stability are important and vital to Syria's security and stability."
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was "personally very happy" about the Doha
agreement and said it was now "up to all the Lebanese to use this accord to build the basis for national
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said the Lebanese should draw lessons from what happened and
called on them to reject violence. He also called on Arab states to help support Lebanese forces, which
kept a neutral role during the latest clashes.
"We must ... pledge never to resort to arms to resolve our political differences," Saniora said at the Doha
ceremony. "We should accept each other and hold dialogue to solve the problems. We want to live
together and we will continue that. We have no other choice."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the deal was a "great success for Lebanon and all the Lebanese,
whose courage and patience never failed despite the ordeals they have been through."
As part of the deal reached at dawn Wednesday, Hezbollah and its political allies would receive veto
power in the country's new national unity government. The Syrian-backed opposition would get 11 seats
in the Cabinet, while 16 seats would go to the U.S.- and Western-backed parliament majority.
The remaining three would be distributed by the elected president. Previously, the opposition held six
seats in the Cabinet.
The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, states that the factions "pledged
to refrain" from taking up weapons to resolve disputes and that the "use of arms or violence is forbidden
to settle political differences under any circumstances."
The government had sought a concession in Doha that Hezbollah would not again turn its guns on fellow
Lebanese as in fighting earlier this month, but the broad clause referring to all Lebanese armed groups
was apparently as much as it achieved.
Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said while the agreement "forbids internal use
of weapons," it also "calls for dialogue ... on the whole subject of arms."
Hamadeh also said both sides were satisfied with the new election law. The legislation is significant
because it will determine how the sides distribute power in the capital and directly influence the outcome
of the next parliamentary elections in 2009.
Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud stepped down in November, and rival factions
have been unable to resolve their differences over a future government.
Both sides have agreed on Gen. Michel Suleiman, the army chief, as a consensus candidate. But
parliament had been unable to muster a quorum to meet because of disagreement on other remaining
issues — including the formation of the national unity government and electoral law.
Hamadeh also said legislators from the parliament majority, who have been living abroad fearing for
their safety after a wave of bombings targeting mainly anti-Syrian lawmakers and politicians, would be
asked to return to Beirut to vote for the president in parliament.
The agreement was struck after host Qatar stepped up pressure Tuesday, offering the rival factions two
drafts on how to end the deadlock and a day to consider the proposals.
The 18-month standoff started when Hezbollah-led opposition lawmakers resigned from the government
in November 2006 to protest the Cabinet's refusal to grant them enough seats to ensure veto power.
The Qatar deal was also a triumph for the tiny energy-rich Gulf state. The Lebanese stalemate had defied
mediation efforts by other Arab and European countries, including shuttle diplomacy in the last year by
the foreign minister of France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler.